Friday, September 4, 2009

Woodstock Guitar Gods Create Psychedelic Sanctuary

By Greg Bahr

In August, 1969, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was held at Max Yasgur's farm in White Lake, NY. The event was billed as "An Aquarian Exposition - Three Days of Peace and Music."

The first day of the festival was dedicated to folk. Richie Havens opened with a plea for "Freedom," showcasing his propulsive acoustic strumming. Ravi Shankar induced the audience into a meditative, trance like state with a display of Sitar virtuosity.

Day two was populated with rock superstars from the psychedelic era. Santana's offering, "Soul Sacrifice," was underpinned by Mike Shrieve's tribal drum solo. Mountain drove a "Southbound Train," conducted by Leslie West, a fat man with a fat guitar tone.

Creedence Clearwater Revival delivered "Born on the Bayou," the swamp rock classic conceived by John Fogerty, a tasteful player who wrote memorable riffs and crafted understated, melodic leads. Pete Townshend and The Who began with a recreation of the Rock Opera "Tommy," and ended with destruction during the anthem "My Generation."

The third day was delayed due to thunderstorms. Resuming the show with a flash of British lightning, Alvin Lee of Ten Years After declared "I'm Going Home," by helicopter. Johnny Winter spun J.B. Lenoir's "Mama, Talk to Your Daughter" into a Texas tornado.

Crosby, Stills & Nash harmonized on the ode to Judy Collins, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," as Stephen Stills painted an Oriental backdrop in a modal tuning. Paul Butterfield captained a ship lost at sea on "Drifting Blues," with first mate Michael Bloomfield contributing a blistering six string solo.

Closing the festival with his revolutionary instrumental version of "The Star Spangled Banner," Jimi Hendrix transformed the national anthem from a celebration of war into a celebration of peace.

Woodstock was the exclamation point that punctuated the end of the sixties. Against the backdrop of the war raging in Vietnam, the world's greatest guitar players provided refuge to half a million hippies seeking shelter from the storm.

Greg Bahr writes about the guitar and related topics. Read more at

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  1. That's Buzzy Feiten, not Bloomfield, on the Paul Butterfield set.

  2. Thanks for the correction, Peg. Sorry for the mistake.