USA Today interviewed four of the participants at Woodstock and their current status. [Current photos not provided...reality can be too sobering.]
Woodstock rewind: Drummer Fito de la Parra was so tired from the band's gig at Fillmore East the night before in New York that he literally had to be dragged out of bed. "I didn't want to go," he says. "I didn't know how big it would be or how important. I even tried to quit that day." To get to the site, the band caught a ride on a press plane from which de la Parra could see the crowd. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, this is the biggest show ever.' " When the band arrived, "we were asked when we wanted to go on and we said 'now.' Fifteen or 20 minutes after getting off the helicopter, we were performing. It was great energy, we did an hour set or so, and we played the famous Woodstock Boogie."
Recent adventures: The band has been active the entire time since Woodstock, albeit with numerous personnel changes, playing an average of 100 shows a year. "We're happy to be able to still make a living and have a good, solid fan base," de la Parra says. They record an album just about every year. "It's new music but very much blues-oriented," he says. "We don't conform to the trends - we stick to the music we believe in."
• Founding member Bob "The Bear" Hite died of a heart attack in 1981.
• Co-founder Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson died in 1970 of a suspected suicide.
• Henry Vestine quit the band a week before Woodstock. He died in 1997 in a Paris hotel from respiratory failure as his European tour with Canned Heat ended.
•Larry Taylor has occasionally played with the band and is a member of the Hollywood Blue Flames, which is a band formed of the surviving members of the Hollywood Fats Band.
Does Woodstock still matter? "It relates to the problems this country has now," de la Parra says. "We were looking for peace in Vietnam, and now we're desperate for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan. We used to talk about caring for Mother Earth and (now) even our own government is going green. The message of 'Let's work together' still stands."
COUNTRY JOE & THE FISHWoodstock rewind: Country Joe McDonald performed both with his band and in a solo acoustic set, but the latter performance is arguably best remembered for what he describes as the "infamous cheer." "The weather was great and the audience didn't pay any attention to me," he says. Out of desperation, he walked offstage mid-act and asked road manager Bill Belmont if it was OK to do an obscene variation on the call-and-response cheer that leads into I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'- to-Die. Belmont's response: "No one's paying attention to you, so what difference does it make?"
Recent adventures: Country Joe is playing at the Heroes of Woodstock show Saturday at the concert site in Bethel, N.Y. He has spent much of the past five years doing a one-man speaking show about Woody Guthrie and will be doing a show about the life of Florence Nightingale. Barry "The Fish" Melton, who became a public defender in Yolo County, Calif., recently retired. Fish and Joe have reunited occasionally over the years to perform.
Does Woodstock still matter? "I think Woodstock is very important, but I'm personally quite surprised by the response it's getting. The change of generations took place at Woodstock — politics, culture, art, technology, lifestyle, everything — and it's still extremely controversial. Woodstock is the American dream manifested in a new chapter."
Woodstock rewind: Since Melanie's performance was simply her and a guitar, with no elaborate stage setup, her time slot changed several times. Right before she went on, rain started falling and candles were passed out. "I saw the whole hillside lit up, and it was the most inspirational moment of my life," she says, prompting her to write Candles in the Rain. Before her set, she developed a deep, hacking cough, prompting Joan Baez to send an assistant over with a pot of tea. "She was my hero, anyway, and I couldn't believe I was on the same stage as her." Relatively unknown prior to the festival, Melanie received many offers after. "They all wanted to sign me and superimpose my voice, but I stayed true to who I was. I thought, 'It's hard enough for me to get up on the stage and do things I love, but to get on the stage to do things I really don't even like would be unbearable.' To me, I made it."
Recent adventures: She's on tour and writing songs with her son, Beau. "I have never been more inspired because he's so musical and he takes songs and brings them in a whole other direction." She's also writing a play about a woman who has seven days to save the planet, which she describes as being based on life's events and circumstances.
Does Woodstock still matter? "Woodstock is a living thing because it's been coming with me all through my 40 years of performing. It was more of a spiritual gathering than it was a rock concert, and that's what promoters tend to forget. It was all the makings of peace and love, but it's not just a catchphrase — it has traveled with me."
SHA NA NA
Woodstock rewind: Sha Na Na was one of the newer bands on the bill, and Woodstock was just its eighth gig. Most of the members hailed from Columbia University and were a part of The Kingsmen, a glee club ensemble. Woodstock paid the dozen-member band $350 — and the check bounced. The Woodstock movie paid the group $1. "It was the greatest 8 cents I ever made," says drummer Jocko Marcellino, now in his fourth decade with the band. They played right before Jimi Hendrix and heard his rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner as they drove off in a rented van. "The feeling of brotherly love in the air made it so magical that it became legendary," says bandmate Donny York.
Recent adventures: The band, best known to subsequent generations for appearing in Grease, is in the midst of a 40-show tour for its 40th anniversary and recently released a collector's edition anniversary disc. Many original members have gone on to have impressive careers, the majority outside of music:
• Alan Cooper is a professor of theology at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
• Joe Witkin is an emergency room physician and plays keyboard for The Corvettes.
• George Leonard is a professor of interdisciplinary humanities at San Francisco State University. He has sold novels and screenplays to Universal Pictures.
• Richard Joffe is a lawyer for Labaton Sucharow LLC.
• Elliot Cahn was the first manager of Green Day.
• Orthopedic surgeon Scott Powell is the team physician for the United States Soccer Federation Women's National Team, a clinical professor at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and on United Cerebral Palsy's board of directors.
• Denny Greene became vice president of production and features at Columbia Pictures and later president of Lenox/Greene Films. He's a professor of law at the University of Dayton.
• Robert Leonard is one of the founding fathers of forensic linguistics. He's director of the Forensic Linguistics Project at Hofstra University.
• Henry Gross had a hit with Shannon.
• Bruce Clarke is a professor of literature and science at Texas Tech University.
Does Woodstock still matter? "I think it does," Marcellino says. "We had our dreams and aspirations, and maybe that's overwhelming for a younger generation now." Says York: "I find it remarkable that kids today are interested, because in 1969, I can't think any of us were nostalgic about 1929. The number of years between historical periods seems to be not important as much as the texture that was so different."
Woodstock--40 years ago