Can Woodstock 50 'Re-Create The Magic' Of The Original Festival?

Mar 20, 2019
Originally published on March 21, 2019 9:26 am

It's been 50 years since Woodstock Music & Arts Festival. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of three days of peace, love and music, Woodstock 50 will take place Aug. 16–18, 2019, in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Festival co-founder Michael Lang has announced the official lineup for the anniversary festival with Jay-Z, Dead & Company and The Killers as headliners. Rounding out the list of performers are Miley Cyrus, Imagine Dragons, The Black Keys and Chance The Rapper as well as acts like Santana who performed at the seminal fest five decades ago. But what makes this 50th anniversary lineup special among a saturated field of music festivals now?

"They're trying to re-create the magic and some of the cultural dominance that the original Woodstock did," NPR Music's Stephen Thompson says, noting that organizers are not only working in the shadow of the behemoth that was the original event, but also in the shadow of "the debacle that is Woodstock 99," which was notorious for violence, destruction and sexual assault cases.

In the years since the original Woodstock, the festival's symbolism of peace and love has been romanticized in pop culture. As Thompson notes, no matter who's on the bill, carrying on the legacy of the original Woodstock is incredibly hard. "They're trying, I think, to feed a lot of mouths at once," Thompson says of the variety in this year's lineup compared to the gathering of 400,000 people in 1969. "In order to attract 400,000 in this market place, you have to please a lot of people at once."

As for clear comparisons to the original fest? "In the announcement of this new Woodstock lineup, there was conversation about the parallels between the political situation in 1969 and the political situation in the present," Thompson notes. "So, I'm sure there's going to be an attempt to sort of tie the two together and bring out some of the activism."

Even though summer festival season is more crowded than ever, Thompson thinks Woodstock 50 will stand out because of its historical name recognition and reverberations to be a "siren song to anyone who feels some kind of attachment" to the word "Woodstock" and its music history.

Listen to the entire conversation at the audio link.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's been 50 years since Woodstock, which means it is time for a big old 50th anniversary show. The lineup for Woodstock 50 is now out, and it maybe isn't quite what you would expect. Dead & Company are on the bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAMA TRIED")

GRATEFUL DEAD: (Singing) I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole.

KELLY: So is Santana.

(SOUNDBITE OF SANTANA'S "SOUL SACRIFICE")

KELLY: But rounding out the list of performers are Miley Cyrus and Jay-Z and Imagine Dragons.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THUNDER")

IMAGINE DRAGONS: (Singing) Thunder - feel the thunder.

KELLY: So countercultural - well, let's put that to NPR Music's Stephen Thompson. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: So I was interested to see that it's a couple of Woodstock originals who are behind this whole lineup and the grand vision for Woodstock 50, John Fogerty and Michael Lang. What are they trying to do?

THOMPSON: Well, they're trying to recreate some of the magic and some of the cultural dominance that the original Woodstock did. But they're doing this not only in the shadow of the original Woodstock but in the shadow of the debacle that is Woodstock '99, which was an absolute catastrophe.

KELLY: A catastrophe why?

THOMPSON: Everything from violence, from people setting fires, rampant sexual harassment and assault.

KELLY: OK, I'm getting the picture - not an experience you would care to repeat.

THOMPSON: Not necessarily the kind of experience where people are, like, let's recreate that.

KELLY: Yeah. So with this one, what are they trying to do with the lineup?

THOMPSON: Well, they're trying, I think, to span as many generations as possible in part because that's who's likeliest to buy tickets. You know, the first two Woodstocks were attended by roughly 400,000 people.

KELLY: So I think I'm right in saying neither you nor I were old enough to have...

THOMPSON: No (laughter).

KELLY: ...Been on this planet at the time. But the idea of it has filtered down. It was about peace, but it was about weirdness and countercultural - you know, the whole vibe. How does one try to carry on that legacy? Or are they even trying to do that?

THOMPSON: I mean, it is incredibly hard to carry on that legacy. For one thing, as you said, you and I were not around for the original Woodstock. But there were yahoos urinating on police horses at the original Woodstock, too. You know, it's - I think the image of peace and love is going to go out the window somewhat anytime you get 400,000 people in one place because you're going to have bad actors. So I don't think anything could live up to the original because I have my doubts that the original ultimately (laughter) lived up to the original.

KELLY: The original does not live up to the original. Well, this prompts me to ask - looking back to the original, if there was one moment you were going to remember from it, it's got to be when Jimi Hendrix came up on stage, played the national anthem, just blew everybody away.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIMI HENDRIX'S "THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER")

KELLY: What are we expecting this time? Who's going to be the iconic act of Woodstock 50?

THOMPSON: Clearly it will be Miley Cyrus.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: I mean, the thing is you never know going in. You know, sometimes, you know, we preview awards shows. And we say, like, what is the performance to look out for? You don't know until the event actually happens. I'm - I would gather that a lot of people will attempt to create or recreate a moment like that. The more - the harder you try, the harder it is.

KELLY: Yeah, not trying is going to be the key here.

THOMPSON: Yep.

KELLY: NPR Music's Stephen Thompson giving us a preview of Woodstock 50. Thanks, Stephen.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTY IN THE U.S.A.")

MILEY CYRUS: So I put my hands up. They're playing my song. The butterflies fly away. I'm nodding my head like yeah, moving my hips like yeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.