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The Covers: XV: “Woodstock.”

September 15, 2020

Time to get your hippie groove on!

This song is about going to and arriving at the Woodstock music festival, which took place in 8/15-8/18, 1969, in Bethel, NY. The festival did not actually take place in the town of Woodstock. The people who ran the town turned the concert promoters down.

A dairy farm in Bethel was their fourth choice. They liked the name “Woodstock,” so they kept it.

And that is why the song I am writing about today is not called “Bethel.”

As with so many of these songs, what I thought was an original turned out to be a cover. Many years ago, I heard the classic, “Woodstock,” as performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Pretty much anyone who is either old enough to remember the ’60’s. (and yes, I am familiar with the quote, “If you remember the ’60’s, you weren’t there!), or who went through a ’60’s music phase decades after will be familiar with the music festival and this song.

Ok, so, this song was released in 1970, news to me.

Something stranger: Three versions of this song were released in the same year.

The version that I heard, which is a cover, was released first. if Wikipedia is to be believed.

But Joni Mitchell wrote the song, and was the first to perform it live, in 1969, shortly after the festival ended. She did not perform at Woodstock, because her manager thought it would be better for her to be on the Dick Cavett show. Dick Cavett interviewed many many celebrities – even John Lennon and Yoko Ono, if I remember correctly.

So Joni Mitchell did not go. Crosby, Stills, and Nash performed, with Neil Young, according to what I’m reading online. However, Young was not in the film.

Mitchell’s boyfriend at the time was Graham Nash. Nash told her all about the festival, and Joni felt inspired to write the song. Then she performed the song at the Big Sur Music Festival in 1969.

She recorded it, CSNY recorded it as well, and so did a band I’ve never heard of until now, Matthews Southern Comfort. If you are from the UK, you are nodding your head, and if you, like me, are an American, you are thinking.. who?

Alright then..

I quite like the lyrics to this song. Woodstock being a sort of Garden of Eden, and a “child of God” walking along the road.. a child of God not necessarily being a religious person though.. someone spiritually tuned in to all the good going on in 1969. Yes, many horrible things went on that year, and the Vietnam War was still raging, and would not end until 1975.. but there were some good things going on too, like the Woodstock music festival.

The lyric “Yasgur’s farm,” that is where the festival was set up. If you haven’t seen the film.. it’s amazing. Some nudity.. It rained hard during part of the festival, and .. yeah, lots of naked hippies in the mud, tripping on acid..

“Do not take the brown acid..” went on repeatedly over the loudspeakers. Someone had cooked up a bad batch. Most people had better acid than that though.

Alright then..

First the lyrics, written by Joni Mitchell.

I admit, I don’t get all the references..

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me
I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm
I’m going to join in a rock ‘n’ roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it’s the time of man
I don’t know who l am
But you know life is for learning

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

….

… We are stardust, billion year old carbon. Scientific fact. We are made up of the elements of the stars.

Half a million strong at Woodstock? Possibly. Hordes of people who did not pay for tickets crashed the party. It’s pretty much impossible to find an accurate total online of how many people were there.

Bombers in the sky.. obviously on Joni Mitchell’s mind.. bombers that were used in the war. I like the image of the bombers turning into butterflies.

Caught in the devil’s bargain? I don’t know about this one. I looked up the phrase, and I found the term defined as being a really bad deal.

But I also think about the old crossroads stories.. musicians meeting the devil in a rural area, at night, at the crossing point of two roads. And selling their souls to the devil for great musical skill.

These stories go back awhile. The most famous is about Blues pioneer Robert Johnson, He died in 1938. A charter member of the 27 club… so many musicians died at age 27..

But I digress..

Back to the song..

I’m going to post the version I’m familiar with first, then Joni Mitchell’s version. I didn’t hear her version until a few months ago. I’m not very familiar with Mitchell’s music.

That’s a good rocker, that is.

Mitchell’s version is more mellow, which should not be surprsing.

Totally different vibe, but that really works too. I like it. When I first heard her version, I quickly googled the song, to figure out who wrote it.. and was surprised it was Mitchell.

Here’s a bit of bonus content, for those of you who have not seen the Woodstock film..

Before I post it though, I feel the need to point out there were two Woodstock festivals held in the 1990’s. The festival went well in 1994, but there were riots and lots of destruction at Woodstock 1999.

So let’s just focus on the original festival.

I can’t post the original trailer, apparently. It is age-restricted, and requires signing in.. so here is the trailer for the PBS American Experience film.

That’s it for now, star children!

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