Woodstock Turns 50

Celebrate Skagit-style



What: Skagit Woodstock
When: 10am-9pm Sat., Aug. 17
Where: Edgewater Park, Mount Vernon
Cost: $10
What: Woodstock 50th Anniversary
When: 7pm Fri., Aug. 16
Where: Conway Muse, Conway
Cost: $10 suggested donation

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

For the upcoming 50th anniversary of Woodstock, which took place Aug. 15-18, 1969, I considered claiming that I had been there. After all, people have been doing that very thing for the duration of the half-century that has passed the historic weekend of music, chaos and mythmaking took over Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in rural New York.

The number of people who attended Woodstock: 400,000.

The number of people who say they attended Woodstock: millions.

Sadly, I am too young to have actually been there, and too young to claim to have been one of the children conceived at the festival.

However, I did grow up with parents whose musical tastes lie square in the Woodstock wheelhouse—the Who; Creedence Clearwater Revival; Santana; the Band; Crosby, Stills Nash & Young; and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. As such, I was raised not just with the music of the festival, but also with many of its myths and legends. In honor of Woodstock’s big birthday, I did a little digging into its colorful history and learned some new things, while also unlearning some things I thought I knew.

For instance, Hendrix played his iconic version of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” part of an incendiary set, to almost no one because the festival had overrun its schedule by so many hours that his headlining appearance took place early Monday morning instead of Sunday night. Apparently, he spent the duration of the weekend wandering the festival grounds, so if you’re one of those Woodstock claimers, you can credibly up the ante by telling people you were there and you met Hendrix.

I also learned about the spate of Woodstock-related music the festival inspired and was reminded that the most famous song about the festival was written by someone who was not there. Joni Mitchell, who did not attend because of an upcoming appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, penned “Woodstock” shortly after, which was a hit for both Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Matthews Southern Comfort. What I did not previously know was that Mitchell wrote the song from a description by Graham Nash, her boyfriend at the time.

In all of my romanticizing about Woodstock, I have to say, I had never once paused to consider the economics of what quickly became a free concert (the crowds were so large that collecting money from everyone become futile almost immediately). Performers had to be paid—many of them, seeing the writing on the wall, demanded cash before they performed—and the costs of staging such a large event ballooned as the crowd grew. It was not until more than a full decade after the 1969 concert that its organizers paid off their $1.4 million debt—and paid out settlements in the 80 or so lawsuits that were filed against Woodstock Ventures, mostly by disgruntled farmers in the area. Don’t feel too bad for those organizers, however—these days, Woodstock turns a healthy profit, thanks to lucrative merchandising and licensing agreements.

Even though plans for an official Woodstock 50 concert to honor the event collapsed in grand fashion due to artist cancellations and not being able to secure a site, local love for the legendary festival remains steadfast. This is especially in true in Skagit County, where a pair of celebratory events will allow you to commemorate Woodstock—whether you were there or not.

It’s not just the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, but it’s also the 10th anniversary of Skagit Woodstock, which takes place this year from 10am-9pm Sat., Aug. 17 at Mount Vernon’s Edgewater Park. The Skagit version of Woodstock features many of the same attractions as the original event, such as music—a full day’s worth, beginning with the Chris Eger Band and following with the Cory Vincent Group and Whiskey Fever until Mama Dirty Skirt closes things out. I expect that at some point during the day, one of the nimble guitarists onstage will treat the crowd to at least a few bars of the “Star-Spangled Banner” in honor of Seattle’s own Voodoo Child. Food vendors will also be on hand to feed the appetites of the assembled masses—however, unlike the Woodstock of 1969, there should be more than enough food to go around.

One main feature of Skagit Woodstock that differentiates it from its East Coast predecessor is the car show that has become as much of a draw as the music. Classic and modern cars alike, as well as motorcycles, will be buffed and shown off for public perusal. They’ll also vie for trophies as shiny as the competing conveyances themselves. If you’d like to be present to see who wins what and why, the awards will be doled out at 2:30pm. Congratulations and good-natured bragging to follow shortly thereafter.

Lastly, this version of Woodstock, while not free, is a fundraiser. That means a portion of your $10 ticket (kids 12 and younger are free) will benefit the Skagit Valley Hospital’s Cancer Patient Assistance Fund, which means those dollars will stay in the community, directly benefitting folks in need. Merchandise will also be available for purchase, including tie-dyed T-shirts—this is Woodstock, after all.

The Conway Muse is also getting in on the Woodstock anniversary action. They’re going to pack a weekend’s worth of celebration into a two-hour multimedia and live-music performance, which is pretty much par for the course for a venue that hosts an astonishing variety of entertainment on the regular. The doors will open at 7pm Fri., Aug. 16 and by the time they close, Johnny Bulldog, Kevin Johnson, Stephen Salamunovich, John King, Bill Stainton, CC James, Brian Bohman, Mara Baker, and Mark Stendal will have done their level best to bring Woodstock to Conway, if only for a night. The show at the Muse is also a fundraiser, with proceeds benefitting the Melodic Caring Project, which uses technology as a bridge to connect hospitalized kids and teens to live music—complete with personalized shout-outs from the artists involved. The Woodstock of 1969 could only conceive of such a thing under the influence of the copious amounts of LSD said to be consumed at the festival.

Even if you, like me, were too young to attend the original Woodstock or were not there for any number of similarly valid reasons, you can take yourself to one or both of the Skagit versions. Then you too can tell everyone you were at Woodstock.

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