Woodstock Turns 40: What Might Have Been

Woodstock_40_Years_Logo_With the 40th anniversary of Woodstock upon us this weekend,  August 15th through 17th (1969), it astounds me to think what might have been if all of the artists who were invited to perform actually showed up and played for this unprecedented and historical event. Some of the musicians and bands who declined or opted out of Woodstock simply did not think that a concert at a dairy farm in the middle of nowhere was destined to be a big deal. It’s interesting that many of the artists from that time have expressed the similar view that, before the festival, there Woodstock-album-coverwas little indication of the importance that this event would come to represent and symbolize. After all, it is said that  hindsight is 20/20. Amazingly enough, some had better things to do, some had better offers or were previously booked elsewhere, still some simply did not care to be around hippies, and still an other hated performing outdoors. Anyway, the reasons varied widely and here you can read and learn more about them. The following is a list of  many acts that told Woodstock festival promoters they had other plans or didn’t show up for various reasons ….. Enjoy, and consider “what might have been”


Beatles_1969_fieldsThe Beatles promoters had contacted John Lennon to discuss a Beatles performance at Woodstock. Lennon said that the Beatles would not play unless there was also a spot at the festival for Yoko Ono’s ‘Plastic Ono Band’. Supposedly, he was declined because of that. Now keep in mind that there was internal strife going on within the Beatles at this time and it had been almost 3 years since their last live performance. A more believable version of this story came out when Artie Kornfeld met with John Lennon. Lennon had expressed that he wanted to perform at Woodstock, but was in Canada at the time and was having a difficult time getting back into the United States due to “substance issues” as well as a man named Richard Nixon.

Led_Zeppelin_1969Led Zeppelin was asked to perform, but their manager, Peter Grant, decided that they would be “just another band on the bill“. Instead, they launched a hugely successful summer tour. On the weekend of Woodstock, Led Zeppelin played the Asbury Park Convention Hall in New Jersey, just a couple of hours south of the festival.

Doors_1969The Doors were one of the most powerful bands of that era and were invited to perform at as a potential act for the festival, but canceled at the last moment with speculation pointing towards Jim Morrison’s vocal dislike of performing at large outdoor venues. None-the-less, drummer John Densmore did still appear at the festival. He can be seen, in the film, on the side stage during Joe Cocker’s performance set.

Bob_Dylan_1969Bob Dylan was in the middle of negotiations for the upcoming festival but backed out when his son came down with an illness. He was also not very impressed with the increasing number of hippies accumulating outside of his house near the originally planned festival site. A couple of weeks later on August  31, 1969, Dylan went on to “top the bill” along with The Who and perform at the “Isle of Wight Festival” in the United Kingdom with an estimated  crowd of 300,000 in attendance. He would go on to repeat the performance a year later to a crowd of more than double that number.

Moody_Blues_1969The Moody Blues were actually advertised on the original ‘Wallkill’ poster as performers, but decided to back out after being booked in Paris on the exact same weekend. They also went on a couple of weeks later to perform at the Isle of Wight Festival over in England and repeated that performance the following year to an even larger crowd of over 600,000 in attendance.

Byrds_1969The Byrds were invited, but chose not to participate, figuring that Woodstock wouldn’t be any different from all the other music festivals that took place that summer. In addition, there were concerns about money. As bassist John York remembers… “We were flying to a gig and Roger [McGuinn] came up to us and said that a guy was putting on a festival in upstate New York. But at that point they weren’t paying all of the bands. He asked us if we wanted to do it and we said, ‘No’. We had no idea what it was going to be. We were burned out and tired of the festival scene. […] So all of us said, ‘No, we want a rest’ and missed the best festival of all.'”

Jeff_Beck_GroupThe Jeff Beck Group (featuring Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Nicky Hopkins) were booked to perform at ‘An Aquarian Exposition’ (aka ‘Woodstock’), but broke up only a week before the festival was to have begun. Beck broke up the band practically on the eve of what would have been their coup’ de gras – The ‘Woodstock Music Festival’ – at which they were scheduled to play. This is something that Beck now regrets.

Jethro_Tull_1969Jethro Tull decided to pass on the event after Ian Anderson had been reported as saying that he “didn’t want to spend [his] weekend in a field of unwashed hippies”. Another conjecture or theory is their belief that the event was “too big of a deal” and a large festival such as this may kill their career before it even got started. Although Jethro Tull did not perform, their music was still played over the public address system in between performances. In 1970, Jethro Tull went on to perform at the ‘Isle of Wight Festival’ in the United Kingdom along with over 50 other acts.

Procol_HarumProcol Harum (one of the earlier pioneers who helped contribute to the  dynamic fusion of psycheldelic rock with progressive rock) were invited but declined because the festival was taking place just as they had completed the end of a long tour. Also, band member Robin Trower was expecting the birth of his child at any moment. Their initial live debut on stage was as as the opener for Jimi Hendrix on tour back in 1967.

Iron_ButterflyIron Butterfly had been booked to play at Woodstock but ended up getting stranded at the airport. When their manager called the promoters of the concert, he explained their situation and asked for patience. However, the manager demanded that the Butterfly be flown in to the concert grounds by helicopter, whereupon they would “immediately” take the stage. After their set they would be paid and flown back to the airport. The manager was told that this would be taken into consideration, and he would be called back. In truth, his outrageous demands were never given a second thought. Bass guitarist, Lee Dorman later expressed regret at this unfortunate turn of events. He also felt that the band’s career may have gone further had they played the festival.

Zappa_Mothers-of-InventionFrank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention also received an invite. According to the United States broadcast television special, ‘Class of the 20th Century’,  Frank Zappa was quoted as saying “A lot of mud at Woodstock … We were invited to play there – we turned it down”.

Tommy-James-&-ShondellsTommy James and the Shondells also declined an invitation. Later on, lead singer Tommy James would later comment “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 realised what we’d missed a couple of days later.” (excerpt from the liner notes to the album, “Tommy James and the Shondells: Anthology”).

Joni-MitchellJoni Mitchell was originally slated to perform, but canceled at the urging of her manager to avoid missing a scheduled television appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. There appeared to be a potential for “logistical” problems about getting out of the festival grounds after her performance in time to appear on the TV talk show. It is also rumored that Mitchell was discouraged from performing at another festival, by her agent, after an appearance she made previously at the Atlantic City Pop Festival, after she encountered a particularly nasty crowd.

Free-the-bandFree, featuring lead vocal Paul Rodgers and lead guitarist, Paul Kossoff received an invite to perform and decided not to accept. They also ended up performing at the huge ‘Isle of Wight Festival’ a year later that drew nearly 600,000 people.

Spirit-1969Spirit were offered the spot right before Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, but they were advised to turn it down and concentrate on a promotional tour for the release of their third album. Record company managers felt that the festival would not be significant enough, which at that time,  didn’t appear likely, and so they missed out on the massive international exposure that the festival and the subsequent film documentary generated. Remember what I said earlier about hindsight?

Lighthouse-the-bandLighthouse, the Canadian rock band from Toronto who just formed in 1968, was booked to play, but backed out for fear that Woodstock would be a bad scene. The band’s demo record was funded by none other than Richie Havens. One of the first Lighthouse concerts was at Carnegie Hall and in its first year, the band also played at Fillmore East, Fillmore West, Toronto, Boston and Atlantic City Pop Festivals, and the Monterey and Newport Jazz Festivals.

Its-A-Beautiful-DayIt’s A Beautiful Day, a band that emerged out of San Francisco’s “Summer of Love”, cancelled at the last minute. However, lead female vocal, Linda Baker LaFlamme, actually attended the Woodstock Festival and “had the honor to hangout backstage”, as she put it in her own words during an interview. She continued “Those days will never be forgotten by anyone who was there. My life was never the same after that experience.”

Mind Garage, somewhat unknown and just getting their start at the time – also perhaps the first ‘Christian Rock’ band, declined because they thought the festival would be “no big deal” and they, as well, had a higher paying gig elsewhere.

Arthur Lee and Love were another, lesser known, band that also declined the invitation. Mojo Magazine later indicated that inner tension and turmoil within the band was the reason that caused their absence at the Woodstock festival.

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