Woodstock At 40: The Bands Reflect
Woodstock At 40: The Bands Reflect

Billboard.com spoke to many of the artists who performed at the historic Woodstock festival about their thoughts and memories of the event that helped define their lives and careers.

Joan Baez
It was a once in a lifetime thing for me. (Playing on the free stage) was a riot. Whoever was officially taking names and putting people in order didn't recognize me. I was just one of the lineup. I think I just gave my name as Joan. I went out on the stage and I'm not sure what I sang, but I remember this guy at the top of the hill, in the back...with no clothes on and flowers in his hair and a long beard. And he started to dance through the crowd toward the stage. So I just cut one of the songs so I could bow politely to him and leave before he made it to the stage and got up there with me.

Stu Cook, Creedence Clearwater Revival
When we left Los Angeles we flew all night to get to Woodstock. We had heard there were 200,000 people already there, which was amazing, and by the time we got there everything had changed. It was no longer the 200,000; it was out of control as far as we could tell. We didn't know what to expect, but we went in there...in a little helicopter, sort of hanging out on the pontoon of the helicopter. And backstage we were having a totally different experience than the audience. There was a lot of creature comforts -- there was friends, there was food, there was good smoke, booze, whatever. We weren't experiencing the same environment that the rest of the people were. Then when we got onstage, we didn't know there were 500,000 people there. It was pitch black. After the first few songs we still weren't sure if there was anyone there; it was three in the morning and it was getting pretty quiet. People had had a fairly long day. And then some guy way the hell out there yells, "We're with ya!," and we were like, "OK, well, [i]that's[/i] the guy the concert's for," and on we played. The next day we played for 5,000 people somewhere, and it started to dawn on us what we'd just been at, that we'd probably never see anything like that or experience an event like that again.

David Crosby
It was kind of nerve-wracking for us. It was only our second show. Everybody we knew or cared about in the music industry was there. They were heroes to us -- The Band and Hendrix and The Who...They were all standing behind us in a circle, like, "OK, you're the new kids on the block. Show us..."

John Entwistle, The Who
You couldn't sit in the dressing rooms because they were being shuffled between the bands, so I walked around the whole of the audience. I met some friends out there who gave me some bourbon and Coke -- unfortunately the ice had been stolen from backstage and had acid in it, so I spent a little while taking a trip. I figured I had enough time, so I drank the rest of the bourbon and passed out. When I came around I was pretty groggy, but just about fit enough to play. I don't remember what adventures the rest of The Who had, but we finally went on and the most amazing part of it was when we sang "I'm Free," the sunrise came up, so it was pretty amazing.

John Fogerty, Creedence Clearwater Revival

It was big. You knew it was a really momentous and special thing -- and I was nervous. The fact that freeways were all clogged for 50 miles around was like, "Wow, that's pretty unusual." We were taken by helicopter and dropped at the Holiday Inn and allowed to sleep a little bit, and from there we were taken by helicopter, this shaky old World War II thing that I was also really nervous about; only two of us at a time could fit in it. We arrived in daylight and saw all these people and it was like, "Oh my god..." Once I was on the ground and I looked around I was just nervous the whole time I was there, because with half a million people there were no rules. There were no real professionals running it, no real security set up. It wasn't something where they knew in advance what was going to happen, therefore no precautions had been taken. All it takes is one person shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater; if all those folks had started to stampede, a lot of folks would get hurt. I was just a little nervous about what could go wrong. I remember seeing a guy selling water, a dollar for five gallons. I thought that as the most bizarre and commercial, crass thing I had seen. You should be [i]giving[/i] water. Our own show...everything ran late, as you know. We ended up following the Grateful Dead, which is a whole story in itself. We were supposed to go on by 10 or 11 o'clock that night, and we didn't get on 'til something like 2:30. The Dead went on and all their equipment broke, so they spent 45 minutes to an hour to get it fixed. I always suspected people were just too high and couldn't figure out how to fix things right, you know? We were supposed to be the headliner, but by the time everything unraveled, I don't know who was the headliner -- and I probably didn't care by that point, either.

Jerry Garcia, Grateful Dead

The thing I remember most is people behind the amps running around and going, "The stage is collapsing! The stage is collapsing!" That didn't make for such a good time.

Arlo Guthrie
I walked out in the crowd and went way up to the back of the hill. I was overwhelmed just being i the crowd. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do except be there.