Last month, the legendary music documentary Woodstock was re-released in a 40th-anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition featuring the Director’ Cut, a 5.1 surround sound mix, new bonus features and 13 previously unreleased performances. I spoke with Eddie Kramer (the festival’s original live mixer) and Robert J. Corti (supervisor, audio mastering and restoration for Warner Bros., and sound supervisor for the film) about restoring, remastering and remixing the film for the July 2009 issue of Mix magazine. The online reprint of the Mix story can be found here.
I was a child of the Eighties, which is when we were going through the initial Sixties revival. Back then I was a metal and hard rock fanatic and not interested in “classic rock”. (Funny how my music is called that now.) When I finally sat down to watch the three and a half hour director’s cut of Woodstock prior to my interviews, I was impressed not only with how well the film kept my attention, but also how it captured an all-too-brief period in American history when peace and change seemed possible. The film is equally relevant today given the political upheaval we have experienced in the last few months and the desire of many Americans for our country to turn over a new leaf.
Beyond politics, the film features stirring performances by Santana, The Who, Richie Havens, Creedence Clearwater Revival and, of course, Jimi Hendrix, whose entire set is captured on a separate live DVD. Some of the unreleased performances are intriguing and better than some of the ones that were included, particularly two inspired songs from Leslie West and Mountain. It may be considered heresy for me to say, but I was not particularly impressed with Canned Heat, Ten Years After and what I would consider less distinguishable blues-based rock bands who jammed a little too long for my taste. They were important for their time — which is where director Michael Wadleigh had a dilemma in terms of picking what material to put in out of the hours and hours of footage he shot — but they’re just not my thing.
The most striking aspect of Woodstock was how radically different it was from rock festivals today: no overpriced concessions, no mosh pits, no corporate sponsorship, no company logos anywhere. The massive throng that descended upon Bethel, New York was peaceful, respectful and orderly. There were some problems: a massive traffic jam resulting from massive crowds that were larger than anticipated, along with sanitation concerns, insufficient first aid and dwindling food supplies. The public announcement at Woodstock about the bad acid going around is priceless. Still, the organizers pulled off the event and created history.
How times change. Warner Home Video held a DVD release party last month at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York that featured performances by Richie Havens and original members of Sha Na Na, Santana, the Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival, although the venue was decidedly more comfortable and modern. There were no concerns about food and water shortages, military assistance was unnecessary and there was only a very minor human traffic jam at the door. The closet thing to drugs going around were “pot brownies,” i.e. chocolate treats in flower pots.
But the spirit of the original event remained intact: peace, love, harmony and rockin’ tunes.