While Woodstock—the village that rests in the foothills of the southern Catskills—was first developed in 1902, it was the 1969 Music and Art Fair that put the tiny New York township on the map. Even though the famed concert wasn’t actually held there, most people hear the word Woodstock and immediately think of the festival. After being forced to change locations due to complaints from the town’s occupants, the rock festival was moved to Bethel, New York.
Now, Woodstock celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Rock and Soul Music
At the time of the original Woodstock festival, the counterculture was at its peak. Approximately 400,000 music lovers gathered on the grounds for what would become an iconic moment in American pop culture history. From August 15–17, 1969, the country’s most prominent rock acts took the stage. From Jimi Hendrix to The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin to Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, the event conjured up some of the most exceptional live musical performances the world has ever known.
As the 50th anniversary of the festival rolls around, the same site is getting ready to host a weekend’s worth of activities (not to be confused with original plans for a much larger, 3-day festival). Although quite different from the original, it’s set to feature music from some of the greats. Two separate shows include the likes of Carlos Santana and John Fogerty. The Woodstock 50th anniversary concert is set to take place Friday, August 16 and run through Sunday, August 18.
In honor of the occasion, here’s a look back at the top 5 most iconic performances from The Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969.
5. The Who
When The Who was talking about their generation, they might as well have penned the song for every person who was in that crowd at Woodstock. At the time of their Woodstock appearance, the English rock band was on tour. They had just released their fourth studio album, “Tommy.” When dawn arrived on Sunday morning, the group stood on stage and delivered a seven-minute rendition of “My Generation.” Roger Daltrey’s scorching vocals mixed with Pete Townshend’s electrifying riffs made the performance one of the top moments in music history.
4. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” could arguably be one of CSNY’s best songs. Their time onstage during Woodstock etched the track into history as a classic. It had only been written by Stephen Stills earlier that year. Neil Young was relatively new to the group and popped in only for a couple of songs. Stills had famously announced that the occasion marked just their second time playing in front of people. Their 3 a.m. set ended up being more of a public rehearsal than a polished performance. Even so, it was with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” that the band solidified their status. Their breathtaking harmonies and passionate playing made their early Monday morning set one of the most unforgettable moments of the entire festival.
3. Joe Cocker
Joe Cocker was certainly not singing out of tune when he took the stage to perform “With a Little Help From My Friends.” When the rock and roll singer with the gravelly voice covered The Beatles track—marking the second performance of the same song during the festival after Richie Havens sang it earlier—life for Cocker was forever changed. He had just released his debut album (of the same name) four months earlier. His 90-minute set with the Grease Band included a few covers; but, it was his version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” that turned the show into a legendary moment in rock and roll. Cocker’s soulful afternoon performance was closely followed by a thunderstorm that halted the festival for hours, giving fans plenty of time to reflect.
Carlos Santana was an unknown talent before his Woodstock appearance. The band had not yet even released its debut album. “Soul Sacrifice” was their closing track that Saturday afternoon. Santana’s performance was electric. The song, which echoed heavy guitar riffs and strong percussions, excited the crowd. Santana’s act not only became one of the highlights of Woodstock, but it also put the band on the map. The instrumental jam can easily be considered as one of the greatest live performances of all time.
1. Jimi Hendrix
There is perhaps no one more fitting than Jimi Hendrix to have been the one to close out Woodstock. The Jimi Hendrix Experience had just disbanded, leaving Hendrix to take the stage with his new band, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. Hendrix began his two-hour set at 9 a.m. on Monday morning after the festivalgoers had already started to clear out. While the entirety of his performance delivered some of the best cuts we’ve ever heard, the legendary musician saved the best for last. For his final song, the electric guitar-wielding hero commanded the space with an utterly jaw-dropping rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The reimagined version, which received some pushback post-show, was Hendrix’s way of protesting the Vietnam War.