Woodstock 50th Anniversary: Back to Yasgur's Farm
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Krause Publications (July 16, 2019)
Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton
After all these years and all the books, documentaries, interviews etc.etc., do we really need another book on Woodstock? At first glance, the answer might seem to be a resounding "no" because the mud and music has been well-trodden for five decades now. On the other hand, the 50th anniversary may well be the Woodstock generation's last hurrah, at least in terms of creating events and issuing publications commemorating the major milestone in pop culture while many of the original participants are still alive and able to stroll down their various memory lanes. Just look over the line-up of performers scheduled for the official Golden Anniversary weekend--most of the musicians weren't even born back in '69. Yikes!
For me, the value in books like Greenblatt's is learning things I didn't know before or being refreshed on things I may have heard before but forgotten. For example, I've heard of performers like Sweetwater, the Incredible String Band, the Keef Hartly band, and Quill who played at Woodstock. I've never heard a note by any of them except for a few tunes by Sweetwater. As many have pointed out over the years, not appearing in the 1970 Michael Wadleigh documentary ended up being a lost career boost. Other acts like Janis Joplin, The Band, Creedence Clearwater, or the Grateful Dead didn't need the boost but wouldn't be folded into public awareness about their Woodstock appearances until they were included in later Wadleigh collector's editions when he released previously unseen footage. Then there were the acts who were there but didn't get filmed and then there were those who turned down the gig and didn't come to the party. At the time, they had good reasons to pass on the opportunity--no one knew what the Woodstock festival would mean.
The performers were the ones on stage, but the stories of the organizers and audience members were and are equally as much a part of Woodstock lore. In particular, just how close Woodstock came to becoming a disaster many times over, it seems to me, is well worth remembering. We really were the peace and love generation no matter how fleeting that moment flickered in time. That, it seems to me, is the reason to keep commemorating what was essentially a three day rock and roll concert that became a mythologized hippie highpoint thanks in large part to the film that reached an audience able to enjoy the concert in more comfortable theatre settings. Now, we get a different appreciation when folks like Greenblatt, who was there, share their experiences with those of us who think we wish we had been in the crowd.
In terms of Greenblatt's book, I hadn't seen the set lists of all the acts before and found them a real 50th anniversary treat. I had heard many of the musicians' anecdotes before, but not all of them collected here. Not by a long shot. I hadn't heard of the shunning Max Yasgur suffered by his unhappy neighbors after the concert was over.
In fact, I think it's fair to say Mike Greenblatt may have assembled the best one-stop Woodstock book for readers who might want one, just one, hardcover exploration of the concert and how it became the phenomena it did. It's a good companion piece to all the DVDs and CDs being issued to keep the music alive. Oh, of course, it's chock-full of colorful photos. Yep, a very good memento of an August weekend only a small slice of my generation got to experience first-hand. Like Michael Greenblatt.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on June 25, 2019: