Read All About It: Woodstock 50: Back To The Garden

Monday, May 13, 2019

Photo by Henry Diltz

Stay tuned to this page where we will be postin' up excerpts from the liners from WOODSTOCK - BACK TO THE GARDEN: THE DEFINITIVE 50th ANNIVERSARY ARCHIVE.


The history of Woodstock, as it’s generally understood, has less to do with the events on Yasgur’s farm than it does with how Michael Wadleigh structured his film of those events. He selected moments he was fortunate enough to have footage of and neglected other performances that hadn’t been filmed, had less compelling visuals, or he couldn’t obtain permission to use, then assembled a film in a manner that embraced spectacle at the expense of chronology. In doing so, he created a narrative about Woodstock that quickly became accepted as the de-facto historical record. As a result, almost everything we think of today as an important Woodstock moment was chosen for us by Wadleigh–whether it was actually important at Woodstock or not.


Take, for example, Jimi Hendrix performing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s generally considered not just a great performance but an important one. But why, exactly?  Hendrix had been playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in concert since April 1968—18 months before Woodstock. There are, in fact, at least 40 documented “Star-Spangled Banner” performances prior to its Woodstock appearance and another 20 after. It wasn’t unique. Nor was it especially well received, because by the time Hendrix got around to playing it on Monday morning, near the end of the festival, there weren’t many people there to hear it; most of the audience had already gone home.


So, the Woodstock “Star-Spangled Banner” is a performance whose cultural status stems entirely from Wadleigh making it a climactic moment of his film and from its appearance on the soundtrack. (Want to know which of the acts at Woodstock—the ones, unlike Hendrix, people actually saw—made the largest impact in the moment? Judging from the audience response: Ten Years After, Sly & The Family Stone, and Canned Heat.)


Wadleigh’s film tells a story of Woodstock, but it doesn’t tell the story….If Wadleigh’s film is a kind of psychedelic Busby Berkeley musical, this archive is an audio-verité documentary. Which one is “better”? In the immortal words of Woodstock announcer Chip Monck: “It’s your own trip, so be my guest.”


- Andy Zax