You know the story – on August 15, 1969, an estimated 400,000 people coalesced on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in upstate Bethel, New York, for “3 days of Peace & Music” at a music and art fair that ultimately defined a generation. Today marks the golden fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock, and to celebrate the occasion, the staff at Cover Me are going “back to the garden” to wrap you in the Top 50 covers performed by the legendary artists who graced the stage during that long weekend.
You may not know much about the integral role cover songs played at the festival. Our research showed that of the 300-plus songs performed by the thirty-two acts, well over 100 were covers in one way, shape, or form. Nearly every set contained at least one cover. Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, and the anachronistic Sha Na Na led the way with sets comprised predominantly of covers. Not surprisingly for the era, Bob Dylan – while not a Woodstock participant – was the most widely covered artist by a significant margin, followed by The Beatles.
A hallmark of the era, traditional spirituals and blues figured heavily into the performances. In some cases the re-workings materialized as new arrangements for traditional lyrics (The Who); in others (Canned Heat), new lyrics were added to note-for-note traditional arrangements. Burgeoning country stars Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson were both covered. And what would a covers conversation be without some controversy? There was a case where the “original” song’s band members became part of the band who recorded the best-known version; another where the members of two bands co-wrote a song performed by both bands, and yet another where the unlikely artist’s original composition existed only as an unreleased demo until 30 years after Woodstock!
We narrowed that list down to the best fifty tracks for this feature. Historians should note that nearly all of the “lost” tracks (originals and covers) are – for the first time in fifty years – available commercially thanks to Rhino’s massive, $800 limited edition 50th Anniversary Archive box set. Fortunately, Cover Me readers won’t need to write a big check to enjoy this collection of “song and celebration” – can you dig it?
– Frank Minishak