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50 Years Since Woodstock

August 2019 marks 50 years since Woodstock ’69, the ‘most popular event in music history.’

Held between August 15 and 19 1969, Woodstock took place at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. The festival, which was billed as ‘An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’ drew crowds of more than 400,000 people who heard 32 acts performing open-air gigs, sometimes playing through the rain.

Image: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell

Described by singer songwriter, Joni Mitchell as, “A spark of beauty” where half-a-million kids “saw that they were part of a greater organism”, Woodstock has long been regarded as a pivotal movement in both popular music history and within the larger counterculture generation. Rolling Stone listed the festival as number 19 of ‘50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll,’ and in 2017, the festival site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While it wasn’t the first music festival, it was certainly the biggest of its time, and quickly assumed almost mythological status.

The event was recorded via the 1970 Academy Award-winning documentary film Woodstock (and its accompanying soundtrack album), and encapsulated in Joni Mitchell’s song of the same name which became a major hit for both Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Matthews Southern Comfort. 

Performers included Richie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Santana, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix.

The Effect on Music and Musicians

Woodstock had a powerful impact on rock musicians, folk musicians and those invested in counterculture. This was a transformative time in music. The Beatles broke up in September 1969, though John Lennon’s departure from the group wasn’t announced until April 1970. Janis Joplin died in October 1970 of a heroin overdose, Hendrix in September of the same year of a barbiturate overdose – two of the most influential counterculture musicians gone shortly after the festival where perhaps their fame had peaked.  

The festival advanced the popularity of many budding musicians too, and helped solidify lasting careers. Carlos Santana, now considered to be one of the greatest guitar players alive, has released 25 studio albums since appearing at Woodstock.

The former promoter of Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, Kenny Weissberg, reflects in his 2013 memoir, Off My Rocker:

The music, the sharing, and the collective zeitgeist were all life-changing…Even though I was only 21, I came away from that weekend profoundly aware that anything was possible. From Woodstock on, I embraced the idea of taking chances and following all of my musical dreams. Three days at Woodstock crystallized my life’s path.

However, Pete Townshend of The Who presented an alternate opinion. Despite the fact his band played a career-changing performance at Woodstock, Townshend’s assessment was:

The dream and ideology of rock ’n’ roll was rooted in the idea that this generation, the ‘Woodstock generation,’ were super-luminaries, but I’ve never agreed with that. I always thought that was the biggest crock of s— America has ever come up with.

The Who’s set at Woodstock was interrupted by an anti-war activist, Abbie Hoffman, who grabbed a microphone and launched, mid-song, into a political rant. Townshend hit Hoffman with his electric guitar, pushing him off stage and dispelling any idea of ‘peace and love.’

While the spirit of the festival was very much anti-materialism, and due to ineptitude it took the promoters nearly a decade to recoup their losses, Woodstock was essentially created to make money for its promoters. In the aftermath, the success of Woodstock became a capitalist goldmine. It was immediately apparent to corporate America that this young audience represented a huge untapped market.

The music may have been seminal, and the event undoubtedly changed the way live music developed as an industry, but the overriding nostalgic image of peace, love and freely available drugs certainly wasn’t for everyone. Commenting on a 45thAnniversary feature in the San Diego Union Tribune, singer Billy Joel said:

I went to Woodstock and I hated it. I think a lot of that `community spirit’ was based on the fact that everybody was so wasted. Because everybody was stoned — everybody was passing around pot and acid — and I wasn’t into it… I was there for a night and a day, and then I left just before The Who went on. I really wanted to see them, but it was very hard to because everybody was hopping up and down and banging into you. So I walked out and hitched a ride home.

Woodstock’s place in culture

This was also a transformative time culturally. Barely four months after Woodstock, the utopian bubble burst at the Altamont free music festival near San Francisco. Fans arrived in their hundreds of thousands to hear the Rolling Stones and Woodstock veterans including Jefferson Airplane, Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Things took a turn for the worse – the Stones had arranged security for themselves, provided by members of the Hells Angels, leading to some festival goers being beaten, and a young African-American man, Meredith Hunter, who waved a gun, was stabbed and beaten to death. While Woodstock attracted a peaceful, multiracial audience, Hunter’s death stood in stark contrast.

Woodstock presented a place for people who embraced hippie culture to find a sense of deeper community – in that sense the festival became a flagship for counterculture ideals such as equality of race and sex. It was also a place where LSD use peaked – drug taking was seen as a way to protest, to make a political and cultural statement against society, and to have fun whilst doing so.

Issues surrounding Vietnam were very present at the time, and Woodstock was followed in October 1969 by Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam – a massive demonstration and teach-in across the United States against the United States involvement in the Vietnam War.

Image: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell

Woodstock 2019

Fifty years have passed since Woodstock, and society is still struggling with issues of equality, war and community. Under the banner of the utopian nostalgia around the festival, promoters were planning a huge Woodstock 50 event to commemorate.

One of the main investors was Japanese international advertising and public relations joint stock company Dentsu, the fifth largest advertising agency in the world in terms of worldwide revenues (932,680 yen in 2018).

Dentsu explained its involvement, underlining how commercial the music industry has become:

It’s a dream for agencies to work with iconic brands and to be associated with meaningful movements. We have a strong history of producing experiences that bring people together around common interests and causes which is why we chose to be a part of the Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival.

However, Woodstock 50 has been cancelled because investors “don’t believe the production of the festival can be executed as an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand”. 

50 years on, what has been called a “spark of beauty” and remembered an iconic event that centred on community, social justice and love of music has been relegated to the status of ‘brand’.

Woodstock’s impact on live music has been phenomenal – in terms of musical influence and maybe even more so in terms of the money that non-musicians can now draw from the industry. But the music and political hope that this gathering promised live on.

As, perhaps, does the ideal described by Kenny Weissberg: That anything is possible when enough people believe.

The Best of the Guest

As we regroup for the start of the new term and a new academic year, we thought it would be interesting to look back over some of our recent guest blogs. This year we’ve been privileged to be able to share forward-looking contributions and ideas from exam board AQA, the ROH Bridge Project, Alex Stevens of Rhinegold Publishing and Handel and Hendrix in London among many others. Our guest bloggers continue to inform and inspire, enriching our view of music education.

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Updates from AQA

In July 2016, Sarah Perryman, Music Qualifications Developer at AQA, wrote for us, sharing the many updates and new online resources in the run up to the first year teaching the revised music A and AS Levels and GCSEs. These resources are relevant whether or not you teach with AQA, and are a great way to develop your students’ understanding of the subject. If you’d like some ideas to help with your new-term lesson planning, check out Sarah’s blog here>> 

Handel and Hendrix

One exciting musical highlight of the upcoming term is October’s Black History Month – carte blanche to explore many wonderful genres of music and outstanding musicians from African, African-American and Caribbean cultures. Jimi Hendrix was one such influential African-American musician, and a new exhibition celebrating his life opened in February 2016.

6. The main room of 23 Brook Street

Hendrix, known as one of the greatest instrumentalists in rock history, was inspired by Rock and Roll and electric blues genres, and he influenced other iconic musicians such as Prince. The London flat where he lived in 1966 is directly next door to Handel House, motivating Handel House Museum to develop an exploration of the two musicians, separated by only one wall and 200 years of history. Check out the guest blog and the learning resources at Handel Hendrix for inspiration.

Shakespeare Anniversary

Another fascinating window on society was provided by historic performance specialist, Emily Baines, in a blog celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of playwright, William Shakespeare.

The music and stage directions in Shakespeare’s plays offer an opportunity to creatively explore ideas of drama in music and how music reflects society and current affairs. Have a look at Emily’s blog here >>

Shakespeare's_comedy_of_the_Merchant_of_Venice_(1914)_(14578447349)

The Rhinegold Music Education Expo

Music Expo 2016 logo.indd

We were lucky enough to hear from Rhinegold’s Alex Stevens in the run up to the 2016 Music Education Expo. Alex gave us some insight into the planning of one of the UK’s biggest Music Education events. Visit the 2017 website to register for the next Expo, which will take place on February 9th and 10th 2017.

Other Highlights, valuable for students on their journeys forward, included advice from Martin Lumsden of Cream Room Recording Studios on making an album, and a detailed look at the BA(Hons) Music Industry Management degree at the University of Hertfordshire with MWC’s Maria Thomas

We’d like to thank all of the contributors to our guest blog so far and look forward to sharing some new, exciting posts with you in the new school year! And if you’re involved in music education and would be interested in writing a blog for us, we’d be delighted to hear from you. 

 

 

Learning at Handel & Hendrix in London

On February 10th, 2016, The Handel House Trust opened a new exhibit to the public – the London flat directly next door to Handel House, where singer, songwriter and guitarist Jimi Hendrix lived for a brief time during the late 60’s. Claire Davies, Head of Learning and Participation at Handel and Hendrix in London, shares her passion for the two great musicians…

“Separated by a wall and 200 years are the homes of George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix, two artists who chose London and changed music. And now these special rooms are open to the public as Handel & Hendrix in London.

We are an organisation dedicated to promoting knowledge, awareness and enjoyment of Handel, Hendrix and their music to as wide an audience as possible through music performances, educational and outreach activities and collecting, exhibiting and interpreting objects from their lives. As the Head of Learning and Participation, I get the privilege of facilitating these activities and one of my favourite parts of this job is organising school workshops.

The rich history enveloped in the walls of these two great properties is at the epicentre of all our activities and the lives of our two famous residents whilst they lived here are fascinating.

Although Handel was born in Germany in 1685, by the time he died in 1759 he was a famous Londoner. He moved into 25 Brook Street in 1723 at the age of 38 and stayed here for the rest of his life. This was Handel’s first home of his own and he wrote over 600 pieces of music here. It was a great location for Handel’s work because it was close to the theatres in Covent Garden and Soho and to the Royal Family at St. James’s Palace. Brook Street was both residential and commercial with perfumers and apothecaries, gin shops and coffee houses near-by. Handel’s neighbours included a mixture of middle-class tradesmen and titled ‘people of quality’.

Hendrix was born in America in 1942. In 1966, at the age of 23, he was scouted and brought over to London by Chas Chandler, a member of the British band, The Animals. In London Hendrix, with Chandler as his manager, set up a band called the Experience and his career took off. In 1968 he moved into the top flop flat at 23 Brook Street and lived there until March 1969 with his then girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham. After a tumultuous childhood, a stint in the army and years of touring, this year in Hendrix’s life was his first and only period of real domesticity. He referred to 23 Brook Street as ‘the first real home of my own’.

6. The main room of 23 Brook Street

Hendrix used the flat as his base, giving interviews, writing new songs, and preparing for his February concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. On learning that Handel used to live next door he went with Etchingham to the HMV on Oxford Street and bought some classical albums including Handel’s Messiah and Water Music. Brook Street was the doorstep to the London music scene of the late 1960s. His flat was a short stroll from legendary venues like the Marquee, the Speakeasy and The Scotch of St James and he would spend many evenings wandering from club to club looking for a chance to play.

Today these great homes have been faithfully restored; it’s like stepping into the private and intimate worlds of two great geniuses. Handel House opened its doors in 2001 and it wasn’t until February 2016 that the Hendrix Flat was opened to join forces with its neighbour.

In conjunction with the opening we have created lots of new learning programmes including a new series of workshops for schools. We were concerned about how to create workshops that include both the music and lives of Handel and Hendrix in one sitting without them competing against one another. Our solution was to create a musical time machine that takes the students back in time as newspaper journalists who have to experience the London lives of both Handel and Hendrix in sequence looking at the differences a similarities of two time periods that are 200 years apart. The crucial part of this is that they end up back in the present with the prompt to think about the differences and similarities between the 18th century, the 1960s and the present day. This is skilfully aided by our in-house composers who, during the time travel journey, deconstruct the music of both men to show layers of composition technique that relate to the way that music is composed today.

The session is split into two halves: a trip around the historic rooms with our history buffs and a musical workshop with our composers where all of their investigations and observations of music from the past are brought together to create a brand new composition of their own. The trip around the buildings start with a look at objects and costumes and every child is encouraged to choose a piece of costume to wear as they walk around the rooms; it’s an eclectic sight of colour and texture! There is a focus on the differences and similarities between Handel’s bedroom with Hendrix’s bedroom and the children’s bedrooms at home to really hone in on our main objective of empathy.

The programme has been adapted to all learning key stages but we tailor make the content to make it as relevant as possible to what the students are learning at school. For older year groups, such as GCSE and A Level groups, we work with the students on specific set works, whether it be a 1960s pop song or a baroque chorus to aid them in their exam preparations.

2012_12_10_Croydon School_011

With the money kindly donated to us from the Heritage Lottery Fund to open the Hendrix Flat, we were able to build a new learning space with an interactive screen and sound proofing so we can make as much noise as possible! Students also get the benefit of opening up a harpsichord to see how it works, to have a go on an electric guitar, see copies of Handel’s manuscripts and see a 1960s record player in action. With all of these fun and engaging resources both school groups and the learning team end up having lots of fun.”

To find out more about the work at Handel and Hendrix, and to see a selection of learning resources on offer, visit the website at www.handelhendrix.org/learn

 

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