There are millions of people who love Woodstock, mostly for the same reasons. These reasons are, not necessarily in order of importance, giving the middle finger to the status quo and to the war machine, a love of the music performed at Woodstock and the premise behind Woodstock as a peaceful temporary community united by a love of music played by musicians—other than Sha Na Na–whose music led America’s children away from the suburban dinner table to gorge on the psychedelic human feast.
Woodstock holds such a fond place in the collective conscious that it appeals to a wide range of ages: At Friday’s annual local tribute a mother rushed to the stage during set-up to say that her son, age 13 that day, was a huge Woodstock fan. The kid was wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt and granny glasses; around his very long blond hair was tied a headband. Never mind that the kid was born nearly 30 years after the event took place; his mind was blown by it. What other popular event has that kind of emotional resonance and ability to hold us captive to a specific zeitgeist transgenerationally? What else about our generation would captivate, as creaky as it makes us sound, our grandchildren? For this reason we can rule out another of the Boomer generation’s defining moments–the Beatles on Ed Sullivan–and try without success to find something in 1919 to which our own young selves would have been equally in thrall.
The annual tribute, played by the Relics (known last year as Psychedelic Relics until receiving a cease-and-desist from another Psychedelic Relics band), was a smash. This year’s version differed from last in scripting–emcee “Lumpy Gravy” was off at the Bob Dylan show at the O’Connell Center–but not in theatricality. A huge cheer went up for “Roast Beef,” a character famed locally who can only be described as a lascivious spoof of rock stars who are themselves spoofs of rock stars. “Roast Beef” is the creation of Robby Rucker; the character dates back a couple of decades to a show band Rucker had with his wife Janet and some other local musicians.
The Relics are a ten-piece outfit whose show started with the four-piece Other Voices, who reprised a couple of numbers from their own recent Plaza show and added two new ones. After the brilliant “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” the full-complement Relics took the stage and played 17 numbers, including a three-song ode to The Who that made you lament some music written after 1977 and that of The Who in particular.
The set list took liberties with the original and not to any detriment; the inclusion of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (which also dates from 1969) would have been a sticking point for pedants only. Encore “Happy Together,” another song never heard at Yasgur’s Farm, had this writer doing the swim with another person born a decade too late to have attended the original Aquarian exposition.
The Relics once again costumed themselves in bits and pieces from the day; in general this was tutti-frutti tie-dye but there was also a smashing pair of red-white-and-blue striped trousers worn by David Ottenberg and a fringed suede vest worn by Bob McPeek. Such attire, if not still sold in Gainesville, is widely available on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, should anyone wish to avail him or herself of it for next year’s concert.
The Woodstock Tribute is a highlight of the summer concert series, which closes next week after a five-month run. In a season of spectacular concerts it held supreme as both concert and event, a gathering of the old Gainesville tribe for the purpose of celebrating not just a benchmark event but a generational ethos and rallying cry that must seem colorfully quaint to today’s youth, who want to buy into the system as soon as possible and for the biggest possible bucks. The Woodstock tribute show is a reminder of a time when the main threat to one’s survival was Uncle Sam’s military, not Uncle Sam’s financial crises. It was the grooviest show I saw all season and I hate waiting a full year to groove that way again.