By The Time The Airplane Landed At Woodstock

jefferson-airplane-woodstockBy Craig Fenton

If you need to find the meaning of the term culture shock look no further then August 15 through August 18, 1969, Woodstock Music Festival, Max Yasgur’s Farm, Bethel, New York. The 1969 population of Bethel , New York was under 4000 full-time residents and even forty years removed from the historic event the population has not reached 5000.

Grace Slick’s intro set the mood and laid the foundation for what would be a little under 100 minutes of music, but a lifetime of memories, “Alright friends you have seen the heavy groups, now you will see morning maniac music. Believe me, yeah. It’s a new dawn, yeah. The regular guys and Nicky Hopkins.”

Fast forward to the past. RCA/Legacy for the first time offers the complete and uncut Jefferson Airplane performance from August 17th, 1969 . There are a myriad of reasons why this is one of the most imperative releases for the old rocker. One note immediately erases the fallacy that the uniqueness of Woodstock as an event outshined the sounds that actually emanated from the stage.


Accompanied by keyboardist, friend, and session man extraordinaire Nicky Hopkins (Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the Who to name a few) the Jefferson Airplane launched into their stellar rendition of the Fred Neil songThe Other Side Of This Life.” This is the first time the track is available in its full eight plus minutes of glory. “Somebody To Love” is next and continues to leave the masses spellbound. “3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds” had never been previously heard from the Woodstock gig until now.

It doesn’t disappoint with the power and passion that has solidified the song as one of the finest the band would pen. As an added bonus the intro is rearranged slightly with Grace singing the beginning couple of lines and not Marty. Up next “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon” resonated more piercing than ever in the outdoor setting. “Eskimo Blue Day” may be exoteric to some ears but it enhances the Airplane experience showing their ability to change direction at a moments notice and never seem off course. “Plastic Fantastic Lover” would always be taken to another level when played live and this was once again exhibited. Even those in attendance that had witnessed the Airplane stage magic the previously four years could never have been ready for the sound barriers that would be crossed.

Wooden Ships” (available for the first time from Woodstock ) clocked in at over twenty-one minutes! With the signature “Go Ride The Music”, one line from one of their most under-rated tunes “J.P.P. McStep B. Blues” and enough improvisation to keep even those with the shortest attention span enthralled, the J.A. assaulted the senses with a blowtorch.

 If the band needed to show anymore reasons why they didn’t have to apologize for being the best American group of all-time, they handed things over to Jorma Kaukonen for “Uncle Sam Blues.” When you can claim four legitimate singers Grace Slick, Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, and Jorma Kaukonen on the same stage it doesn’t take an Ivy League graduate to comprehend why for a few years the Jefferson Airplane were the highest paid American band for concert performances.

If ever a setting seemed right for “Volunteers” it would have been next. It didn’t take long for the “Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil” to have the effect of a sledgehammer between the eyes. The fifteen minutes (heard for the first time from Woodstock here) mesmerized and fascinated anyone within an ear shot of the masterpiece. Once again Jorma is given the vocal reign for “Come Back Baby” (never available previously from Woodstock ). It should be noted that Paul Kantner was in charge of the Jefferson Airplane set lists from the first day the band formed until the break-up in 1972 and for the 1989 re-launch.

It would have been easy as one of the founding members to push for his own contributions but he was well versed in what made the Airplane such a live attraction. White Rabbit” recognized instantly thanks to Jack Casady’s bass, kept things in superlative fashion. Unfortunately the end had to come and the band used “The House At Pooneil Corners” as the finale. Having been omitted previously from any Woodstock release it showed the Airplane’s comfort level of playing any song in any portion of the performance. While it would have been impossible for the members of the J.A. to make actual eye contact with over half a million strong, they made a life long impression with a set that gets extraordinary marks in a less than optimum setting.

The mix of the instruments would make Beatles producer George Martin proud. The only gripe is the vocals could be a bit higher. If the complete Woodstock performance isn’t enough to entice you, also included is the “Volunteers” album remastered and replica packaging, as well as a poster. This is a limited edition so don’t be turned away from the farm.

Put the television on the Weather Channel when they show some rain and mud to help recreate what it meant to witness Grace, Marty, Paul, Jorma, Jack, Spencer (the regular guys), and Nicky Hopkins.

From somewhere near Fulton Street and the Fillmore East all the best,

Craig Fenton: Author

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