7 Artists Who Left Their Mark on the Woodstock Festivals

On August 15-18, 1969, close to half a million people were gathered in an open space in a backwater farm in Bethel, New York. The rains were constant and heavy; the ground was muddy, and the air was filled with the scent of excitement, booze, and unwashed bodies. But all these couldn’t dampen the atmosphere because the people were there for one thing only—the Woodstock festival.

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In early 1969, four men—Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman, and John P. Roberts shared an idea to hold a music concert to foster unity and also to make a financial profit. It was this initiative that resulted in the birth of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. The festival was officially named “an Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music.” With booze, laughter, and music free-flowing, the festival lived up to its promise.

Before the Woodstock festival and even after, the Vietnam War was ongoing and tension in the United States was high. With this tension came the rise of the hippie movement, where love, peace, and societal freedom were celebrated. It was for this reason that the Woodstock Rock Festival was greatly embraced.

Another Woodstock music festival dubbed “2 More Days of Peace and Music” took place in 1994 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Woodstock fiesta.

Here are 7 artists who wrote their names in history books with their iconic Woodstock performance:

1. Santana

Although a somewhat unknown rock band before its Woodstock performance, Santana, took the stage by storm and set it on fire with their performance of “Soul Sacrifice,” keeping the crowd clamoring for more. The drum solo by Michael Shrieve was magnetic and to this day is greatly remembered. Santana’s performance was unarguably one of the best at the festival—the feat solidifying their name in the history of rock music. In Woodstock 1994, the band once again thrilled the crowd with a repeat of this iconic performance.

2. Janis Joplin 

Janis Joplin and the Kozmic Blues Band began their act with Eddie Floyd’s “Raise Your Hands”. It proved to be a good start, as Janis, who had initially felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of the crowd, soon established a rapport with the crowd. Like she was known for whenever she performed, her mezzo-soprano, full of emotion, rang out through the crowd. Her final number for the event, Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball And Chain,” left the crowd electrified. By the end of the performance, Joplin’s memorable voice had been stretched to its limit such that she could all but wail.  The crowd, joining in the wailing and moaning, had seemingly become one.

3. Joe Cocker 

Entirely entranced by the music, head tossed side to side, body swaying rhythmically, British singer, Joe Cocker, was in music heaven, and no one could take their eyes off him. With his gravelly voice, he called out the lyrics to “With a Little Help From My Friends,” a classic by the Beatles, and the crowd, swaying in agreement, could do nothing but respond. Many years later, this performance remains a strong reminder of why Joe Cocker gained the hearts of so many people around the world.

4. Sly & the Family Stone

Merging psychedelic rock with classical soul music, Sly & the Family Stone was able to create a uniquely funky sound that was not only a breath of fresh air but also a movement for the empowerment of women and all races. This was a particularly important theme due to the social climate of the period. 

Opening with the song titled “M’Lady,” the band warmed up the crowd with their hit single “Everyday People.” It was the only No. 1 hit played at Woodstock.

They moved on to another crowd favorite, “I Want to Take You Higher,” and finally closed their set with “Stand!”.

5. Jimi Hendrix 

The 1969 festival was brought to a flourishing finish as Jimi Hendrix closed the show with a brilliant rendition of America’s “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Hendrix’s genius musicianship was once again brought to the forefront as his guitar, roaring solo, spoke to the hearts of its hearers, leaving in them a wonder that only Hendrix could. 

The gifted guitarist unfortunately passed away 4 years later, at the age of 27.

6. Nine Inch Nails

In Woodstock ‘94, Nine Inch Nails led a memorable performance. With the leader, Trent Reznor, and the rest of the band caked in mud, the performance was set to be etched in the minds of its viewers even before they uttered a word onstage. The muddy appearance was in fact a show of the band’s jovial nature as shortly before they came on stage, they engaged in playful mud fights.

As the historic performance kicked off, their name was seared in the memories of not only their viewers but the world at large.

7. Green Day 

American rock band Green Day, consisting of Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool, and Mike Dirnt, left the crowd with an unforgettable performance at the 1994 Woodstock festival. With Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers’ sets playing on the main stage, Green Day was left with the South Stage of the concert. 

The rains subsided but it didn’t take long for mud to start flying from the audience onto the stage. Pandemonium further ensued as a security guard mistook Dirnt, the band’s drummer for a fan and punched out his teeth. Billie Joe Armstrong gave the crowd something to talk about as he started to disrobe in front of the crowd.

The performance turned out to be a very memorable one for their fans.

The Forever Iconic Woodstock Rock Festival of 1969

Although several decades old, the first edition remains alive in the hearts of those who walked those muddy farm grounds. Perhaps even more beautiful is the fact that decades later, the Woodstock Rock Festival is revered by the younger generation. 

There have been other attempts at the Woodstock Festival. Yet none quite as spoken about as much as the Woodstock Festival of Music and Arts of 1969. 

Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

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