BETHEL, N.Y. — Missing: The mud-encrusted masses of humanity that defined both 1969's Woodstock music festival and its 1994 anniversary.
A Day in the Garden wasn't a sex-and-drugs free-for-all, either. But there was plenty of the old Woodstock's main ingredient — rock 'n' roll — at the three-day music festival held over the weekend here at Max Yasgur's farm, the original Woodstock site. And if a couple of expected performers weren't in evidence, the varied genres and cross-generational appeal of the stars who did get here made for a memorable affair.
Of course, the near-total abandon of the half-million hippies who flocked here nearly 30 years ago was gone, probably for good. For this year's more manageable crowds (estimated at 18,000 Friday, 26,000 Saturday), the Garden was an expertly controlled experience, with each day's acts running pretty much on time from late morning through early evening. The huge stage was the same used by Garth Brooks in Central Park, and there were 30 food vendors and 400 portable toilets, in marked contrast to the absence of both at the first fest.
There was a phone bank and a mobile cash machine and a play area for kids, a field hospital and four satellite first-aid stations — and a sturdy chain-link fence to keep '69-style gate-crashers from sharing space with those who'd shelled out up to $69 to get in. But there was very little outlandish behavior in evidence the first two days — all bets were off for Sunday's bill, featuring youth-oriented acts such as Third Eye Blind and Goo Goo Dolls — and when the music commenced Friday with Brit singer/songwriter Francis Dunnery's late-morning set, the crowd was largely paunchy, graying grown-ups with young kids in traditional tie-dye in tow.
The operative word was "mellow," both for the crowd and for Dunnery: There wasn't even any cheering when he sang the lyric "You make me high," which surely was more about love than about the smoke-induced state of mind prevalent here in 1969. Certainly no herbal help was needed to groove to Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers' ecstatic set, which followed — albeit minus its big-name front man, son of late reggae hero Bob Marley. Taking over was Ziggy's brother, Stephen, otherwise a member of the Melody Makers' backing group, which includes sisters Cedella and Sharon on backup vocals. Their set was marked by versions of their dad's classic Rastaman Vibration and No Woman No Cry, both chilling in their evocation of the senior Marley's spirit.
Then came Ten Years After, the recently reconstituted British boogie band that shot to fame after its performance of Goin' Home was featured in the 1970 Woodstock documentary. Almost 30 years after, guitarist Alvin Lee missed not a lick on that anthem, which further recalled the past with its extended jamming.
A pair of still-active '70s artists closed out Friday's lineup. Don Henley's set mixed songs of John Hiatt, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Hornsby with his own estimable solo and Eagles hits; he was followed by an emotional Stevie Nicks, wrapping up a tour promoting her career-retrospective boxed set, Enchanted. This being Woodstock — or at least a facsimile thereof, since the original presenters own the rights to that name — it began to rain during Nicks' set, but her frequent costume changes gave the crew time to towel down the stage.
Three vintage folkies made up the first half of Saturday's schedule. Woodstock original Melanie, a regular at unofficial annual celebrations at the site, was particularly charming and a marked contrast to the generally mercenary nature of this festival, speaking out in behalf of Amnesty International before launching into Freedom Knows My Name. She was followed by Donovan, whose warbling vibrato remains intact, and Richie Havens, who recaptured the '69 spirit with songs of Bob Dylan and '60s peace-and-love vibes that hit home with the aging hippies in the crowd.
Lou Reed, whose Velvet Underground bridged the Woodstock generation and the '70s punk-rock wave, was an abrupt stylistic change. His riveting quartet pumped at full throttle on the Velvet classic Sweet Jane and his early solo hit Vicious. Joni Mitchell followed with a diametrically different set relying heavily on her jazzier free-form side and including songs from her forthcoming album Taming the Tiger.
Pete Townshend's day-ending show was spectacular, with highlights including The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again, capped by his trademark windmill guitar licks, and the surprise addition of guitarist Taj Mahal for a blues segment. (Maybe that was to make up for the absence of Ringo Starr's drummer son, Zac Starkey, talked up in advance as an addition to Townshend's band.)
Also unexpected: Townshend's dedication of Behind Blue Eyes to late Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman, whom Townshend yanked off the stage when he interrupted The Who's 1969 set, trying to politicize the Woodstock Nation.
Other ghosts of Woodstock past were invoked by Melanie, whose rendition of Beautiful People identified the departed Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Keith Moon and even Max Yasgur, the dairy farmer whose hospitality made the first Woodstock possible. Havens' set, meanwhile, climaxed with a tribute to Hendrix's famed Woodstock performance of the national anthem, and Mitchell for an encore offered Woodstock — whose lyrics gave A Day in the Garden its name.
Townshend also cleverly opened his set with On the Road Again, by original Woodstockers Canned Heat, and closed it with the See Me, Feel Me grand finale from Tommy — which ran till dawn the night The Who did it here in 1969 and this time featured a local 26-piece gospel choir.
About the only sour note was sounded by Henley, who prefaced The End of the Innocence with a gibe at efforts to make these hallowed grounds the site of an annual commercial venture. But the quality of the Garden performances and the smooth operation make it likely Yasgur's farm will become a living monument to a still-resonating memory.
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