Woodstock 1969: High Times
By then a new complication had developed: rain had begun to fall, turning the trampled alfalfa field to muck. Saturday afternoon brought a brief respite from the storm, but by then, the summer heat, food and water shortages, sanitary problems, sheer boredom and overcrowding were beginning to take a toll on the attendees. If the promoters lost the goodwill of the audience, they would have lost everything.
Rescue came from an unlikely and unpremeditated source—a man and a band named Santana. Carlos Santana was unknown at the time, and his group’s debut album was still a month away from wide release. As a result, no one in the audience knew the songs Santana performed, including “Waiting,” “You Just Don’t Care,” “Savor” and “Jingo,” as well as the song that established them as superstars at Woodstock, “Soul Sacrifice.” How an unknown band came to play at the festival was remarkable. At the time, Santana were part of the thriving San Francisco rock scene and a favorite of Bill Graham, owner of the Fillmore East and Fillmore West concert venues. They were the only group to headline the Fillmore West without having made a record. Not surprisingly, Bill Graham was behind their Woodstock appearance.
CARLOS SANTANA Bill was approached by Michael Lang to help him out, because Bill certainly had experience putting concerts together. Bill had a fascination and an obsession with us, like he did with the Grateful Dead. He said to Lang, “I’ll help you, but you’ve got to put Santana on.” They didn’t know us from Adam, but Bill stuck to his guns and they let us play.
It’s always a compliment to be on the same stage with Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, Ravi Shankar, Richie Havens, and of course everybody else. But Jimi and Sly were just on a whole other level; we knew that they had different kinds of spirits hovering around them. But everybody else—I felt that we could give them a good run. At that point we had been opening up for Janis Joplin in Chicago, and Paul Butterfield, and we saw how the band was taking the audience. They would boo us because they wanted to hear more Janis Joplin, but as soon as we played, they went, “Oooh! More!” All of a sudden, the women started discovering spiritual orgasms. They started dancing and their eyes rolled back to their ears. And they were laughing and crying and dancing at the same time, pretty much like a Grateful Dead concert. So we had confidence that we had brought something else to the table.
It’s always a high to remember the sound. I heard it before it came out of my fingers; then I heard it come out of my fingers and into the guitar strings, to the amplifier and to the P.A., and then from the P.A. to a whole ocean of people. And then it comes back to you. You never forget that. That’s where I discovered my first mantra: “God! Please help me stay in time and in tune!” I was totally peaking on mescaline, because they had told me I didn’t have to play until two o’clock in the morning and we ended up playing at two in the afternoon. I just repeated that mantra, and it got me through our performance.
Like Santana, Mountain were relative unknowns at Woodstock. The festival was only their fourth appearance together, but guitarist Leslie West and bassist Felix Pappalardi were an impressive duo. West, a New York native, had made a name for himself as a hotshot guitarist, while Pappalardi had crafted his career as a producer, most notably for Cream. The two men met when Pappalardi produced a record by West’s previous band, the Vagrants. When Leslie decided to go solo, Pappalardi was brought in to produce his debut solo album, called Mountain in reference to West’s then-substantial girth. By the summer of 1969, Felix began playing bass in concert with Leslie, accompanied by drummer N.D. Smart and keyboardist Steve Knight. This was the quartet booked to play Woodstock on Saturday night after Canned Heat, the band that had followed up Santana’s set.
LESLIE WEST We flew up in our own helicopter. Unfortunately, because I was much heavier at the time, the helicopter pilot did not want to fly one trip, so he took us up in two trips.
We were scheduled for Saturday night. We got a great time period, but since we got up to Woodstock earlier that day, we had to hide until it got dark, because they would have put us on sooner, since some of the bands before us weren’t ready to play. It was chaos in the beginning.
We went on at night, just as scheduled. But at about two or three in the morning, after we’d played, we were starving. [Mountain manager] Bud Praeger’s wife had given him six barbecued chickens to bring to the show. He didn’t want to take them; he told her, “They have food there, they have everything for the entertainers.” Well, that was gone in the first hour—Janis Joplin ate everything. So we were starved. There was nothing, and then Bud whips out these chickens! There were people coming up to eat it, ’cause it smelled pretty damn good. I think we fed 48 people that night.
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