The 10 Best Performances at Woodstock 1969

Woodstock 50 Years Later: 10 Standout Performances

Nate Todd

Nowadays, summer is music festival season. There are so many music festivals that it’s hard to decide which one(s) to go to. But it wasn’t always that way. It took the granddaddy of them all, Woodstock, to usher in the era of the music festival. While it had its predecessors, 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival for instance, in 1969, Woodstock was The Festival. And there will never be another one like it.

Along with its cultural and socio-political implications, the gravity of the musical artists that graced the Woodstock stage on Max Yagur’s farm outside of Bethel, New York is what made it so historic. At the time, they were some of the most popular acts around. But now, looking through the lens of history, the bands and artists that played Woodstock are among the greatest of all time. These acts include Jimi HendrixThe WhoThe BandSantanaJanis Joplin and more.

Today, August 18, marks the 50th anniversary of the closing day of the legendary festival (which spilled into a fourth day due to rain and other delays with Jimi Hendrix closing out the festival on Monday, August 18). To celebrate, JamBase takes a look at some of these historic performances for this edition of Sunday Cinema.

Richie Havens – Freedom (August 15, 1969)

Richie Havens opened up the festival on Friday around 5:00 p.m. The folk troubadour took the stage with just his guitar in front of nearly half a million people (he was backed by additional guitar and percussion). Not necessarily a marquee act, Havens was told to extend his set to “kill time” as other groups were being choppered in due to the massive traffic jam surrounding the event. But Havens did more than just “kill time.” He captivated the massive crowd, especially with his completely improvised song “Freedom (Motherless Child)” to close out the set which has now become an iconic Woodstock performance. Check it out below.

Freedom (Motherless Child) via Sebastian Walter

Santana – Soul Sacrifice (August 16, 1969)

The legendary Santana hit the Woodstock stage around 2:00 p.m. on Saturday. But at the time, Carlos Santana and his band were anything but legendary. Relatively unknown outside of San Francisco, Woodstock put Santana in front of a largely new audience and in many ways was the beginning of the legend. Carlos has since spoken candidly about how he was tripping on LSD for most of the set. Nonetheless, Carlos and the band’s version of “Soul Sacrifice” is electrifying and nearly flawless.

Soul Sacrifice via NEA ZIXNH

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Born On The Bayou & More (August 17, 1969)

Led by John FogertyCreedence Clearwater Revival jumped up on stage just after midnight on Day Two (technically Sunday). The San Francisco-based band followed another San Francisco act: the Grateful Dead. While the Dead were undoubtedly a tough act to follow — Fogerty claimed that their set went long and that many had gone to bed by the time Creedence took the stage — the Dead set was fraught with technical issues due to rain, and recordings, audio or video, are spotty or nonexistent. But CCR weathered the storm so to speak and much of their set has survived for posterity.

Born On The Bayou, I Put A Spell On You & Keep On Chooglin’ via Cal Vid

Janis Joplin – Ball & Chain (August 17, 1969)

The always electrifying Janis Joplin hit the stage directly after CCR at around 2:00 a.m. Janis had parted ways with Big Brother & The Holding Company less than a year before and had just released her first solo album, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, in 1969, from which she and the band drew much of the original material for their Woodstock set. Their rendition of Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball & Chain” closed out the set and is one of the highlights.

Ball & Chain via David Olivares

The Who – My Generation (August 17, 1969)

The Who was the face of rowdy rock ‘n’ roll at the time. Known for destroying their instruments and other offstage antics, The Who did not disappoint at Woodstock, taking the stage around 5:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. But the theatrics — Pete Townshend notoriously clubbed activist Albert Hoffman with his guitar for rushing out onto the stage — largely took a backseat to how damn good they were. The band would play most of their rock opera Tommy, but the penultimate song of their set, “My Generation,” was anthemic of the entire Woodstock generation.

My Generation via RockIsDeadTheySay :’)

Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit (August 17, 1969)

San Francisco Sound progenitors Jefferson Airplane were scheduled to headline the festival on Saturday night but ended up playing in the dawn hours of Sunday morning after The Who’s raucous performance. Singer Grace Slick famously prefaced their set by saying, “Alright friends, you have seen the heavy groups, now you will see morning maniac music, believe me, yeah… It’s the new dawn.” Check out Slick and Airplane’s Woodstock rendition of the psychedelic classic “White Rabbit” below:

White Rabbit via StupeurAlice

Joe Cocker – With A Little Help From My Friends (August 17, 1969)

While The Beatles didn’t play Woodstock, their music was well represented at the festival. But perhaps no one covered the band better than Joe Cocker. He and his group’s version of “With A Little Help From My Friends” truly embodies the word “iconic.” No less iconic are Cocker’s enraptured movements and his transcendent scream during the song’s second bridge. Check out the performance below:

With A Little Help From My Friends via Jimmysrock 2010

Country Joe & The Fish – Fish Chant & I Feel Like I’m Fixin To Die Rag (August 17, 1969)

While many of the acts at Woodstock embraced the protest spirit of the time, Country Joe & The Fish perhaps best embodied that spirit. Frontman Country Joe McDonald had already played a solo set on Saturday afternoon. But he and Barry “The Fish” Melton and company were filling in for Jethro Tull on Sunday evening. The band got the crowd in the protest spirit with their “Fish Chant,” which spelled out the word “Fuck,” and the Vietnam protest song “I Feel Like I’m Fixin To Die Rag.”

Fish Chant & I Feel Like I’m Fixin To Die Rag via Dima T

The Band – Tears Of Rage (August 17, 1969)

At the time, The Band was perhaps most famous for backing Bob Dylan a few years earlier. But they were quickly on their way to becoming one of the most celebrated bands in rock ‘n’ roll history. They were also a local act of sorts, taking up residence in the now famous “Big Pink” house just down the road from Bethel in West Saugerties, New York, after which they would name their 1968 debut album, Music From Big Pink. The Band would play a number of tunes from the album at Woodstock including the Dylan co-write “Tears Of Rage.”

Tears Of Rage via bandmusic1968

Jimi Hendrix – The Star-Spangled Banner (August 18, 1969)

One can’t help but write about Woodstock without throwing the word “iconic” around. But like Joe Cocker’s performance, Jimi Hendrix’s festival-closing set on Monday is not only iconic in itself, but embodies the spirit of the entire festival, especially his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Hendrix’s choice to include America’s national anthem was tongue and cheek and something of a protest to U.S. policies at home and abroad. Musically, turning the national anthem into a psychedelic scream signaled that a new America was emerging.

The Star-Spangled Banner via user666

[Hat Tip – Woodstock Wiki]