If you want to hear three complete days of Woodstock music this August, you’re guaranteed it. No, not out at Watkins Glen with Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, et al. — that Woodstock still seems very much in flux — but via a completists’ audio box set of nearly every note played at the original 1969 Woodstock festival. The Rhino label is about to unveil “Woodstock 50 — Back to the Garden — The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive,” a 38-disc, 36-hour, 432-song CD collection that lays the ’69 fest out in chronological order, from the first stage announcements to muddy farewells.
Amazingly, most of this material has never been issued before; 267 of the 432 songs have never seen an official release. The word “amazingly” comes into play because so much has come out in dribs and drabs since a hit three-LP set went to the top of the charts in 1970. There were expanded CD box sets in 1994 and 2009 … but, needless to say, not nearly this expanded. Some of the acts on the bill have had complete, or semi-complete, versions of their sets released. Just last month, Janis Joplin and Sly & the Family Stone had their performances issued on vinyl for the first time for Record Store Day in limited editions that became instant sellouts.
But it took some years and some doing to convince all the artists as well as record-company powers-that-be that there was a need and a market for an $800 list price edition that would include every lick, including some off ones.
Rolling Stone broke the news Wednesday morning via an interview with Andy Zax, an archivist who co-produced the collection for Rhino. He revealed he had first come across the treasure trove of dozens of one-inch tapes in a Warner Bros. storage space in 2005. “From the moment I saw those tapes, I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s so much more than I’d ever thought,’” he said. “It was clear to me that no one was exploring this stuff and dealing with it in totality.” Zax told Rolling Stone’s David Browne he lacked “institutional support” at the time for his vision of putting everything out and had to settle for a mere six-CD box for the 40th anniversary edition.
Zax also detailed for RS other hangups, like the fact that microphone feeds often weren’t turned on in the sound truck yet when bands would begin their sets — something that was fixed by dubbing in bits from the soundboard tapes. And then there was the fact that a lot of acts weren’t pleased with their performances, among them Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty, who nixed the use of any Creedence material in the original album or movie because he was upset at the lack of audience response when the band played to a sleepy crowd following a much-delayed post-midnight start time. (“Why show the people a weakness?” Fogerty told RS,) Zax says Creedence’s set is actually ““one of the best performances at Woodstock … the fact that it wasn’t out in its entirety until now is flabbergasting,” and Fogerty has finally come around to agreeing.
For anyone who wants more Woodstock who lacks the stomach or wallet for three full days’ worth of it, Rhino is also issuing an entirely reasonable 10-disc distillation of the new collection and, for the truly faint of heart, a three-CD version.
On the complete collection, each act will gets its own disc. Among the other artists represented are the Who, the Grateful Dead, the Band and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (whose Neil Young has long been disdainful of his part in Woodstock and declined to let himself be shown in the film). The only things missing from the 38-CD version, Rolling Stone reports, are two Jimi Hendrix songs that his estate didn’t believe were up to snuff and some Sha Na Na that missed being captured on tape.