Sometime around 7 a.m. on Sunday, August 17, 1969, Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane stepped to the microphone and told some 500,000 attendees in attendance at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival, “Ok, friends, you have seen the heavy groups, now you will see morning maniac music, believe me… it’s a new dawn.” The spirit of a new dawn is what drives author Mike Greenblatt’s fascinating retrospective of the iconic event that took place in Bethel, NY, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer.
Throughout Woodstock 50th Anniversary: Back to Yasgur’s Farm (Krause Publications), readers are treated to first-hand accounts of the Woodstock experience from the artists themselves, as well as those who were present for those infamous three days of peace, love, and music. Vibrant color photography from the festival splash and burst alongside the testimonials in true hippie fashion, as Greenblatt weaves the magic and music of Woodstock together with the socio-political context on the ground in America during the whirlwind year that was 1969. While by now the story of Woodstock is firmly etched into the minds of nearly every adult of a particular age, Greenblatt’s overview finds new ways to scratch at the surface, digging up new insights while still paying homage to the tradition and spirit of nineteen-sixties hippie culture.
Proceeding a forward written by Woodstock performer Country Joe McDonald, Greenblatt treats readers to a snapshot of his own Woodstock experience, recalling the Sunday afternoon while sitting in the grassy field when he heard the now-infamous PSA from stage host Chip Monck to stay away from the brown acid—this just shortly after Greenblatt ingested some of the hellish batch himself. From there, a surreal account of festival history, testimonials from those who were there, and day-by-day breakdowns of the performances themselves—including set lists, group personnel, and discographies—permeate this entertaining and articulately-arranged tribute to one of the greatest cultural events in American history.
Along with the aforementioned contributors, Woodstock 50th Anniversary: Back to Yasgur’s Farm features commentary from the Airplane’s Jack Cassady, the late Bill Graham, Woodstock historian Wade Lawrence, and others, while Greenblatt also makes careful note to shine a light on some of the festival’s often-overlooked, yet no less integral performers—artists like Tim Hardin, the charismatic rock and blues outfit Canned Heat, and the now-seminal Incredible String Band.
Whether you were at the festival personally or vicariously experienced it via its powerful legacy, Woodstock 50th Anniversary: Back to Yasgur’s Farm is the perfect read for fans of history and music, but also anyone who still believes, and places hope, in the spirit of the peace and love ethos of the sixties. Given the backdrop of present day America, just a dash of that spirit could go a long, long way.
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