This year marks fifty years since the original Woodstock Festival. Billed as the embodiment of the “peace and love” zeitgeist of the sixties, Woodstock attracted an audience of over 400,000.
Widely regarded as a defining moment in twentieth century music, the thirty-two acts that performed over the three days will be remembered until the end of time. These acts included Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker and more.
However, a number of high-profile bands and artists were also asked to take part and, for one reason or another, turned it down. Whilst hindsight is wonderful, it means that many have kicked themselves for years after the missed opportunity.
Following is a playlist made up of bands and artists that turned Woodstock down. As it is an alternative version of events, I used live tracks from as close to the time as possible. The playlist gives a sense of what could have been if circumstances were slightly different.
#1. Led Zeppelin – ‘Good Times, Bad Times/Communication Breakdown’ (Live 1969)
The “Hammer of the Gods” were offered a Woodstock slot but, with conflicting schedules they, or rather their manager Peter Grant, refused. The plan to headline their own event in Asbury Park, New Jersey seemed a better idea at the time.
“I said no because at Woodstock we’d have just been another band on the bill.” – Peter Grant
#2. The Doors – ‘Hello, I Love You’ (Live 1968)
There is no actual reason as to why The Doors never played Woodstock. Some say Jim was becoming paranoid about playing outdoor events, others say the band didn’t anticipate Woodstock’s success. One member did make it, however, as drummer John Densmore can be seen at the side of the stage during Joe Cocker’s set.
In 1996 Ray Manzerek stated:
“We never played at Woodstock because we were stupid and turned it down.”
#3. Jethro Tull – ‘A Song For Jeffrey’ (Live-ish 1968)
Ian Anderson turned down Woodstock because of the mud, the drugs and the naked ladies, who he assumed would be running riot at the festival. Take from that what you will, but Tull had no problem playing the Isle Of Wight Festival the following year to a crowd of 600,000!
“I don’t like hippies, and I’m usually rather put off by naked ladies unless the time is right!” – Ian Anderson
#4. The Byrds – ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ (Live 1969)
At the time, The Byrds were in flux both musically and in terms of the line-up. Both Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman had departed the group in mid-’68. All that aside, The Byrds simply turned down the event for two reasons – the money they would make might not be enough and the festival itself might not be influential enough.
#5. The Plastic Ono Band – ‘Cold Turkey’ (Live 1969)
The Beatles were never going to play Woodstock, but the organisers did go for the next best thing in John Lennon. Apparently admission into the States was the problem as he couldn’t get a visa from Canada into the US. Supposedly, Nixon was not a fan.
#6. Frank Zappa And The Mothers – ‘Peaches En Regalia’ (Live 1971)
Frank Zappa and crew would have been a perfect fit for Woodstock. Unfortunately, as rain was forecast he pulled the plug on playing at the last minute. This might be the biggest shame of all, that one of the greatest innovators of the twentieth century could be put off by mud.
#7. Bob Dylan – ‘Baby, Let Me Follow You Down’ (Live 1966)
The voice of his generation, Bob Dylan, decided to skip town. At the time he was living in the area of Woodstock and was supposedly put off by the gatherings of hippies flocking into town! A second reason exists however, his daughter supposedly took ill and he didn’t want to leave her side until she recovered. Sounds slightly more plausible.
#8. Free – ‘The Hunter’ (Live 1970)
Not much is known as to why Free turned down the chance to play Woodstock, but they did. In reality, it did not affect their popularity. The following year ‘All Right Now’ became a number one smash.
#9. The Rolling Stones – ‘Street Fighting Man’ (Live 1970)
The Stones would have fared better had they played Woodstock instead of the absolute disaster that was Altamont in December of ‘69. Though they had an excuse, as Mick Jagger was shooting Ned Kelly in Australia instead. The film bombed and neither Jagger nor the director turned up at the premiere.
#10. Iron Butterfly – ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ (Live 1968)
As legend has it, Iron Butterfly couldn’t get their equipment up to Woodstock due to traffic, but organised using The Who’s gear instead. While that was fine, they decided they wanted to be flown in by helicopter. That wasn’t so fine and the Butterfly missed out on a shining moment.
#11. Joni Mitchell – ‘Woodstock’ (Studio)
It was unfortunate for Joni Mitchell that she was given the wrong advice by her then manager. He made her skip the Woodstock gig so she wouldn’t miss her scheduled appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. Obviously something of an issue for her, as she wrote ‘Woodstock’ shortly after. The track was later covered by a band who did play the festival – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.