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The Woodstockers, 20 Years Later--What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

June 18, 1989|STEVE HOCHMAN

"I 'm not going back to Woodstock for a while / Though I love to see that lonesome hippie smile," sang Neil Young in 1974. But with the 20th anniversary of the love fest approaching, Woodstock is on the minds of many who performed there--if for no other reason than the fact that members of the media have been hounding them for memories.

In fact, several artists groaned when asked to dredge up 20-year-old anecdotes, and two--Young and John Fogerty--declined comment. Still, for many of the 33 acts accounted for, Woodstock was a career highlight, if not peak.

The stats: Seven of the acts are still visible and viable in the rock, pop or folk world, while many of the rest continue as active performers. At least one has been plagued by legal problems, and (sadly) at least three are dead, not counting late members of the Who, Grateful Dead, Canned Heat and the Band.

Or maybe it's not so sad--considering the downside of the Woodstock legacy, it's a positive note that so many have survived. JOAN BAEZ

The Bay Area-based singer is about to celebrate her 30th anniversary as a folk performer with a new album (featuring guest appearances by Paul Simon and the Gipsy Kings, among others) and a boxed retrospective of her catalogue from Vanguard Records. Her a cappella rendition of "Amazing Grace" has been a touchstone from Woodstock to more recent gatherings such as the Live Aid and Amnesty International concerts.

"When I think of 'Amazing Grace,' I don't think of Woodstock. I think of Poland, singing it with Lech Walesa, or in India singing it with Mother Teresa. . . . It's one of my most requested songs, in part because it takes people back to that time, but for others, it brings back a spiritual sense that may have been missing since then."


The quintessential San Francisco "Summer of Love" band and its legion of Deadheads represents an unbroken link to the Woodstock era. The 20 years since has been a "long, strange trip"--during which the Dead has consistently been one of the top touring rock attractions in the world. Two years ago the band's "In the Dark" album and "Touch of Grey" single became the first Dead entries to make the Top 10.

"The people we played for at Woodstock aren't the ones who listen to us now, it's their children," said drummer Mickey Hart, who is involved with producing records of music from around the world. He has also released "Music to Be Born By," a recording he designed to assist the childbirth process.

"We saw an enormous amount of music pass before us at Woodstock, which definitely had an effect on the roots music I'm involved with. This was the center of the world for a few days there. . . . Of course, we played terribly. It was horrible. The stage was collapsing and the equipment wasn't working and it was raining, so every time someone touched their instrument, they got shocked."


Since providing Woodstock's third day wake-up call with its rallying cry "Volunteers," the Airplane, already the most commercially successful representative of the San Francisco scene, mutated into the more successful Jefferson Starship, losing original members one by one to the point that the current Starship (without the Jefferson ) includes no one directly tied to the original group. But the Airplane has just re-formed, with original members Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady all on board. An album and tour are planned for late summer.

"Woodstock was the last great burst of innocence in the face of the oncoming '70s and war and hard drugs and Nixon and disco," said singer-guitarist Kantner. "You could fill an entire page with the horrors that came after Woodstock. But people gained a certain audacity and confidence from the strength of numbers there that led to realizing we could deal with Nixon and the environment and end the Vietnam War. When I went to Nicaragua recently, I felt that same spirit there."


The gravel-voiced English soulster went on from Woodstock to his own triumphant "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour and film and occasional hits through the '70s ("You Are So Beautiful") and '80s ("Up Where We Belong," a Grammy- and Oscar-winning duet with Jennifer Warnes from the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman"). His new album, "One Night of Sin," is due from Capitol on Aug. 1.

"I remember when the rains came tumbling down sitting in the back of the trailer with some hippies, smoking, crashing and thinking how little we knew about the audience," he said. "Where are all those people? They became bankers, clerks, surgeons. I bump into them once in a while and they say they were there. But we just zoomed in and out."


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