By the time we got to Woodstock…
Okay, I have to admit that Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock is not one of my favorite songs in this concert setlist — I find some of Joni’s melodies very odd. That said, I love Chris Eastburn’s vocal arrangement as it gets into harmonies that are so textured and unusual. Not my favorite song, but a really great musical experience that I enjoy in each hearing.
So I looked into the song some more and find I’m growing to appreciate it more and more.
Joni Mitchell was not at Woodstock for the festival. She was in New York City, taping an episode of the Dick Cavett Show and watching news reports of the festival on television. She also heard about the experience from her then boyfriend, Graham Nash, who had just formed Crosby Stills Nash and Young from members of Buffalo Springfield, The Hollies and The Byrds. In the documentary film, Stephen Stills says, “This is the second time we’ve ever played in front of people, man, we’re scared sh-tless.”
Joni’s version of Woodstock appeared on her landmark album “Ladies of the Canyon” and was the B-side to “Big Yellow Taxi.” Oh, and that first line about meeting a child of god? Probably a reference to Matthew 5:9, to wit, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (King James).
Okay, so then her boyfriend Graham Nash records the song with his band (she’s going to leave him soon for James Taylor) and they rock it up a bit. Here’s a version from the 25th anniversary concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
Down the rabbit hole we go! CSNY’s Woodstock did well in the States, but in the UK and Canada, the version that charted was by Ian (sometimes Iain) Matthews and his band Matthews Southern Comfort (here with groovy historical footage):
Matthews was an early member of Fairport Convention and one of his bandmates from that group, guitar virtuoso Richard Thompson, performed a solo version of Woodstock for Joni at a tribute concert in 2000:
Another guitar hero, and former Joni Mitchell beau, James Taylor, also did a solo acoustic version. This one has no video because it was recorded for radio: Howard Stern’s radio show (JT does Stern? Surprised me).
Finally, you know how I mentioned up top that Joni’s melodies seem kind of jarring to me? She uses a lot of big, odd intervals that I’m not crazy about. Still, things could get a lot weirder, as Led Zeppelin proves:
(that was an interlude pulled out of a long Dazed and Confused — they did that a lot in live shows in the early 1970s, like this one.)
After all that, I’ve come to appreciate the song a lot more, and I love how the women of Newton Family Singers are singing those crazy chords. The band does some interesting things on this one (go Jethro!) but even a capella, I think the vocal arrangements alone evoke the hazy, optimistic, psychedelic 1960.
Waban Lights 5pm Sunday Dec 2 2012
Brush off those vocal chords -- it's time to deck the WLC halls in song!
In preparation for the Waban Improvement Society's annual Tree Lighting festivities, the Newton Family Singers invite you and your families to come sing with us and learn some easy harmonies to classic holiday songs. We will be holding an open community rehearsal on Sunday, November 18th at 6pm, at the Waban Library Center led by Waban's own Julie Crosson and Amy Friedman. This event is free and open to all ages.
Showtime will be at the Waban Tree Lighting ceremony on Sunday, December 2nd at 5pm in Waban Square right in front of Starbucks. There is no better way to get into the holiday spirit than to sing some great holiday songs with family and community. If you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since the Newton Family Singers was formed, the Waban Tree Lighting ceremony has been an integral part of our year. This time of year, and all the holidays that surround the Winter Solstice, tend to focus on gratitude and community.
It's in this spirit of the season that NFS sings out and gives a little something back to the Waban Library Center, our home and rehearsal space. Moreover, it's a chance for our friends and neighbors to sing with us -- familiar songs that most people know the words to -- and share in our love of singing together. (To learn some harmony parts before the tree lighting, come to our open rehearsal on Sunday November 18 at 6pm.)
Here's a video from the first tree lighting we sang at, in 2010:
And a slideshow of photographs from 2011, where it was reported that 300 people came out!
Jack Cheng directs the Clemente Course in Dorchester, excavates in the Middle East, and writes in Waban, MA.