If people thought that the days leading up to Woodstock had a bit of Alice in Wonderland feel to them, I can assure you that magical feeling had changed a bit by the time morning broke on day two.
As the most iconic part of the festival, the stage where the music took place, I watched the day unfold in dramatic fashion. The enormity of the gathering began to hit home in the daylight and people started to realize there wasn't enough food, wasn't enough water, weren't enough clean bathrooms, was rain, rain and more rain and likely to be so for the following couple of days. Everybody in attendance was going to have to put the word “misery” into their lexicon and their description of this event.
Yet the feeling as I looked out to the hundreds of thousands of people collecting again on the great lawn was that somehow, some way, everybody's needs would be met. As long as the music stayed solid.
Shortly after noon, a little-known, New England-based band took the stage. You could still smell wet wood and everything had that soggy feel despite the sun coming out. Quill was one of the tough luck bands of the festival. They built a reputation around the Northeast and had a following of fans and music industry pros. They spent the week preceding the festival living at the setup crew's camp at a nearby motel and provided entertainment for the stage crew, hog farmers and festival workers. They came out and played a 40-minute set, which was very well received by the crowd.
But because they were first out on Saturday after a very rainy Friday overnight, things weren't quite technically sound and their set never made the album or the documentary. While they were filmed, there was an audio syncing problem which rendered the material useless. Other groups, like Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, and Ten Years After used the festival as a springboard to stardom, for Quill, it was a slippery slope back to anonymity.
We all remember Country Joe McDonald walking across my planks to give us a spelling lesson that day. The truth is we weren't ready for another full band and Country Joe obliged by coming out and working the crowd for nearly 40 minutes.
With things calming down, one of the signature acts of the entire weekend took the stage. Santana's set was one of the highlights of the weekend and the group featured 20-year-old drummer Michael Shrieve, who was the youngest performer at Woodstock. Their version of “Soul Sacrifice” that day had left people stunned and their set was a kickoff to the greatly anticipated rock event finally getting in gear.
When transportation was still an issue, a festival attendee, having no plans for performing was asked to keep the crowd entertained. John Sebastian did a charming set of his bright, airy tunes and his warm personality got the crowd ready for the afternoon and evening sets.
The Keef Hartley band was fronted by the former drummer for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes who had gotten the gig after Ringo Star left and had played with John Mayall. Keef Hartley’s jazzy set helped people settle in for the magic of the night.
The Incredible String Band, who had opted not to play the previous night in the rain came on. Their spacey and eclectic sound would probably have been better received on a relaxed Friday night in the rain then it was on a late Saturday afternoon when soggy attendees were gearing up for something a bit harder. Partially because of their resistance to playing in their planed timeslot, the ISB was also left out of the documentary. They soon fell back into cult-like oblivion.
In the late 60s, no festival was complete without a starring performance by Canned Heat. They had become the blues’ best ambassadors and Bob “The Bear” Hite’s harmonica playing and Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson's guitar and vocals gave Canned Heat the song that came to be the theme of the festival, “Going up the Country.” Sadly, it wasn't long before Alan Wilson would die from a barbiturate overdose at the age of 27, the same age as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix both of whom would die shortly after Wilson.
As the afternoon came to a close and Canned Heat played to the sunset, the real anticipation was now palpable through the crowd for the big, serious Royalty of Rock that would be coming on throughout the night. What most people came to Woodstock for was about to begin. I was prepared to have them all walk across my strong planking. With plastic bags, ponchos and whatever they could find to cover them, the 500,000 were prepared to get rocked.
And that, they did.