The Mother of Woodstock


Joni Mitchell was one of the best singer/songwriters to come out of the late 1960s, and in many minds she’s identified with the Woodstock festival although she spent that historic weekend downstate, in New York City.

Mitchell is, of course, the warbling Canadian whose complex songs nevertheless propelled her into stardom and became hits mainly for other people (Judy Collins with “Both Sides Now,” Buffy Sainte-Marie with “The Circle Game” and country singer George Hamilton IV with “Urge For Going.”).  She had her own hits- “Help Me” and the album Court and Spark in 1974 – and has influenced everyone from Stevie Nicks to Sheryl Crow to Annie Lennox to Natalie Merchant.

But you may have already begun hearing one of her best-known songs, “Woodstock,” covered most famously by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  Back in 1969, Mitchell was invited to perform at Woodstock but her manager didn’t want her to miss a scheduled appearance on Dick Cavett’s ABC-TV show.   So she stewed in the Big Apple while her buddies (including then-boyfriend Graham Nash) transformed Max Yasgur’s farm into ground zero for that era’s pop culture universe.

“The deprivation of not being able to go provided me with an intense angle on Woodstock,” Mitchell told an interviewer. “Woodstock, for some reason, impressed me as being a modern miracle, like a modern-day fishes and loaves story. For a herd of people that large to cooperate so well, it was pretty remarkable and there was a tremendous optimism. So I wrote the song ‘Woodstock’ out of these feelings, and the first three times I performed it in public, I burst into tears, because it brought back the intensity of the experience and was so moving.”

Mitchell’s version appeared on her 1970 album Ladies Of The Canyon, a classic that also featured “The Circle Game” (one of the best songs to come out of the Sixties) and the haunting “Big Yellow Taxi.”   And of course, “Woodstock” cracked the Top 40 in a version by Matthews’ Southern Comfort (with former Fairport Convention member Iain Matthews) but it was nowhere near as riveting as the electric CSNY hit single.

David Crosby later praised Joni Mitchell for capturing the soul of Woodstock better than anyone who actually attended.  She may not have been there, but her heart was.

MP3:  “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell

MP3: “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell official website

Some of the performers from Woodstock are touring the country as part of the Heroes of Woodstock tour.  The tour features Jefferson Starship, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Ten Years After and others.  Check out the tour dates here.  And, the Heroes of Woodstock will go back to the garden at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on August 15, the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival.  Right on.

4 Responses to “The Mother of Woodstock”

  1. Considering her royalties for ‘Woodstock’ vs the general F-upedness of the festival, I’d say she got the better deal. Everyone who made it into the festival it was proud to be there, but none that I’ve spoken to actually enjoyed it. Or remembers enough of it to be statistically relevant.

  2. thanks for this one. This is the only blog I got to every day…I don’t even do that with my own.

  3. Guitar Matty Says:

    Thats weird. Anybody I’ve spoke to who was at Woodstock described it in life-changing terms, and that there was a spirit of unity that stayed with them their whole lives since.

  4. -For me,as probably for many of that era, Joni was(and is ) the essence of the feeling,the conveyance of the vivid experience of not only being alive at that time but of life in the general present. Her music and evolving compositions spun the context of a time that only now can be fully appreciated for its enthusiasm,hope,and depth of feeling. I for one,as for all of my friends then ( and now) adored her as the voice of beauty and the reflection of our own souls. We were all in love with that poignant expression of what it feels like. That amazing girl from a small town in Canada transmitted the entire world for us. With her lone voice and guitar the memory of humanity still rings out in space.And she became a damn good painter too!

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