Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saturday Rock Show

With the 40th Anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Festival upon us, I have been thinking about whether or not the event was really all that important. Some of the music was really good. Most was middling. Some was kind of bad. In his biography of the Grateful Dead, Dennis McNally recounts how the band, the first to play after the rain, had serious problems with electrical grounding; Bob Weir came away with a blister on his lip from an ungrounded microphone shocking him every time he stepped up to sing. Janis Joplin was on a serious downward spiral. Jimi Hendrix was in the midst of a transition away from the guitar god and more toward a more traditional approach to the blues (he would attempt to change that later in the year by forming Band of Gypsys).

Moreover, as a social and cultural statement it was far more limited than even contemporaneous accounts might make one think. It was as much a catalyst for frustration among outsiders as it was a glorious expression of the counter-culture's arrival. The gate crashing, the logistical nightmare that necessitated bringing in helicopters to ferry performers and food and support personnel in and out, the danger the rain posed in the form of a threat of massive electrocution (they had buried the cables to the delay towers only to have them exposed by tens of thousands of feet churning up the mud; had any of those cables become exposed to the water, consider for a moment what that might have meant), and the promoters forays in to la-la land courtesy of hallucinogens at crucial moments made for serious problems that avoided catastrophe only through sheer luck and the willingness of investors to take a bath.

Yet, all was not horrible. One act that managed to show why they were the first to break out of the local scene in San Francisco was the Jefferson Airplane. While there was an element of self-indulgence in the band's style - they very often played circling around, looking at one another, with members' back's to the audience - they also had an interesting mix of electric folk and blues and vocal harmony that few bands have matched. This is one of their signature acid-rock anthems, "Won't You Try":

I will admit, by the way, that I still find Grace Slick's outfit extremely hot.

Virtual Tin Cup

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