'Woodstock' revisited with a director's cut

A 40th anniversary collector's edition DVD features added performances by Creedence and the Dead. Also previewed: 'John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band Live in Toronto '69.'

June 09, 2009|Robert Hilburn

There is much truth to the argument that the landmark Woodstock festival functioned more as a turning point for the business of rock 'n' roll than for music itself. The photos of hundreds of thousands of young people gathered in a field in upstate New York that were sent around the world delivered a message that youth culture could be exceedingly lucrative.

This realization ushered in the era of corporate rock, a time of increased ambition and greed on the part of radio stations, record companies, concert promoters and, ultimately, artists themselves.

But that doesn't mean the music of Woodstock wasn't extraordinary. A new DVD and Blu-ray edition of director Michael Wadleigh's movie "Woodstock," released today, celebrates famous performances from Jimi Hendrix, the Who and Janis Joplin, but also includes concert footage from two great classic rock bands, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Grateful Dead, that didn't appear in the original version of the film for various contractual or technical reasons.

Creedence plays three songs including "Born on the Bayou" and "Keep on Chooglin'," while the Dead is represented by its nearly 40-minute rendition of the Bobby Bland hit "Turn on Your Love Light." These moments haven't been edited into the "Woodstock" movie itself -- now titled "Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music The Director's Cut" -- but are featured in the "extras" disc that is part of the new 40th anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD.

The release also offers performances from three other acts that weren't included in the original film -- Paul Butterfield, Mountain and Johnny Winter -- along with additional numbers by several artists that did appear in the movie, including Joan Baez, Joe Cocker and the Who.

Though a second new concert DVD isn't as historic as "Woodstock," "John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band Live in Toronto '69" documents a special moment in Lennon's career: a concert appearance with Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton and others that signaled that Lennon's days with the Beatles were nearing their end.

"Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music The Director's Cut"

The 40th Anniversary

Ultimate Collector's Edition

Warner Home Video

The back story: Wadleigh's original film made dazzling use of split screens and other visual devices to maximize the influence of key artists and to capture the energy and spirit of a live concert.

The music: The acts on the "extras" disc are presented in straightforward fashion rather than split screens, but it's still a delight to see John and Tom Fogerty, Doug Clifford and Stu Cook on stage together again in Creedence. The band wasn't flashy, but it gave us as rich a celebration of rock's country and blues roots as any outfit that ever took to a stage. John Fogerty's dynamic vocals remain one of the wonders of the rock world.

The Dead's set looks chaotic, and it's disarming to see the veteran group at what was still a relatively formative stage. Baez's engaging performance of "One Day at a Time," a socially conscious folk tune, raises the question again of why this gifted singer and social crusader hasn't been voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Even with the added disc, the Woodstock movie lineup is still missing one of the most heralded of the festival's attractions: the Band. A Warner Home Video spokeswoman said the company approached the Band (and several other Woodstock artists), but couldn't come to an agreement over terms.

The Ultimate Collector's Edition is available on DVD and Blu-ray, with the latter format offering some high-tech extras. Both packages contain a "souvenir" packet, complete with replicas of the original Woodstock tickets. The price of the festival, by the way: just $8 a day. A third "Woodstock" DVD package, featuring just the movie, also is available.

"John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band Live in Toronto '69"

Various Artists

Shout! Factory

The back story: It had been three years since Lennon was on stage with the Beatles and he jumped at the chance to perform with friends -- Yoko Ono on lead and support vocals, guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Alan White -- on a 1969 bill with some of his rock 'n' roll heroes, including Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.

The music: Dressed in a white suit, Lennon looks nervous stepping out on his own and trying to find common musical ground between '50s and '60s rock on such oldies as "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy." He and his bandmates appear far more at ease when they move to newer material, including the Beatles' "Yer Blues" and Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance."

Though it's wonderful to see Lennon in concert, there is an accompanying sadness in knowing how few other times he would ever again step on a stage before his death in 1980.

The DVD will be released June 23.


Backtracking is a monthly column devoted to CDs and other pop music items of historical importance.

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