Best Woodstock Performances: 5 Legendary 1969 Woodstock Performances We’ll Never Forget
5 Most Memorable Woodstock Performances
Fifty years later, Woodstock is still remembered as the most iconic music festival in history, and for good reason. Even today’s most popular music festivals like Bonnaroo, Coachella, and Lollapalooza can’t hold a candle to the chance to see Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), Carlos Santana, Joan Baez, Sweetwater and other legendary musicians perform at the peak of their prime.
FUN FACT: NEITHER THE BEATLES NOR BOB DYLAN PERFORMED AT WOODSTOCK, EVEN THOUGH BOB DYLAN RESIDED IN WOODSTOCK, NEW YORK, JUST A SHORT DRIVE FROM THE RURAL DAIRY FARM WHERE THE FESTIVAL TOOK PLACE.
With so many amazing performances that people still talk about today, it’s hard to pick our favorites, but we’ve narrowed it down to five of the most memorable performances based on what stands out most in our memory and what’s still remembered today by others who attended the 1969 festival.
1. “Soul Sacrifice” by Santana
Many agree Santana’s performance of “Soul Sacrifice” was the best performance of the entire 3-day festival, including Billboard Magazine and those of us at Musicians Hall of Fame who had the pleasure of attending the festival in person.
Just what made Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” performance so incredible? For starters, at the time, no one really knew who they were. Before Woodstock, Santana was an up and coming yet relatively unknown band just weeks away from releasing their first album. No one expected them to take the stage and wow the crowd the way they did.
FUN FACT: YOU CAN SEE THE ACTUAL DRUM KIT USED BY SANTANA DURING THEIR 1969 WOODSTOCK PERFORMANCE ON DISPLAY AT MUSICIANS HALL OF FAME IN NASHVILLE, TN.
Even those who didn’t have the opportunity to experience the performance live will likely still remember drummer Michael Shrieve’s incredible drum solo. Shrieve was also the youngest performer to take the stage during the entire festival, being just 20 years old at the time. Today, aspiring musicians around the world who dream of becoming professional drummers can still find inspiration from Shrieve’s solo.
2. “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Jimi Hendrix
No list of the most memorable Woodstock performances is complete without mentioning Jimi Hendrix and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Long before he cemented his place in music history and stunned and saddened the world with his passing at the young age of 27, Jimi Hendrix was making a name for himself in the music world.
While Jimi Hendrix’s iconic rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is undoubtedly one of the most well-known from Woodstock, in reality, not too many people actually got to see it. While Hendrix was originally scheduled to be the last performer to take the stage on Sunday night, scheduling conflicts, rain delays, and some performances which took longer than expected meant Hendrix didn’t actually get to take the stage until Monday morning, well after many festival-goers had already packed up and headed home. Thankfully, video footage still lives on to remind us of his incredible talent.
FUN FACT: JIMI HENDRIX COULDN’T READ MUSIC, AND HE PLAYED HIS GUITAR UPSIDE DOWN BECAUSE HE WAS LEFT-HANDED. HE’S KNOWN TODAY AS ONE OF THE MOST TALENTED PERFORMERS IN HISTORY.
In addition to being the last song performed on the last day of the festival, Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” has also managed to become known as one of the most memorable performances of Woodstock because it was one of the most unique. In addition to putting his own spin on the classic, many saw his decision to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” over the national anthem as controversial or a sign of protest against the Vietnam War.
3. “With a Little Help From My Friends” by Joe Cocker
While Joe Cocker wasn’t completely unknown in the music world when he took the stage on Sunday afternoon at Woodstock, it wasn’t until his memorable rendition of The Beatles’ classic “With a Little Help From My Friends” that his career really took off. While storm clouds rolled in later in the day, drenching crowds and dampening the mood, Cocker’s performance wowed the crowd and led to a standing ovation.
FUN FACT: LONG BEFORE WOODSTOCK CAME CALLING, JOE COCKER AND HIS BAND OPENED FOR THE ROLLING STONES AND OTHER NOTABLE PERFORMERS ACROSS THE UK.
In addition to his pure vocal talent, Joe Cocker’s rendition of The Beatles classic is one of the most memorable for many people who attended the original festival because of the sheer passion that went into his performance. You won’t find many musicians today who can belt out a song known round the world at the top of their lungs while still managing to sound like a world-class performer, but Cocker did, and people haven’t forgotten.
4. “Freedom” by Richie Havens
Richie Havens was the first performer scheduled to play during the festival, and he was originally scheduled to play for an hour but ended up performing for almost 3 hours instead due to traffic delays which prevented other performers from reaching the stage on time. In addition to kicking off the iconic festival, Havens became well-known throughout the 70s and beyond thanks to his soulful style.
Ironically, Havens, who was the first performer at Woodstock, met Jimi Hendrix, the festival’s last performer, years before at a small gig and encouraged the guitarist to move to New York’s Greenwich Village where Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and many other folk singers of the time were based and discovered.
FUN FACT: BEFORE HIS DEATH IN 2013, HAVENS REQUESTED HIS ASHES BE SCATTERED ACROSS THE ORIGINAL WOODSTOCK FESTIVAL SITE IN BETHEL, NEW YORK.
Havens later went on to pursue a music career which allowed him to partner with Bob Dylan’s former manager, Albert Grossman. His cover of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” was his biggest success, and in 1971, it was featured in the #16 spot of the Billboard Hot 100. In addition to a music career which spanned decades, Havens was also featured in a number of Hollywood films, including Catch My Soul and The Who’s Tommy.
5. “My Generation” by The Who
No music festival is complete without a little guitar smashing, and The Who’s Pete Townsend certainly knows how to do it. Decades after Woodstock, the iconic performance is still remembered as one of the most electrifying of the entire festival.
Many people may be surprised to know that several of the 1969 Woodstock performers we know today as the most famous performers of their time weren’t necessarily well-known at the time of the festival. At the time of their Woodstock performance however, The Who were widely known as one of the best musical acts in the world. Their first album was released in 1965, a full four years before the iconic festival took place.
FUN FACT: THE WHO CREATED A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD FOR LOUDEST PERFORMANCE AT A LONDON CONCERT IN MAY OF 1976. WHILE THE RECORD WAS BROKEN SEVERAL TIMES BY OTHER PERFORMERS, GUINNESS EVENTUALLY REMOVED THE RECORD WHEN CONCERTGOERS REPORTED HEARING PROBLEMS FOLLOWING THESE RECORD-BREAKING PERFORMANCES.
It should come as no surprise to The Who fans that their Woodstock performance is also remembered as one of the most artistically inspiring, and one of the loudest. Some of the festival’s most well-known guitar solos, drum riffs, and vocals were featured in their 7-minute performance of “My Generation.”
Woodstock Memorabilia | Musicians Hall of Fame
Want to learn more about Woodstock and some of the iconic artists featured at the 1969 festival? At Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, locals, music lovers, tourists, and school groups alike can enjoy the chance to learn more about the history and progression of various genres, music styles, instruments, and more.
FUN FACT: THE MUSICIANS HALL OF FAME IN NASHVILLE IS THE ONLY MUSIC MUSEUM IN THE WORLD THAT FEATURES EXHIBITS DEDICATED TO SINGERS, SONGWRITERS, AND PERFORMERS OF ALL GENRES.
Plan Your Visit to Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville
Stop by and visit our museum during your next trip to Nashville for a chance to see some of the world’s most unique instruments, many of which were played at one point or another by a well-known musician or who have a rich history in and of themselves. Get your tickets online today!
I attended Woodstock on Saturday, August 16, 1969. We arrived at festival field before noon and easily found a place to sit. From our vantage point, the far right sound tower (looking out from the stage) was to our right. We were close enough to see facial features on performers but not fine detail. I only stayed long enough to see 5-6 acts. Quite frankly is was very uncomfortable as the afternoon passed with new fans constantly crammed into every available space. There were long waits between acts, up to a hour. This was due to travel issues for the performers with roads closed. Many arrived by helicopter.
At approx. 1:00 pm, before Santana performed, She Na Na took the stage. There is no public record of their performance but there they were. I was so annoyed watching a 1950’s music parody act that I turned to my friend and remarked, “We came all this way to listen to this?” Of course She Na Na famously played before Hendrix early Monday. But I saw their act Saturday and we left Sunday morning.
I have a several theories of why no record of their Saturday performance exists. First, they were a new band and needed the practice. Also, as I mentioned, organizers needed to fill time gaps between acts and She Na Na was on the property. And they want to be remembered for their main performance just before Jimi Hendrix.
In case you’re wondering, I was 18 yrs. old and had not used drugs or alcohol. I’m blessed with a vivid memory and only saw 5-6 acts, including Country Joe and John Sabastian
If anyone reading this can confirm my memory, it would be very much appreciated. Thank you in advance.
I feel you are so lucky to have been able to go!!
I am your age, lived in Knoxville, and my parents forbide me to go!!!!
I’m watching Woodstock: the Director’s cut on TCM.
It sounds like Sha Na Na may have performed multiple times. The movie isn’t good at even telling you who they are let alone when the performance was, but they did an amp’ed up version of “At The Hop” and I really liked it.
We’ll see if they’re on again. I’m about 1/3rd through the 4 hour plus movie which had about 40 minutes added to it. .
BTW, I’m 66 and was too young to go, even if I’d known about.
Sorry, 3:45, just shy of 4 hours. There was no more Sha Na Na, and they didn’t show the audience from the stage while Jimi was performing. He performed on Monday morning and most the people had left. During his set Assistant Director and Film Editor Martin Scorsese who was nominated for an Academy Award for Editing, interspersed Jimi’s set with a couple dozen people on the huge hillside cleaning up the trash.
Thanks for sharing your memories.
Thanks, we’re the same age. I was a freshman at General Motors Institute (GMI) in Flint, Michigan. My friend down the hall in our dorm was going and I turned down the offer to ride along and share the gas expense. Having just started school, I felt it might jeopardize my education opportunity and regret making the decision not to go. But in the end, maybe it was the better choice. I would’ve really liked to see 10 Years After perform ‘I’m Going Home’, among others.
Thanks for sharing that I’ve often wondered what the atmosphere was like there, you know the general vibe. We’re festival goers genuine appreciators of music or just there to get high and feel trendy? Was it the mind blowing experience those of us born after Woodstock have the impression of? Ķ If they had repeated the festival year on year like Glastonbury would you have gone again?
I’m going home
10 Years After
Alvin Lee was amazing,blew every guitar player at the festival off the stage
No doubt, Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” was not only the best performance at Woodstock, but arguably one of the best live performances ever. I’m Going Home was great mostly for an individual performance. Where as Santana was great as a collective performance.