Recap of Bethel Woods' 50th Anniversary Woodstock celebration

Michael Lang’s Woodstock 50th anniversary festival never happened. That left the weekend's festivities at Bethel Woods the only place to celebrate the 50 year anniversary. Here's a recap (with photos) of the once-in-a-lifetime celebration.
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Photos and review by Gus Griesinger

The anticipation had been building for a number of years on what would happen with the golden anniversary for Woodstock. When original promoter Michael Lang decided to do his own festival, it left some confusion on many levels. The most upsetting to some was that it wasn’t going to be held at the original site where the current Bethel Woods Center for the Arts is located. After a number of roadblocks, Lang’s festival never happened. That left the weekend's festivities at Bethel Woods the only place to celebrate the 50 year anniversary. Many security measures were put into place for the weekend's activities. The biggest one was travel passes were needed to be shown to police at certain checkpoints within two miles of the venue. These were only issued to ticket holders particular to the show they were attending. This would prevent from the influx of traffic and prevent what happened in 1969 from repeating itself. I must admit, it worked well and for the most part went off without a hitch.

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The schedule was set up to have events on Thursday August 15 to run the entire weekend and ending through Sunday, August 18, 2019. Thursday was set up for Arlo Guthrie (above) to play the smaller Alfalfa stage by the festival's entrance. After, the Woodstock movie was to be shown in its entirety with new directors cut. It should be noted that before Arlo took the stage, original Woodstock luminary Melanie showed up and said hello to a few people backstage. Unfortunately, she never made it to the stage to perform with Guthrie. Not sure why that happened but regardless of that it was nice to see Melanie, and she was willing to pose for a quick photo for Goldmine (below).

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The connection to Bethel is a strong one for Guthrie—obviously he was at the original Woodstock event and he was the one who announced that they had shut down the Interstate Thruway. This show was more about the songs. It was his connection to the place that catapulted his career as an accomplished folk singer. He did play “Coming Into Los Angeles” as he did in his '69 set. It was his humor and charm that won over the audience though. He told candid stories about being in grade school and how everyone knew his dad's songs but him. That’s when his dad (Woody Guthrie) first taught him chords on the guitar. He also told the story about getting off a plane to do an interview, then asked if he knew that Bob Dylan was playing the same night as him and "Why would someone come see you instead of Dylan?" Guthrie quipped, “Well, if you want to hear good Bob Dylan songs then you could come see me!” They actually printed that so he had to go and learn a bunch of songs in a few hours span. Then Guthrie told the audience, "This ain’t one of those songs but I always liked it anyway," as he went into “Gates of Eden.” At another point in the set, Arlo told the story how he couldn’t hear himself and didn’t know the microphone wasn’t working at the beginning of his set at Woodstock. They had to use other material from other live shows to incorporate that into the album. He said, "If you don’t see any close-ups or cut-away scenes while my music is playing, that’s why." And of course what would an Arlo Guthrie set be without doing one of his dad's most popular songs in “This Land Is Your Land.”

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Ringo Starr and His all Star Band kicked off the weekend festivities for the Bethel Woods 50th celebration. of Woodstock. They brought with them Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Edgar Winter Band. Both artists played the original festival back in 1969.

First up was Blood, Sweat & Tears. They have a new singer Keith Paluso who joined the band back in May. Paluso was very appreciative of the opportunity and expressed that even though it doesn’t matter what you do or how old you are, never give up on your dreams. Even though there aren’t any original members left, the crowd still appreciated the short set that highlighted songs from their original Woodstock set. Those included “Spinning Wheel” and “You Made Me So Very Happy.”

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Next up was Edgar Winter. Winter (above) originally performed with his brother Johnny at Woodstock but unfortunately his brother didn’t live to see the 50th anniversary celebration. Nonetheless, Winter and his band cranked out a 5-song set that included his two biggest hits in “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein.” He also dedicated his set to his late brother and performed “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Coo” in his honor.

The Beatles were over in London at Abbey Road studios shooting the iconic image of their Abbey Road album just around the time that Woodstock took place. They were on the verge of breaking up and playing the festival was not an option for a band that stopped playing live since 1966 (outside of one rooftop performance in January of 1969). This time around having a Beatle play the anniversary of Woodstock seemed the right thing to do. Drummer Ringo Starr changed up the All-Stars this time around as they played the iconic Bethel Woods stage. Alumni Colin Hay (Men at Work) and Hamish Stuart (Average White Band) teamed up with Steve Lukather (Toto), Gregg Rolie (Santana and Journey), Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth) and Warren Ham (Kansas) to give the fans a solid night of musicianship and fun.

With the alumni coming back, the set list was changed up some. Some Men at Work songs along with an Isley Brothers cover called “Work to Do” were dropped in. Stuart did a commendable vocal performance on the latter. Of course, what makes the set fun is Starr jokes around with his band and the audience. At one point he said, “When I joined The Beatles I wrote a lot of songs….most were not recorded,” which drew a bunch of laughs. He asked Lukather what he wanted to play at one point. Lukather responded with some chords of “Day Tripper.” As the crowd got excited, Starr went on to burst their bubble by saying “Yeah, we won’t be playing that one.” The band then went into “Yellow Submarine” instead. This kept the crowd happy and they participated in singing along as well. Starr’s vocals sound as good as ever. He still has the chops behind the kit as well. He acknowledged the importance of the date and introduced original keyboard player of Santana Gregg Rolie, who did play the original festival. Rolie asked, "Who was here in 1969?!" A slim response raised their hands. Rolie went on to talk a little about the song as the band went into “Oye Como Va.”

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In order to have celebration like this you must have performers who were at the original festival. Santana was one of those performers who were invited back to play the anniversary weekend. Santana’s performance back in 1969 was legendary. Carlos Santana rocketed that 1969 performance to make him one of the most influential guitar players over that time. It wouldn’t have been an anniversary weekend without having him there. He brought with him the soothing sounds of soft yacht rock band, The Doobie Brothers.

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The Doobie Brothers have been around since the early 1970’s and still remain a top drawing classic rock act. Led by the foundation members Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons and John McFee, the band played about an hour and a half set. Vocals were spread all along various members. McFee showed his talent by playing a fiddle for “Spirit.” Simmons was all over the stage pointing and shouting throughout. Of course the band got a huge reception for some of the biggest hits including “Blackwater” when the words were changed to include Woodstock (instead of Mississippi) moon, won't you keep on shinin' on me? A solid set was provided by the Doobies.

Exactly 50 years and one day it was Carlos Santana coming back to the place where he first made a connection to the musical world. Starting off with a video of what is known as the “Woodstock Chant,” Santana got the crowd jumping from there and Carlos and his band didn’t let them go until the last note of the evening was played of The Youngbloods' cover “Get Together.”

Santana ‘s band has pretty much remained consistent over the last handful of years with the exception of his wife, Cindy Blackman, who took over behind the kit a few years back. She is a monster drummer and adds a new rhythm element to the band. She also handled vocals on a interesting cover of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine.” It was set with a different melody and vibe which worked well within the set. Johnston, McFee and Simmons joined Santana for Bob Marley's "Exodus."

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Make no mistake, this was Carlos Santana’s show and his guitar playing was truly the focal point. His precision on tracks like “Jin-go-lo-ba” and “Europa” really did show how much he is revered as one of the greatest guitar players of all time. His spiritual beliefs flowed into his guitar playing making this show a sacred event.

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John Fogerty’s old band Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) original set at Woodstock was the stuff of legends, even if it was at 2am on August 18, 1969. Fast forward 50 years to the exact day, John Fogerty was performing on the same grounds that the original site Woodstock was held. Fogerty has been embracing his 50-year trip (what his current tour is called) with playing a lot of the same songs that he performed with his old band at Woodstock. In fact, Fogerty finally approved for the band's set at Woodstock to be released. That was only a few weeks ago on August 2nd. Opening for Fogerty were Grace Potter and The Tedeschi Trucks Band.

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A huge rainstorm came through right at 6pm when Potter (above) was supposed to take the stage. Her set was delayed about an hour and half. She ended up performing only five songs. The set started with the mood setting “Medicine.” Just when Potter started to warm up with “Nothing But Water (1 & 2)," her set was unfortunately done. Potter's aura exudes the hippie element that fits perfectly at Bethel Woods. Let’s hope she returns to Bethel with a full set sooner than later.

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Next up was TTB. This was Derek Trucks first time performing on the sacred site. Trucks stated in an interview that Bethel was a special place and not to take it too lightly. The band didn’t do that as they incorporated “Soul Sacrifice” from Santana and “I Want to Take You Higher” from Sly and The Family Stone (both original Woodstock performers). Along with these classic tracks, the band sounded tight besides going on later than expected. Trucks was locked in on songs like “Midnight in Harlem” and “Part of Me.” Trucks knew how important it was performing on this site and he and Susan Tedeschi (above) got that notice out loud and clear. They performed with a sense of purpose and the energy flowed out of every note.

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Headliner John Fogerty was accompanied by a bevy of musicians, That included a three piece horn section and two background singers. Also, his son Shane Fogerty was on lead guitar and his other son Tyler came out to help sing on a few songs as well.

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As Fogerty went running onstage, his band started to play the gritty and swampy “Born on the Bayou.” John Fogerty is known for wearing his traditional flannel shirt. This time the flannel had fringe coming from it. The set had two large lava lamps set on each side of drummer Kenny Aronoff’s kit. He also had a video screen backdrop that showed many old clips that pertained to various songs. The show also included three people dressed as hippies dancing before the show and during a few select numbers during it too. Fogerty really tried to incorporate the '69 vibe and did a tremendous job in doing so. Fogerty’s voice is just as strong and melodic as it was since that time, I believe. A great example was him singing “Rock and Roll Girls.” It was a true testament to that.

Fogerty did play the famous Rickenbacker guitar that he used during his set at Woodstock. His son reenacted the “Star Spangled Banner” in tribute to Jimi Hendrix. He even lit the guitar on fire at the end of it. They dropped paper flowers, shot off confetti and even at one point, inflated base (beach) balls were tossed around during “Centerfield.” This was a fun-filled show that had a little of everything.

This set closed the weekend out with a memorable performance that incorporated 50 years of Woodstock. Not many can get to go “home” and soak it in and appreciate the past while looking to the future. John Fogerty now calls Bethel Woods the coolest place he was ever at. He can now look ahead and finally accept the past, which was something he couldn’t do before.

Bethel Woods put on classy celebration. If you never been there for a show or just to check out the museum, you should make it a priority.

Gus Griesinger of BackstageAxxess (www.backstageaxxess.com)