The "peace, love and music" vibe laid out at the original fest was fully present.
To loosely paraphrase Lennon and McCartney, it was 40 years ago this month that the most important musical voices of a generation gathered in upstate New York to stage a festival that has stood the test of time as the most iconic mass gathering in rock history. The anniversary celebration that has spread across a good bit of this summer, however, has included precious few of those voices: Death has silenced some, while others displayed indifference in reliving the event.
The promoters of the Heroes of Woodstock tour — a 19-date trek involving a rotating cast of performers — are, to be charitable, stretching dictionary definitions by applying the term “hero” to the participants, with all of the bands missing at least a couple of their most recognizable members. But at the jaunt’s New York City stop, the “peace, love and music” vibe laid out at the original fest was fully present.
The program was highlighted by Jefferson Starship, which turned in something of an auto-tribute to its earlier Airplane incarnation, with Paul Kantner managing to channel a surprising amount of the “off the man” anger of vintage tunes. Kantner and company also did a nifty job of morphing into a doppelganger of their old compatriots in the Grateful Dead when accompanying that band’s one-time keyboardist Tom Constanten on some of the evening’s more adventurous forays.
Other acts on the bill were less adept at overcoming the ravages of time — or, more specifically, the absence of their guiding lights. Ten Years After, a left-field stunner in ’69 thanks to the blindingly fast, wildly virtuosic playing of guitarist-singer Alvin Lee, could muster only a half-speed imitation without him. Likewise, Janis Joplin’s onetime compatriots in Big Brother and the Holding Company made a valiant attempt to pay homage to the singer but ended up recalling a wrong-side-of-the-tracks lounge act.
Aud members had to fork over a little more dough than those who attended the first Woodstock — where ducats ran 18 bucks for the full three days — but they also came away with free downloads of all the evening’s performances.
The Heroes of Woodstock tour commemorates the actual anni of the festival on Saturday with a show at the original site in Bethel. It also pulls into the Greek Theater in Los Angeles on Aug. 23.