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Veteran Rockers Get Back To The Garden   Print

by Frank Tortorici
SonicNet website
August 18, 1998

But new-generation acts outdraw Woodstock-era performers at sequel to historic music fest.

BETHEL, N.Y. -- By the time they got to Woodstock on Sunday, they were just 30,000 strong. And while that number is a far cry from the half-million who'd preceded the concert-goers 30 years ago to this historic plot of farmland, the new generation of rock fans out-cheered their elder rock brethren at the musical tribute to the historic event.

The tens of thousands of young fans who'd come to the final day of "A Day In The Garden" to see modern pop-rock acts such as Third Eye Blind and Goo Goo Dolls proved infinitely more enthusiastic than the older fans who showed up Friday and Saturday to cheer on returning veterans. "It doesn't seem like everybody [is] in the same spirit," said James Waters, 15, of Queens, N.Y., noting the varying moods that pervaded the festival.

Even though the lion's share of the weekend's stage time was turned over to Woodstock-era rock veterans such as Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, Joni Mitchell and returning Woodstock performer Pete Townshend of the Who, it was the currently popular, new-generation acts that generated the most visible, and quantifiable, excitement at the fest. The event was held on Yasgur's Farm, the site of the historic 1969 Woodstock celebration.

The first official shows at the Bethel site in 29 years ended Sunday with a roster of young artists -- many of whom are currently enjoying smash hits on the pop charts -- that included Marcy Playground, Joan Osborne, Third Eye Blind, Dishwalla, the Flys and Perfect Thyroid. The day's crowd of 30,000-plus dwarfed Friday's total of 12,000 and easily beat Saturday's 22,000.

Alan Gerry, the cable-TV mogul raised in Sullivan County (where Bethel is located) who organized the festivities, apparently made a wise choice when he decided weeks after the announcement of the event to construct Sunday around the tastes of young modern pop and rock fans. And while most of the first two days recaptured the peaceful spirit of the original Woodstock, the final day seemed to reflect the angst and aggression of '90s rockers.

"You gotta promise me you won't get all stupid and nostalgic and come back here in your BMWs," Goo Goo Dolls singer Johnny Rzeznik said in a slap at the baby boomers who came back to the garden.

Fans of the Goo Goo Dolls, as well as fans of Third Eye Blind and Marcy Playground, turned the hallowed land into one big, wild mosh pit through most of the final day's performances. When the Goo Goos performed their mammoth hit, "Iris," the revelers lost control and kid after kid was tossed by friends to the front of the stage. Security had to struggle to catch the flying partiers and place them safely back in the crowd.

When photographers were in the pit at the beginning of the set, the camera operators could barely keep steady to shoot with all the jostling going on.

But there was more happening on Sunday than mere mayhem.

Marcy Playground showed surprising depth, as the trio fully captured the sound of its eponymous breakthrough album without the help of supplementary musicians. Singer John Wozniak's soothing voice rang out over the long, green fields of Yasgur's Farm during songs such as "Saint Joe on the School Bus," and he led a sing-along of the band's sly hit, "Sex and Candy" (RealAudio excerpt).

Third Eye Blind, despite their headliner status, impressed only because they had a more elaborate stage design than Sunday's other bands. A black banner with the band's moniker was hung atop the stage, which had a long, silver walkway on its left side for frontman Stephan Jenkins to strut up and down on, a la lead Rolling Stone Mick Jagger.

Though Jenkins had the posings of a frontman down pat, he disgusted more than charmed with comments such as "Somebody threw a tampon up here." He told the crowd the band liked "dark, dirty, freaky songs" and played a number of them, such as "Jumper" and "Narcolepsy." He often pointed his fingers skyward as his body bent and tilted backward while he emoted.

Osborne sang like a '90s version of bluesy singer Janis Joplin and skipped around the stage in a florid, pastel dress with her hair pinned up. Osborne was gracious enough to mention her co-artists, in between marveling at the farm's size, the enormity of the crowd and the high temperature onstage. Her rugged voice, one of the strongest in rock, ached with the lyrics of her hit, "One of Us" (RealAudio excerpt), and new songs such as "Baby Love."

Earlier in the weekend, the considerably older crowds were far more sedate and seemed more in the mood for togetherness. Toni Sindone, 39, a daycare provider from Accord, N.Y., said she felt that it was a "positive [few days] of love and unity ... a temporary break for everybody. I hope it continues."

Fleetwood Mac singer Nicks played through the weekend's only torrential rain. She refrained from her trademark spinning as she watched staff feverishly wipe puddles from the stage like a baseball stadium grounds crew. Nicks was in tune with the weekend's intended "historic event" theme, saying, "I saw the 'Woodstock' movie in a drive-in. ... I'm very proud to be here."

Saturday's lineup included such '60s-era relics as folk singer Melanie, British folkie Donovan and original Woodstock act Richie Havens.

Havens' juxtaposition with Lou Reed on the bill was slightly jarring. It's a long leap from Havens' Woodstock reminiscences to Reed's tales of New York City's Canal Street.

Reed and his band -- with all four members dressed in black -- opened with the classic "Sweet Jane" (RealAudio excerpt) and played an hour and a half's worth of gripping tunes propelled by dueling guitars. The audience roared approval throughout the set, even for relatively new songs such as "Into the Divine," which sounded like vintage Reed.

Mitchell drew the most applause of any of the introductions. For her first official East Coast appearance in 15 years, Mitchell played a funky, soulful brew of somewhat obscure material from her '70s and '80s work, along with a batch of new numbers such as "Happiness Is The Best Facelift." Though she didn't offer the full-tilt boogie ordinarily required to excite a festival audience, Mitchell's popularity was fully evident in the screams of "Joni" that filled the air throughout the night.

"It took me 30 years to get here," Mitchell said, referring to her absence from the 1969 concert because she'd been held in Manhattan, N.Y., by her manager, who was afraid that Mitchell would miss a television taping. Mitchell played the original event's theme, "Woodstock," which she based on the stories she'd heard of the event. Despite not witnessing the historic gathering firsthand, she managed to capture the mood in the tune, she said, "using empathy and projection."

When she played the song as an encore, the words "we've got to get ourselves back to the garden" struck a poignant note.

"Joni's words hit you right in the heart," said 40-year-old Sue McNamara of Ithaca, N.Y. "I was going to take my daughter to see tomorrow's show, but she wouldn't come with me today to see Joni."

Townshend's show, meanwhile, suffered from some strange song choices. It's doubtful that anyone came back to the garden to see his backing vocalist sing "Acid Queen." Townshend even complained at one point, telling his crew half-jokingly, "Her mic is much louder than mine."

Townshend closed his set with "Listening To You," the Tommy anthem that the Who played several times during the 1969 festival.

It would be a stretch to say that the weekend's series of disparate, personal sets captured the '69 event's galvanizing effect.

But there were smaller pleasures to be had. One of them was that, in spite of the show's obvious generational split, there were signs that members of both the older and the younger sets were able to peer out of their own worlds and see the value of -- and their own links with -- the other group's chosen musical heroes.

"I grew up with this music," said Tara Brophy, 22, while listening to Henley. Despite the lack of nudity, mudbaths and most illegal drugs, the look on Brophy's face was proof that the Woodstock spirit of peace and happiness could be found by all those -- regardless of age -- looking for it.

 

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