On The Diversity of Classic Rock, we are celebrating the important year of 1969 by publishing posts about the Moon Landing and Woodstock, two important events that happened that year. For the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, we’ll be making a post about The Diversity of Woodstock: Who the musicians are and where they’re from. Let’s get started and talk about The Diversity of Woodstock.
What was Woodstock?
Woodstock doesn’t need much of an introduction. Everyone knows what it is. Three Days of Peace & Music at Yasgur’s dairy farm. A once-off festival that happened on 15-18 August 1969, which attracted about half a million people (not the largest festival ever though). A lot went wrong: it rained, technical issues, traffic, musicians couldn’t make it, and the organisers of the festival were over $1 million (about $10 million in today’s money) in debt.
Despite that, the festival was known as one of the pivotal moments in pop/rock music history and it was a moment that defined the hippie counterculture movement. The Oscar-winning 1970 documentary film Woodstock is worth the watch and the most famous song about the festival was written by Joni Mitchell, a musician who turned down the invite.
Below, you can find an infographic about Woodstock I made about some of the problems with Woodstock. If you wish to share my infographics, please give me credit by linking to my website. Thank you!
Where the performers were from
Linked here, you’ll find a map I made on MapHub of all the places the different performers came from. You can scroll and zoom in and check out all the different points on the map.
In total, the performers came from 5 different countries: The US, Canada, Mexico, The UK, and India. The two acts from Canada were The Band and Neil Young. The only musician from Mexico was Carlos Santana. Ravi Shankar was the only Indian musician, but Swami Satchidananda, who gave the intro speech at Woodstock, was also from India.
There were 6 acts from the UK, 5 from England and 1 from Scotland (Incredible String Band). The Who were the only band from London at Woodstock. Graham Nash and Keef Hartley were from the northwest of England, Joe Cocker was from Sheffield and Ten Years After were from Nottingham. The only musician from India who performed at Woodstock was Ravi Shankar, although Swami Satchidananda opened Woodstock with a prayer of peace and love, uniting the West and the East.
Performers from the US came from 8 different states: Washington, Oregon, California, Texas, Illinois, Florida, New York, and Massachusetts.
Most of these performers were from the coastal states of the US, with most of them being from California (mostly LA and San Francisco) and New York (mostly NYC). Massachusetts’ only band there were Quill. The only Chicago act were Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter, and Stephen Stills were from Texas. Tim Hardin was the only one from Oregon and Jimi Hendrix was the only one from Seattle, Washington.
Women Who Performed at Woodstock
In the 60s, Rock was still predominantly male, but female performers have been in rock and roll since the beginning. There were 10 women who performed at Woodstock. Out of 32 acts, 8 were women or had women in the band. Far from equal, but more than you’d expect in the 60s. In this section we will talk about the women who performed at Woodstock:
Nancy Nevins (Sweetwater): Sweetwater were the second act and first band to play Woodstock, after Richie Havens. Being one of the first acts to play means they were kind of guinea pigs, sound check for the rest of the bands.
Nancy Nevins was the first woman to perform on the stage at Woodstock. Sweetwater, like their contemporaries, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane were one of the few rock bands of the 60s with a female singer. Nancy Nevins went to CalArts to study music and met bandmate Alex Del Zoppo.
Sweetwater played festivals starting in 1968 with bands like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Richie Havens, and Janis Joplin. After Woodstock, a drink driver crashed into Nancy’s car and she went into a coma. She ended up suffering from brain damage and permanently lost the use of one of her vocal cords. She underwent 6 throat operations and the band released two more albums before breaking up. She left the music business and got a degree in American Studies and a Masters in English and taught English composition.
Maya Kulkarni: Played tambura for Ravi Shankar. She was a 22-year-old postgraduate student in the US, who unexpectedly ended up at Woodstock when she got a call from famous tambura player Kamala Chakravarty that she was ill and needed a replacement for a few shows in New York. She told Indian Express in 2012:
“When we came on the stage, the audience roared with welcome and listened wi5 rapt attention. Somewhere Raviji knew he was making history. I saw his utter openness to all forms of music, the deep love for notes and what they conveyed – Western or Indian.”
Melanie: Folk singer born Melanie Safka in New York City. She is part Ukrainian and Italian. She started singing as a kid and performed on a radio show when she was only 4. She studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and performed in Greenwich Village folk clubs. She then got a record deal and had some success in Europe with songs like “Bobo’s Party” and “Beautiful People”.
Her song, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” was inspired by her performance at Woodstock when the audience were lighting candles, or really just matches and lighters, during her set. She also performed at Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Keith Moon introduced her and she received 4 standing ovations. In 1972, she released her biggest hit, “Brand New Key”. The following year, Melanie took a break from music to start a family.
Joan Baez: Half Mexican, half British, she is a singer-songwriter, musician, and civil rights activist well known for her protest and social justice songs. Her father was a co-creator of the x-ray microscope and her mother, also named Joan, was born in Scotland, later moving to the US, and lived for 100 years, from 1913 to 2013. Her family would move around a lot, not just around the US, but to different countries in Europe and the Middle East. The concert that really moved her was when she saw folk musician Pete Seeger live when she was 13.
She sees social justice being more important than music to who she is. Everyone in her family was involved in social justice activism. She would only play at integrated venues and when she played at universities in the southern US, she would only play at black colleges. In 1958, she gave her first concert at Club 47 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At the time, she was thinking of using a stage name, but opted not to because she didn’t want to be accused of hiding her heritage. Her career started taking off when she played the Newport Folk Festival in 1959. The following year, she released her debut album.
Joan Baez is very influential in folk music. She helped Bob Dylan get famous. Musicians like Emmylou Harris and Joni Mitchell were inspired by her. Joan Baez and Bob Dylan both performed at the March on Washington. Other musicians who were there include: Mahalia Jackson; Marian Anderson; and Peter, Paul, and Mary.
In 1968, her husband at the time, David Harris, was imprisoned for draft resistance so she recorded David’s Album for him. Her performance at Woodstock gave her even more international fame, especially after the documentary film was release in 1970. She was also pregnant at the time. For these reasons she is considered the most accomplished interpretive folk singer/songwriter of the 60s. Joan Baez came out as bisexual in 1972.
Janis Joplin: One of 10 women and only one of two bisexual musicians at Woodstock (the other is Pete Townshend). She came to Woodstock with her on/off lover, Peggy Caserta. Her big break was at Monterey with Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1967. Before that, she was born in Port Arthur, Texas. Her mother was a registrar at a business college and her father was an engineer for Texaco. As a teenager she made friends with a group of outcasts and one of them was a big fan of blues music. This was life changing for her and she decided to become a singer. In secondary school, she was bullied, but she focused on music and kept being herself. In the early 60s, while still in Texas, she recorded her first songs. She and a friend hitchhiked to California in 1963. Her first time living in California didn’t go that well. She shoplifted, drank a lot, and did drugs. Her friends were concerned and decided to raise money for her to go back to her family in Texas.
She joined Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1966. The band loved her bluesy vocals. The band would perform all over San Francisco. They released their debut album just after their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival.
The Woodstock organisers allegedly started promoting that Janis would be there before she was booked for sure. She had multiple backing bands and had left Big Brother and the Holding Company and started the Kozmic Blues Band, who had more of a Stax inspired sound.
At Woodstock, she was flown in on a helicopter with Joan Baez. There were many delays and she didn’t perform until 2 AM on August 17th. She had to wait 10 hours to perform and during the wait she shot heroin and drank alcohol and didn’t sound her best at the performance and she didn’t want her vocals included in the Woodstock documentary film. Still, even Janis on a bad day was good. Her posthumously released album, Pearl, was her best selling album.
Rose Stone and Cynthia Robinson (Sly and the Family Stone): Rose is the sister of band leader Sly Stone and one of the lead singers in the band. She has a very strong voice and she often wears a platinum blonde wig. She also had a solo career.
Cynthia played the trumpet and she was one of the first female trumpet players in a major American band. She was the only original member of the band to continue working with Sly Stone after the band broke up in 1975. Besides Sly & The Family Stone, she played in Graham Central Station.
The band’s sound is described as psychedelic soul, a mix of psychedelic rock, R&B, and funk. By Woodstock, the band were successful, with hits like “Dance to the Music” and “Everyday People”.
Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane): She wasn’t Jefferson Airplane’s first female vocalist (that was Signe Toly Anderson who left in 1966 because she was going to have a baby), but she is the best known one. Jefferson Airplane were one of the pioneering psychedelic rock bands of the mid to late 60s. They were formed in 1965 in San Francisco. They played pretty much all the major festivals: Monterey, Woodstock, Altamont, and Isle of Wight. You might know their classic album, Surrealistic Pillow with their best known songs “White Rabbit” (written by Grace Slick) and “Somebody to Love” (written by Darby Slick, Grace’s brother in law). Both songs have Grace Slick on vocals and she performed them with The Great Society before joining Jefferson Airplane.
Before she was in Jefferson Airplane, she was in The Great Society, another San Francisco band. Bassist Jack Casady invited Grace Slick to join Jefferson Airplane after Signe Toly Anderson left. She made her debut with Jefferson Airplane on 16 October 1966 at the Fillmore.
Jefferson Airplane took the stage early Sunday morning. On stage, Grace Slick said “It’s a new dawn”, a good description of the 60s and all the changes that happened within the decade.
Christina McKechnie and Rose Simpson (Incredible String Band): Christina, also known as Licorice or Likky, was a singer and songwriter for Scottish psychedelic folk band Incredible String Band from 1968-1972. She would sing backing vocals and play percussion. She left the band after she broke up with her bandmate, Robin Williamson. Not much is known about her since she disappeared sometime between 1987 and 1990. Not even her family know her whereabouts. Some people think she is dead.
Rose Simpson was the bassist and violinist for the band. Before joining ISB, she went to the University of York. After Licorice joined the band, ISB member Mike Heron told Rose that she was in the band if she learnt to play bass guitar. She was a quick learner and Steve Winwood even asked her to play on one of his songs, but she turned down the offer. She left ISB in 1971 to start a family. Later, she got a PhD in German Literature from the University of Aberystwyth in Aberystwyth, Wales. She also became the Lady Mayoress of that town.
LGBT Performers at Woodstock
Considering that being gay or bisexual was considered a mental illness in the 60s (and was even illegal in many parts of the US), there were not a lot of out rock stars at the time. The Stonewall riots also happened in 1969, only a month before Woodstock, an important event at the beginning of the gay liberation movement.
That I know of, I can only think of three members of the LGBT community who performed at Woodstock (all of whom were/are bisexual): Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, and Pete Townshend. We already talked about Joan Baez and Janis Joplin above, so we’re going to talk about Pete Townshend.
Pete Townshend (The Who): He’s the brain and guitar basher of The Who. At the time, he wasn’t out as bisexual yet, but he came out in the 80s. Before The Who made it big, he was in art college, but dropped out as soon as he was making more money than his professor. His time at art college inspired the way be performed on stage. His upbringing wasn’t happy. His parents were both musicians who liked to drink and he was lonely, often reading books for fun. His life changed when he was 11 and saw Rock Around The Clock, which got him into rock and roll. Pete taught himself to play guitar and never learnt to play music, but he is considered an excellent guitarist.
Before The Who there were The Detours, Roger Daltrey’s band. He invited John Entwistle to join and then Pete Townshend joined, invited by a John Entwistle. In 1964, Keith Moon joined The Who. For a time The Who were The High Numbers and had a mod image. Starting in 1965, The Who got hit after hit: “I Can’t Explain”, “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, and “My Generation” – the song that launched the band into stardom and gave them their hard rock reputation. In 1967, The Who went on their first American tour opening for Herman’s Hermits, which had a rocky start. That Sam year the band played Monterey Pop Festival. The loud “I Can See For Miles” was a hit that year. The Who were also a really exciting act to see live. Very rock and roll, lots of destruction, showmanship, and a loud and energetic sound.
1968 was an important year for Pete Townshend songwriting wise. That year, he got interested in Meher Baba and came up with the idea for the concept album, Tommy. That album was an important one for The Who. They promoted the album at Woodstock. Notably, Abbie Hoffman jumped on stage during The Who’s set and Pete Townshend shoved him off the stage with his guitar.
Ethnic Diversity of Woodstock Performers
The 60s was a time of change and during that decade was the Civil Rights movement. Music became more diverse in voices. At Woodstock, there were performers from all ethnic backgrounds: Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American.
Eight multiracial bands played Woodstock: Sweetwater, Santana, Sly & The Family Stone, Kozmic Blues Band (Janis Joplin’s backing band), The Band, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, and Jimi Hendrix’s backing band.
These bands weren’t the only multiracial acts of the 60s. Other ones include The Association (mostly white, had one Asian member, Larry Ramos), The Equals (had Black Caribbean and a White British members), The Foundations (mostly Black Caribbean with some White British members and one Sri Lankan), and Booker T. & The MG’s (black and white members).
In this section, we’ll be talking about the non-white and mixed musicians who played the festival.
Asian Musicians at Woodstock
Ravi Shankar: Bengali Indian musician and composer of Hindustani classical music. When you think sitar, you definitely think Ravi Shankar, the most internationally famous sitar player. An influence to psychedelic rock musicians, he taught George Harrison to play sitar.
He was born into a Bengali Brahmin family and spent his youth touring India and Europe, dancing. At 18, he decided to study sitar under Allauddin Khan. He started touring internationally in Europe and the US as a sitar player in 1956. The Byrds were recording in the same studio as Ravi Shankar and liked what they were hearing, took inspiration, and told George Harrison about Indian Classical Music. In 1967, Ravi Shankar played the Monterey Pop Festival. He loved hearing all the rock music, but was horrified when he saw Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire because it conflicted with his belief of having respect for instruments. Shankar’s live album at Monterey reached #43 on the Billboard albums charts.
Ravi Shankar also worked with Lithuanian Jewish-American violin player Yehudi Menuhin and recorded Grammy-winning album West Meets East.
He didn’t like performing at Woodstock and did not like the drug culture at the festival. He said in an interview:
“It makes me feel rather hurt when I see the association of drugs with our music. The music to us is religion. The quickest way to reach godliness is through music. I don’t like the association of one bad thing with the music.”
Alla Rakha: Tabla player for Ravi Shankar, he was 50 when he played Woodstock. He was born in Phagwal, Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir and grew up on a farm. He was fascinated with music ever since he was a kid. When he was 11, he ran away from his parents to his uncle’s house to pursue his dream of becoming a musician, studying playing the tabla.
At the age of 21, he worked at All India Radio and played the station’s first ever tabla solo. In the mid to late 40s, he composed music for some Hindi films. For the most part though, he was an accompanist for musicians like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Allauddin Khan, Vilayat Khan, Vasant Rai, Ali Akbar Khan, and Ravi Shankar.
All Rakha’s strengths were his timing and improvisation skills. He popularised the tabla, elevating its status and respect. He was an Ustad (teacher) to musicians Shankha Chatterjee, Yogesh Samsi, Prafulla Athalye, Aditya Kalyanpur, Anuradha Pal, Shyam Kane, and more.
Maya Kulkarni: See above (Women at Woodstock)
Black Musicians at Woodstock
Richie Havens: The first performer at Woodstock, his music combines folk, soul, and R&B. He was born in Brooklyn in 1941, his father was Blackfoot (Native American) and his mum was of Caribbean descent. He was raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn and while living there, he and his friends would form doo-wop groups. At 20, he left for Greenwich Village, where he performed poetry in the 50s beatnik days. In the mid-60s he signed on with Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. During this time, Havens became well known for his covers. He released his first single, “No Opportunity Necessary” in 1967. His 1968 album, Something Else Again, was his first album to hit the Billboard Charts, but what catapulted him into stardom was his Woodstock performance. He was the first to perform. Sweetwater were supposed to be on before him, but they were stuck in traffic. He played for 3 hours and was called for various encores because a lot of other acts who were on after him were delayed in bumper to bumper traffic. He even ran out of song ideas and improvised a song based on “Motherless Child”, “Freedom”. Two weeks after Woodstock, he played Isle of Wight. He also started his own record label, Stormy Forest.
Not only was he a musician, he also was an activist on environmental issues and Native American rights.
Daniel Ben Zebulon (Richie Havens): Percussionist for Richie Havens. He also worked with Isaac Hayes and Stevie Wonder.
Paul “Deano” Williams (Richie Havens): Guitarist for Richie Havens.
Elpidio “Pete” Cobian (Sweetwater): Sweetwater formed in Los Angeles to play local gigs in coffee shops until they got signed. They would often tour with The Doors and they opened for The Animals. The band had a large lineup of eight members. Elpidio Cobian played congas for the band. After Sweetwater broke up he worked on film crews. He was a welder for the movie Jaws.
Albert Moore (Sweetwater): Before joining Sweetwater, Albert Moore was a police officer. He played flute and wrote songs for the band.
August Burns (Sweetwater): August Burns played cello for the band and had a deep singing voice. Before joining Sweetwater, he studied the classics at UCLA.
Mike Carabello (Santana): Mike Carabello played the timbales, congas, and percussion for Santana. His family are Puerto Rican. He was one of three percussionists for the band and was with them from 1968-1971, playing on the albums Santana, Abraxas, and Santana III.
David Brown (Santana): David Brown played bass for Santana from 1966-1971 and 1974-1976.
Cornelius “Snooky” Flowers (Janis Joplin + Kozmic Blues Band): Baritone saxophone player for Janis Joplin.
Sly Stone (Sly and the Family Stone): Born Sylvester Stewart in Denton, Texas and raised in California, he is a multi-instrumentalist. He grew up on gospel music and before starting Sly and the Family Stone, he was a record producer for Autumn Records and a DJ for soul station KSOL. He also played keyboard for Dionne Warwick, Righteous brothers, The Ronettes, Bobby Freeman, Marvin Gaye, Jan & Dean, Gene Chandler, and more.
Sly and the Family Stone are one of the first multiracial and multi-gender acts in pop music. They were also funk pioneers, along with James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic. Motown took notice of this psychedelic soul sound and took inspiration from it and released songs like The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion”. James Brown/P-Funk bassist Bootsy Collins called Sly Stone “the most talented musician” he knew.
The band released their first album, A Whole New Thing in 1967. The album wasn’t the biggest success. Their first hit single was “Dance to the Music” in 1968. Their biggest success came in 1969, the album, Stand! – sold 3 million copies and was the album that the chart topper “Everyday People” was on.
After Woodstock, the band experienced drama and disagreements. The record label wanted more marketable music from the band, while the Black Panther Party wanted more political black power music and for the two white members of the band, Greg Errico and Jerry Martini, to be replaced by black musicians. Sly Stone started using a lot of drugs and this affected their live performances and output. He released some solo albums in the mid to late 70s and 80s and started working with other musicians. Managers screwed him over and didn’t pay him royalties, therefore he was struggling with money.
Freddie Stone (Sly and the Family Stone): Younger brother of Sly Stone. He’s the singer and guitarist of the band. He and his siblings Sly and Rose, grew up in a religious family who loved to play music. After Sly and the Family Stone, he became a committed Christian and later became a preacher.
Larry Graham (Sly and the Family Stone): Bassist for Sly and the Family Stone. Later was the founder and frontman of Graham Central Station. He was a bass pioneer, credited as the inventor of the slapping technique, which bassists like Bootsy Collins, Bernard Edwards, and Victor Wooten use.
Rose Stone and Cynthia Robinson (Sly and the Family Stone): See above (Women at Woodstock)
Rod Hicks (Paul Butterfield Blues Band): Bassist for Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He worked with Aretha Franklin as well and was friends with Aretha Franklin’s drummer George Davidson.
Ted Harris (Paul Butterfield Blues Band): Keyboard player for Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Before he joined Butterfield, he was an established musician. He made his debut in 1962 with Sam Lazar on Playback.
Phillip Wilson (Paul Butterfield Blues Band): Drummer for Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Trevor Lawrence (Paul Butterfield Blues Band): Saxophone player for Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Also worked with The Pointer Sisters, Reuben Wilson, Freddie King, Roberta Flack, King Curtis, Jackie Lomax, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye.
Gene Dinwiddie (Paul Butterfield Blues Band): Saxophone player for Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Also worked with Full Moon and James Cotton Blues Band. Did session work for B.B. King, Gregg Allman, Melissa Manchester, and Jackie Lomax.
Frederick “Dennis” Greene (Sha Na Na): Singer and member of Sha Na Na. He got his Bachelor’s at Columbia University in 1971 and he had a law degree from Yale. He taught at Florida A&M University and University of Oregon School of Law, teaching entertainment law.
Jimi Hendrix: Widely considered the best guitarist ever, he was born in Seattle to Lucille and Al Hendrix. If you want to read more about him, you can read my blog post on Black rock musicians. He started playing guitar as a teenager. While in the military he befriended Billy Cox, who was in his backing band at Woodstock.
After he was discharged from the army, he and Billy Cox moved to Tennessee and Hendrix played in backing bands for Wilson Pickett, Slim Harpo, Sam Cookie, Ike & Tina Turner, and Jackie Wilson. He later moved to New York and played in clubs in Harlem. He was introduced to the Isley Brothers and played on their song, “Testify”. He also played in Little Richard’s band, but was fired because they didn’t get along and Jimi was a show off (but that’s why we love him).
In 1966, Linda Keith (Keith Richard’s girlfriend) discovered Jimi Hendrix and recommended him to Andrew Loog Oldham, who turned him down. Animals bassist Chas Chandler saw Jimi at Cafe Wha? and was so impressed that he invited him to London to start a band. In the autumn of 1966, “Hey Joe” was a hit, and after that “Purple Haze” reached #3 on the UK charts.
1967 was a busy year for Jimi with two albums released and performing at Monterey Pop Festival, where he set his guitar on fire.
When Jimi Hendrix was introduced at Woodstock, his group were introduced as The Jimi Hendrix Experience, who broke up a few months before. Jimi introduced his band as Gypsy Sun and Rainbows (also known as Band of Gypsys).
Jimi’s band were the last to play Woodstock, but certainly not the least. Most of the audience had already left by the time they went on the stage and it was their loss, because one of the most iconic moments of the festival was when Jimi Hendrix played the national anthem.
Billy Cox (Jimi Hendrix): Bassist for Jimi Hendrix. Also worked with Buddy Miles, Sam Cooke, Slim Harpo, Joe Simon, Charlie Daniels, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Lou Rawls, Etta James, Jackie Wilson, and Little Richard.
Larry Lee (Jimi Hendrix): Rhythm guitarist for Jimi Hendrix. Friends with Billy Cox and Jimi Hendrix. He fought in the Vietnam War and only came back two weeks before Woodstock. One week before Woodstock, he got a call from Jimi Hendrix to join Gypsy Sun and Rainbows.
Juma Sultan (Jimi Hendrix): Conga player for Jimi Hendrix. He also plays jazz and blues music.
Hispanic Musicians at Woodstock:
Joan Baez: See above (Women at Woodstock)
Carlos Santana: Guitarist and leader of group Santana. He was born in Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico. His father was a mariachi musician. The first instrument he learnt to play was the violin, when he was 5. When he was 8, he started playing guitar. One of his biggest inspirations was Ritchie Valens, the first internationally famous Hispanic rock star. Later, he got into blues musicians like B.B. King, Javier Bátiz, Mike Bloomfield, John Lee Hooker, and Peter Green (Santana covered “Black Magic Woman”). He also liked Hungarian jazz guitarist Gábor Szabo, later covering his instrumental, “Gypsy Queen”.
His family later moved to Tijuana, and then to San Francisco. Before he got famous, he worked as a dishwasher and busked in the streets. In San Francisco, he started his band and they had a wide range of inspirations: blues, Latin music, and jazz. You’d hear band members listening to Sly and the Family Stone, Hendrix, The Stones, The Beatles, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría, Miles Davis, John Coltrane… and on and on.
Santana released their first album a couple weeks after Woodstock. Rock music promoter, Bill Graham, loved Latin music and arranged for them to perform at Woodstock before their album was released. They were one of the best performances. The album reached #4 on the album charts.
Jose Chepito Areas (Santana): Born in Nicaragua, he played the timbales for Santana from 1969-1977 and 1987-1989.
Mike Carabello (Santana): See above (Black musicians at Woodstock)
Adolfo de la Parra (Canned Heat): Drummer for Canned Heat. He was born in Mexico City and moved to the US when he was 20. While in Mexico, he played for Los Sinners, Los Sparks, and Los Hooligans. Before he joined Canned Heat in 1967, he backed The Platters, Etta James, The Rivingtons, Mary Wells, and the Shirelles.
Luis Gasca (Janis Joplin + Kozmic Blues Band): Trumpet player for Janis Joplin. He also worked with Count Basie, Mongo Santamaría, Tito Puente, Santana, Van Morrison, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship, and Herbie Hancock.
He was born and raised in Houston and his family were not musicians. His parents worked hard and made and sold tamales for Mexican Independence Day Fiestas. One day, he climbed over a fence because he heard music and was intrigued and that’s how he got into music. He started playing professionally when he was 16. You can find more information about his life here.
Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead): Lead guitarist and vocalist for The Grateful Dead. People call him the leader of the band, but he didn’t think of himself that way. He was the founder of the band and a consistent member for 30 years, playing with the band until his death.
He was half Spanish (Galician) and was born in San Francisco. He took piano lessons as a kid. When he was 4, his family went to the mountains and his brother accidentally chopped two thirds of his middle finger off. A year after the accident, Jerry Garcia’s father died while fishing. He slipped on a rock in a river and drowned.
In the 50s, he got into rock and roll and R&B thanks to his older brother. He met his bandmates in the early 60s and finally started The Grateful Dead in 1965. They played day 2 of Woodstock and came late on stage. Because of the rain, the band risked being shocked. Sadly, this wasn’t one of their best shows.
Gerardo “Jerry Velez (Jimi Hendrix): Percussionist for Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. Besides Jimi Hendrix, he’s worked with David Bowie, Steely Dan, Duran Duran, Elton John, Slash, Stevie Wonder, Chic, and Nile Rodgers. He is also in the jazz fusion group Spyro Gyra. He was born in NYC to a Puerto Rican family.
Native American Musicians at Woodstock:
Richie Havens: See above (Black Musicians at Woodstock)
Robbie Robertson (The Band): Guitarist and primary songwriter for The Band, important in the Americana music genre. He wrote songs like “The Weight”, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, and “Up on Cripple Creek”.
He was born in Toronto. His mother was Cayuga and Mohawk and his biological father was Jewish. Before he got famous, he worked in a travelling carnival and as an assistant at a freak show at the Ex (Canadian National Exhibition). Before The Band were known as The Band, they were known as The Hawks. Ronnie Hawkins and Levon Helm were from Arkansas and they went to Canada. In 1965, they were hired as Bob Dylan’s backing band for his first US electric tour, they were billed as Bob Dylan and the Band, that name “The Band” stuck.
In 1968, they went out on their own and released their debut album, Music from Big Pink, a widely acclaimed album. In 1969, they played both Woodstock and the Isle of Wight Festival, the latter of which they performed with Bob Dylan.
Jimi Hendrix: See above (Black Musicians at Woodstock)
Age of Woodstock Musicians:
The youngest to play Woodstock was Henry Gross of Sha Na Na, who was 18 when he performed at Woodstock. It’s a common misconception that Michael Shrieve was the youngest musician who played at Woodstock.
The oldest was Ravi Shankar’s tabla player, Alla Rakha, who was 50. If you count speakers, Swami Satchidananda, who gave the opening speech, was 54 – he was the oldest.
Below are a list of ages of various musicians who played at Woodstock. Not an exhaustive list, but here’s what I was easily able to find via a quick google search. I could find ages for 114 musicians who played Woodstock.
The most common age of a Woodstock performer was 25 years old, so that’s someone born in 1944 (or late 1943). Most common age range was between 22-26. The average age of a Woodstock performer was 24.65 years old.
You know that hippie slogan coined by Jack Weinberg, “Don’t trust anyone over 30?” Well, there were six musicians who played at Woodstock who were over 30. Billy Cox, Grace Slick, and Felix Pappalardi would turn 30 later that year.
If you want the full list of musicians and ages that I was able to find*, you can see that below. How many names do you recognise?
*Note: Some musicians who played Woodstock are rather obscure/private, ergo it was hard to find their birthdays or much information on them. This is still a decent sample of musicians and ages. Some people had birthdays not too long after Woodstock, but I am not rounding up ages – just giving you the age of the musician at that time.
- Henry Gross (18)
- “Jocko” Marcellino (19)
- Richard “Richie” Joffe (19)
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That was a lot of research for that post!
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Fine effort Angie.
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WOW -That’s a lot of information – you should definitely write a book some day!
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Thank you! That’s one of my goals!
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[…] a little piece of trivia. Did you know that Martin Scorsese was one of the cameramen for the Woodstock documentary? He was absolutely at Woodstock and he worked on the Woodstock documentary. He’s […]
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Very well researched! I never knew the facts about diversity at Woodstock. I’ve been meaning to watch the film though of course isn’t the same as being there in person. But the next best thing 🙂
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Thank you! One really cool way I got to watch some Woodstock performances was when I went to this one exhibit about the 60s at the V&A Museum in London 2 years ago. They had The Who’s Woodstock performance playing on this big screen and the floor was covered in astroturf, making it feel like you’re really at a festival.
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[…] made diversity infographics in the past with my Woodstock post, and I found those a lot of fun to make as a data/numbers nerd and I like to play around with […]
[…] written about Woodstock before and it seems like every classic rock fan wants to be at Woodstock. Well, not me and […]
[…] Woodstock was like The Beatles of music festivals. Everyone knows it and it’s iconic. Pardon my French, but it’s basic bitch 60s history. It’s time to learn about something new and I always love learning about things that are less talked about from that time period. Harlem Cultural Festival was a series of 6 concerts held at Mount Morris Park between 29 June and 24 August 1969 and in total 300,000 people attended, so almost as big as Woodstock! Best yet, the festival was free! Lots of big names performed at this festival and you’ll surely know them: The Fifth Dimension, Mahalia Jackson, The Staple Singers, Stevie Wonder, David Ruffin, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Mongo Santamaria, Herbie Mann, The Chambers Brothers, Nina Simone, BB King, Hugh Masekela, and more! […]
[…] years ago in honour of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, I wrote a blog post called The Diversity of Woodstock, where we talked about the diversity of the musicians who played there. I didn’t want to just […]
I’m pretty sure some of the members of Sha Na Na are gay.
It’s definitely possible. I just couldn’t find any original members who were at Woodstock who were/are openly gay.