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WOODSTOCK,
DAY THREE

The weather was scorchingly hot by early Sunday afternoon, and so were Joe Cocker & the Grease Band—despite the fact that two of the bandmembers had been so freaked out by the mass of humanity spread out below as they descended on the venue they threw up out of the windows of the chopper. The gritty Englishman’s first album had been released that April, to glowing reviews, but it took the Woodstock film to make Cocker a rock star, as his improbably craggy voice and whirling-dervish body language captivated moviegoers. Cocker and the band kept the pedal to the metal throughout one of Woodstock’s most fully realized performances.

By the time Cocker’s set ended, the rain was coming down in sheets, forcing a delay that lasted several hours. When the worst of it was over, Country Joe & the Fish appeared in front of the thoroughly soaked throng, cheering them with a high-spirited performance containing much more than just the “Fish Cheer,” which is pretty much the only thing people remember about the band. In retrospect, they were a tight and engaging group whose biggest shortcoming may well have been their name.

Ten Years After built their rep on the speed-riffing of guitarist Alvin Lee, and that’s exactly what their set was all about. Here, for better or worse, is a more detailed mix of the 10-minute rave-up “I’m Going Home” that made the film and soundtrack—a reminder of an era when fleet fingers and flash meant a lot more than they do now.

The Band were at the top of their game in the summer of ’69, devoting the bulk of their set to the songs of Music From Big Pink. As with Creedence, the group would have provided the film with some top-notch music had manager Albert Grossman allowed it to be used. The primary problem wasn’t musical or technical but the fact that people were screaming for Dylan through the entire set, creating a disconnect between The Band and the crowd. “It was like a ripped army of mud people—we felt like a bunch of preacher boys looking into purgatory,” quipped Robbie Robertson.

Albino guitar hero Johnny Winter and his cooking band, including his keyboard-playing brother Edgar for most of the set, provided the weekend’s most electrifying blues workout on numbers like “Leland Mississippi Blues” and “Mean Town Blues.”

These Texans seemed much more in their element than the next group, Blood, Sweat & Tears, whose idea of the great outdoors was Central Park. The jazz-trained horn section was flummoxed by the faulty monitors, leading to ongoing tuning issues, although their hit “Spinning Wheel” was relatively together.

It isn’t easy to sing tightly interwoven three-part harmonies to begin with, and well nigh impossible to do it when the vocalists can't hear each other, so Crosby, Stills & Nash can be forgiven for their intermittent raggedness during the initial, acoustic part of their set. So it’s understandable that they later doctored their performance of Graham Nash’s “Marrakesh Express” in the studio; what’s odd is that the actual performance is just as good—and certainly no worse—than the “enhanced” version.

After Neil Young joined his sometime cohorts, providing a preview of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the pitch problems were blown away by the phalanx of electric guitars. This is one group that has shown its prowess whenever the four musicians came together over the decades, and these two selections demonstrate that they had it right from the start, the ebb and flow of their rarefied dynamics fully in evidence. But rather than finally solving the mystery behind a prime bit of Woodstock trivia—Young’s insistence that the Woodstock version of “Sea of Madness” be replaced by a subsequent Fillmore East performance—the nearly identical earlier performance only further deepens our fascination with this singularly enigmatic artist.

This latter-day lineup of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band no longer had guitarist Mike Bloomfield or any other original member, but they could hammer out the Chicago blues, if not with the blistering power of Johnny Winter. Their “Love March” was another of the defining moments of the original Woodstock soundtrack—a sort of seventh-inning stretch before the big finish.

Forty years later, it seems odd that oldies groups existed as far back as the late ’60s, but Sha Na Na’s presence at the fest—and in the penultimate slot—gives modern-day listeners some perspective on the enduring appeal of early rock ’n’ roll and doo-wop. Like Blood, Sweat & Tears, the band seems miscast in hindsight, but they took care of business in lighthearted covers of The Silhouettes’ “Get a Job” and Danny & the Juniors’ “At the Hop.”

Jimi Hendrix came onstage around 9 a.m. and played till around 10:45 to a by-then dramatically diminished crowd—archivist Andy Zax estimates that 20 times more people saw Sly’s set than Hendrix’s, though practically everyone who was at Woodstock insists that he or she was there for Jimi’s mythmaking performance. Poised between the disbanding of the Experience and the formation of Band of Gypsies, Hendrix was working with a one-off band calling itself Gypsy Sun & Rainbows and consisting of holdover Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, future Band of Gypsies bassist Billy Cox on bass and rhythm guitarist Larry Lee, along with percussionist Jerry Velez and conga player Juma Sultan.

To the ears of critic Tom Moon, listening 30 years later, it was “a ragged ensemble playing in a weird time slot…and a musician in the middle of profound transition, grappling with big, still-coalescing ideas about fusing blues and rock and jazz improvisation. It becomes clear, after hearing this performance next to others in the ‘Experience Hendrix’ series—notably Live at the Fillmore East—that while the restless Hendrix was determined to radically recast his material each time out, not every one of his sojourns ended up as a brilliant archive highlight.”

As Moon suggests, the players struggled to find the vibe, let alone maintain it, on “Jam Back at the House” and elsewhere. But they managed to fuse their separate vectors around Hendrix’s exploratory solos on an absolutely scorching “Voodoo Chile,” and the corrosive power and reach of his improvised “Star Spangled Banner” still boggles the mind, just as it did on that surreal morning.

“He had a kind of alchemist’s ability,” Peter Townshend wrote of Hendrix in a remembrance for Rolling Stone. “When he was on the stage, he changed. He physically changed. He became incredibly graceful and beautiful. It wasn’t just people taking LSD, though that was going on, there’s no question. But he had a power that almost sobered you up if you were on an acid trip. He was bigger than LSD.”

Photographer Henry Diltz, one of the several thousand diehards still on hand as Hendrix struck the opening chords of his immortal “Star-Spangled Banner,” described it as “just a moment that was wonderful. Suddenly it was all over, and this was the strange, haunting end—just his guitar ringing out in the still morning air in this field of mud.”

Rather than reveling in the moment, Hendrix hightailed it out of the ravaged farmland on the next available helicopter, as the stragglers slogged through the mud and scattered, trying to retrace their steps to the abandoned Mustangs and VW busses they’d abandoned on the side of the road. The crowd had left tons and tons of garbage in their wake. The cleanup crew, most likely as zonked as the attendees, shaped a mound of putrid refuse into a colossal peace symbol before carting it off by the truckload.

Wavy Gravy, founder of the Hog Farm commune, left us with an untoppable boilerplate summation of Woodstock weekend. “Let’s face it,” he said. “Woodstock was created for wallets. It was designed to make bucks. And then the universe took over and did a little dance.”

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