Friday, October 9, 2009

Remembering Woodstock: Which Woodstock?

It’s been 40 years since that fateful day of August 1969 when the first ever Woodstock was born, but which Woodstock made the best impression in the minds of most of the world’s guitar slingers?

By: Ringo Bones

Whether you’ll agree with then or not, many of us guitar slingers see the 1969 Woodstock as that historic moment that raised the electric guitar to its present – and probably it’s future - iconic status. Even though I’m born a few years after the original Woodstock, I’m somewhat old enough to own a brain that automatically defaults to that iconic summer of 1969 event whenever the topic of Woodstock springs to mind. Thus further reinforcing the belief that: “If you remember the 1960s, you’re not really there, man.” Given the relatively low-key festivities commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock in 2009, I wonder if it still registers in the global consciousness of guitar slingers everywhere.

When Jimi Hendrix played Woodstock back in August 18, 1969, he had really made it to the very top of a musical mountain that has become ever tougher to climb as the years went by. Having just disbanded The Experience – Hendrix’s then iconic trio – Jimi has thus started to explore fresh musical horizons. Hendrix assembled his new band for the Woodstock gig – Gypsy Sun & Rainbows – while a hastily scratched out set list forever made him a musical icon in the guitar world. Sadly, only hardcore “Hendrixphiles” ever remembers second guitarist Larry Lee and the two percussionists, Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez - The almost “last minute” additions of his now iconic 1969 Woodstock lineup. With the sun rising over Yasgur’s farm – it was 9:00 Monday morning when Hendrix, the festival headliner, actually took the stage - fortunately for us.

Chances are there are probably more guitar slingers out there who remember the 1994 “Seattle Grunge” Woodstock supposedly commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the iconic musical event. Instead, it projected the impression of a mud-drenched and psychotropic addled marketing ploy of David Geffen and those two guys who owned Sub Pop records doing their damnedest to make Seattle Grunge a global phenomenon in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s untimely passing. While the 1999 Woodstock that supposedly commemorates the 30th Anniversary of the original event will forever be remembered for the 12 ounce of bottled water being sold for eight dollars each - Not to mention the misogynistic grope-fest.

Even though our supposedly grandiose 40th Anniversary festivities slated for celebrating Woodstock this 2009 has decided to become low-key. Is it because that we are currently in a global recession? Or is it because of the untimely passing of someone who should have been performing in the original 1969 Woodstock – i.e. Michael Jackson with the Jackson 5? Who knows, maybe Ang Lee should have done something better than that somewhat quirky 1969 Woodstock based comedy?

From my perspective, the 1969 Woodstock has always been about my two favorite musicians / guitarists – namely Richie Havens and Jimi Hendrix. While Jimi Hendrix’s lasting legacy was establishing the artistic and technical how-to in playing electric guitar in front of thousands of people. While Richie Havens – after opening for the 1969 Woodstock - still made the acoustic guitar relevant in the time of man walking on the Moon and other scientific advances - if you play it right by the way.

Richie Havens was probably one of the first “celebrity environmentalist” after he promoted environmentally sustainable living. Havens is probably the most famous resident of Arcosanti, an environmentally sustainable village designed by architect Paolo Soleri. This was in the early to mid 1990s, at the time when then US vice president Al Gore speak about the dangers of excessive greenhouse gases produced by industry, the extreme Christian Right of America were still too clueless to deny about global warming in the vice president’s face. Not to mention Richie Havens’ talent for making remakes of other people’s songs sound like his own. His remake of James Taylor’s iconic Fire and Rain is still often mistaken as being originally done by Havens himself – a perception often harbored by novice James Taylor fans.

Despite of being the venue of America’s first “boy band” – i.e. does Sha Na Na count? The1969 Woodstock will forever be remembered as the venue where high decibel electric guitar playing came of age. Not to mention this is probably the first venue where cultural diversity through music first became cool to the under 25s.


  1. I did remember seeing Richie Havens being interviewed on the Discovery Channel back in 1995 on a segment about Arcosanti - the world's first sustainable high-density community designed by the great architect Paolo Soleri. Is Richie Havens really the most famous citizen of the 5,000-strong or so community of Arcosanti? Does Richie Havens still register in the American consciousness after his iconic performance of the 1969 Woodstock? Anyway, any planned community designed to minimize our impact to our increasingly threatened environment should be embraced with open arms.

  2. I've seen this particular documentary about the Paolo Soleri designed planned ecologically sustainable community called Arcosanti on the Discovery Channel back around 1994 (or was it 1995?). Anyway, is Richie Havens the official ambassador of Arcosanti? He even played his trusty acoustic guitar (Guild?) on this particular documentary.

  3. I only discovered Richie Havens back in 1995 from that Arcosanti documentary featured on the Discovery Channel. And I fell in love with his music. Havens does play a Guild (custom?)acoustic guitar that suits his "supersonic" strumming technique. He's a regular feature on concerts held at Arcosanti. Not bad for someone who was still a relative unknown when he opened the 1969 Woodstock over fourty years ago.