Exactly 50 years ago — Aug. 15, 1969 — Woodstock began. And while most people think they know what happened during the festival’s three days of peace of peace and music, it’s just a tiny sliver.
“There’s considerably more to Woodstock than what’s in the movie,” Andy Zax, producer of a 38-disc, 432-track boxed set for Rhino Records said, referencing the 1970 documentary film “Woodstock.”
Zax’s production provides a nearly complete reconstruction of how the festival unfolded in real time.
“Woodstock — Back to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive” contains almost 36 hours of audio, with every artist performance included in chronological order, as well as stage announcements and ambiance created by more than 400,000 people gathered at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, in Bethel, New York, between Aug. 15, 1969 and Aug. 18, 1969.
The set, which is currently sold out through Rhino Records’ website, comes in at $800.
“It tells a somewhat different story than the story that you get in the film,” Zax told WTOP. “There’s a ton of things, that simply, there wasn’t room. Or they were making editorial choices, or they didn’t have film footage.”
So, iconic bands — including Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Grateful Dead, and Blood, Sweat and Tears — were essentially edited out of Woodstock history.
Zax’s nearly 15-year voyage began with locating more than 60 multitrack reels, as well as the 100 or so soundboard reels recorded by the onstage crew.
Largely unheard until today, Zax said the Creedence Clearwater performance was “an exceptional piece of work at the peak of their powers.” Still, leader John Fogerty wasn’t pleased with the reception the band received from sleepy Woodstock attendees in the early morning hours of Aug. 17.
“It’s hard to imagine, after hearing this performance, that anyone could be dissatisfied with it, but he was, and so it was largely unheard for decades,” said Zax.
Most people don’t know that Blood, Sweat and Tears, whose “Spinning Wheel” single was near the top of the charts in summer 1969, even performed at Woodstock.
“Their sound was based upon a large horn section,” Zax said. The recording methods at Woodstock dictated all of the horns being crammed onto just two tracks of audio on the multitrack recording.
“Unfortunately, due to atmospheric conditions and bad onstage monitoring, all four or five of those horns were out of tune in different directions,” Zax said. As a result, Blood, Sweat and Tears had been largely absent from festival history.
Recently invented technology — polyphonic tuning — allowed Zax and engineers to “nudge the tonality of the horns to get them back into a sound range that the human ear would prefer to hear.”
Zax said technical problems sabotaged the Grateful Dead performance.
“They had a legendarily difficult show at Woodstock,” Zax said. The 38-CD box set includes audio of frustrated band members, “chatting among themselves for about 12 minutes,” until they could resume.
“From Jerry Garcia’s perspective, the fact you had to stand around onstage chatting, that must have been mortifying,” said Zax. “But all the rest of us, 50 years later, it’s actually really entertaining to hear those guys standing around, chatting.”