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The 8 Most Memorable Performances at Woodstock

June 18, 2019 in History

By Dave Roos

Woodstock 1969 was plagued by stormy weather and technical problems, but the music festival produced a string of musical performances that still resonate a half-century later.

From July 15-18, 1969, something remarkable happened on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Upstate New York. Billed as “Three Days of Peace and Music,” the festival known as Woodstock perfectly captured the late-1960s zeitgeist as hippie “flower power” morphed into the anti-war movement, all to a soundtrack of politically charged folk music and psychedelic rock.

READ MORE: Woodstock, the Legendary Music Festival, Was Also a Miserable Mud Pit

Although plagued by stormy summer weather, technical problems and no-show bands, the festival still managed to produce a string of iconic musical performances that resonate a half-century later.

‘Freedom’ by Richie Havens

Richie Havens performing onstage at the Woodstock, August 15, 1969.

Relatively unknown folk rocker Richie Havens wasn’t supposed to be the first act to play Woodstock, but when four other groups became snarled in the festival’s legendary traffic, the festival promoters convinced Havens and his band to take the stage hours after the concert was scheduled to begin on Friday afternoon.

Havens ended up performing a three-hour set, literally playing every song he knew while Woodstock staff finished built the stage around him. After multiple encores, a sweat-soaked Havens came out to play one more song without any idea what it was going to be.

“When you see me in [the Woodstock movie] tuning my guitar and strumming, I was actually trying to figure out what else I could possibly play!” wrote Havens in 2009. “I looked out at all of those faces in front of me and the word ‘freedom’ came to mind.”

The high-energy, fully improvised song known as “Freedom / Motherless Child” energized the antsy crowd and set the tone for the rest of the festival.

‘Soul Sacrifice’ by Santana

Bassist David Brown (left) performs with the other members of Santana, including bandleader Carlos Santana (with guitar on right) and percussionist Michael Carabello (right), at Woodstock, August 16, 1969.

Guitar genius Carlos Santana and his band were another group of newcomers who had just released their first album before taking the Woodstock stage on Saturday afternoon. Their electric, Latin-infused Woodstock performance, driven by 20-year-old drummer Michael Shrieve, put them on the rock n’ roll map.

“I don’t remember if I had heard of Santana before Woodstock, but I thought …read more


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