Woodstock’s 45th Anniversary: The Great Bands That Turned It Down
FORTY-FIVE years ago, the Woodstock Festival kicked off. Not the first of it’s kind and certainly not the best – but most iconic? Probably.
500,000 gathered on Max Yasgur’s farm in New York’s Sullivan County, and that weekend in August 1969, the the “3 Days of Peace & Music” was captured on film and a legend was born.
Days after the first man set foot on the moon and in the middle of the Vietnam war, optimism, hate and politics all melded together with pop culture.
On the bill that weekend, were Sly & The Family Stone, Joe Cocker, the Grateful Dead, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Santana, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and more.
However, the line-up at Woodstock could’ve been very, very different. There were a number of bands who were asked and turned it down. There were bands who never really considered it.
So let us look at some of the acts that could’ve been at Woodstock and you can weigh-up how brilliant or awful it would have been to have them alongside the other groups. We’ve chosen footage that is from around the time of Woodstock, so you can get a real feel for what the bands could’ve added (or subtracted) from those that appeared.
Zep’s manager Peter Grant stated: “We were asked to do Woodstock and Atlantic were very keen, and so was our U.S. promoter, Frank Barsalona. I said no because at Woodstock we’d have just been another band on the bill.” Zep went and watched Elvis instead.
Dylan lived in Woodstock at the time, but didn’t enter serious negotiations to play as he was setting off to do the Isle of Wight festival instead, travelling on the QE2. Dylan was also apparently annoyed at the hippies hanging around his house. Thank god The Band were there.
The Beatles/John Lennon
There’s some rumours that the Woodstock organisers asked Lennon to play, but lost interest in the Beatle when he demanded that Yoko Ono get a slot too. However, what is far more likely is that Lennon fancied a slot, but Richard Nixon wouldn’t let him as he was madly paranoid about Lennon being in the States.
Arthur Lee and Love
Arthur Lee declined the invitation thanks to him and his band basically fighting with each other all the time. Love’s appearance would’ve made the band a household name and given their masterpiece – ‘Forever Changes’ – a chance to be a household name. Alas, they were consigned to record-collector obscurity.
Joni was all set to play Woodstock and indeed, wrote a great song about the place. However, she cancelled her appearance on her manager’s advice who thought she’d be better off playing her scheduled appearance on The Dick Cavett Show.
The Jeff Beck Group
Jeff Beck said of Woodstock: “I deliberately broke the group up before Woodstock. I didn’t want it to be preserved.”
The Doors cancelled their Woodstock gig at the last minute, because they thought the festival would be a “second class repeat of Monterey Pop Festival”. They spared a generation of Jim Morrison’s dreadful lizard routine.
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
It has always been weird that Zappa wasn’t at Woodstock, seeing as he presided over 60s counterculture like some mad professor, but on a TV show, Zappa said: “A lot of mud at Woodstock … We were invited to play there, we turned it down.”
The Byrds were, of course, invited to play Yasgur’s farm, but declined the offer because they figured Woodstock would be no different from any of the other music festivals that summer. There were money concerns as well because, as you know, hippies like to get paid and it looked like McGuinn & Co might not, so they stayed away.
Still known as the Chicago Transit Authority, the band had been signed-on to play Woodstock, but thanks to contractual wranglings, Santana got their slot instead. That’s got to be a kick in the teeth.
Tommy James and the Shondells
Declining the invitation, Tommy James said: “We could have just kicked ourselves. We were in Hawaii, and my secretary called and said, ‘Yeah, listen, there’s this pig farmer in upstate New York that wants you to play in his field.’ That’s how it was put to me. So we passed, and we realized what we’d missed a couple of days later.”
Free were asked to play, but declined.
Spirit, and the dazzlingly talented Randy California, were asked to play Woodstock, but turned it down because they had already been booked to play some other shows. They had no idea what they were turning down.
Jethro Tull turned down Woodstock. Frontman Ian Anderson said he knew it would be huge, but didn’t fancy it because he didn’t like hippies and thought they wouldn’t get paid enough.
IB were booked to appear and are even listed on the Woodstock poster to play on the Sunday, but sadly, they missed their show because they were stuck at an airport. That’s gotta suck.