In the 50 years since Yasgur’s Farm hosted the legendary Woodstock Festival, there’s been a lot of talk about the event, what went down, and what it meant.
It’s one of the rare events where the audience is as much the star as the artists who were on stage. But the music was (mostly) undeniably great. Here, we count down the best performances from the original Woodstock.
Santana – “Soul Sacrifice” – A star-making performance. Santana had not yet released their self-titled debut, yet they were on the bill with superstar acts like Sly & The Family Stone, Janis Joplin, the Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jimi Hendrix. But their set, and particularly this performance, made them superstars.
Jimi Hendrix – “The Star-Spangled Banner” – Probably the festival’s single most iconic moment. Hendrix was playing with his brand-new backing band, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows; Live at Woodstock isn’t one of his best live albums. But this moment is still mind-blowing, fifty years later.
The Who – “My Generation” – In 1969, the Who was one of the most furious live bands in the world and they were getting more and more powerful (as evidenced by two amazing live albums recorded the following year: Live At Leeds and Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970). But their Woodstock performance was incredible as well. The most famous moment was when Pete Townshend clocked activist Abbie Hoffman on the head with his guitar, but the music was incredible as well.
Janis Joplin – “Piece Of My Heart” – Janis Joplin, like Hendrix, was working with a relatively new backing band: the Kozmic Blues Band. By all accounts, this wasn’t her best performance, but “pretty good” for Janis Joplin is better than most artists will ever achieve.
Sly & The Family Stone – “Stand!” – Sly & The Family Stone were at the peak of their powers in 1969, and powered by their performance, Stand! went on to become one of their most popular albums.
Richie Havens – “Freedom” – Certainly one of the most famous and legendary moments, “Freedom” was a semi-improvised song; Havens had been asked to perform for 20 minutes, but Santana – who was to follow Havens — was nowhere to be found, so the promoters kept extending Havens’ set. He ran out of songs and made this up on the spot, basing it off of “Motherless Child.”
Joe Cocker – “With A Little Help From My Friends” This Beatles classic made for the perfect peace and love anthem. The Beatles declined to perform at Woodstock, but even they couldn’t do this song with power that Cocker and his band did.
Country Joe & The Fish – “Vietnam Song” Before the song starts, Country Joe leads the audience in a R-rated chant that has also become one of Woodstock’s quintessential moments. Of all the hippieish moments in Woodstock, this might be the hippiest.
Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Born On The Bayou” – CCR’s Woodstock performance has only recently been released commercially. What took so long? The band play with fire here – that’s because they went on in the wee hours of the morning, following an overly-extended Grateful Dead performance (was there any other kind?). John Fogerty demanded the audience’s attention, and he (and his band) deserved it.
Sha Na Na – “Teen Angel” – Who invited these guys to the hippie party? This performance is only great in its absolute absurdity, but hey, Woodstock was pretty absurd. Imagine tripping your face off and these guys show up.