When rock became our conscience

Woodstock upended established norms of protest against countries that went to war without reason.


Allan Jacob

Published: Thu 15 Aug 2019, 9:22 PM

Last updated: Fri 16 Aug 2019, 6:41 PM

Three days in August 1969 (it stretched to four) made music a sensational viral movement for peace while also making it wild, revolutionary, enduring and memorable. Those trawling social media might not understand the full impact and influence that Woodstock had on a generation, but August 15, fifty years ago will forever be etched in memory not just for the 32 top acts and 400,000 spectators gathered on a 600-hectare farm outside New York, but for spawning what is known as a counter-culture that went electric and was hip, though it was anti-establishment in sentiment.
It was fashionable and broke with convention, it was delirious and made men and women trip to the sounds of harmony. It truly was in concert for a cause as musicians delivered a blow to those screaming for conflict and baying for blood for ideology. The West and East were riven and drifting apart, communism and capitalism were crossing swords, the Cold War was on, but it took Woodstock in Bethel to make sense of the madness of leaders who had lost their way and sat in judgement over the vile and violent deeds of the other.
In Bethel, music was solace; music was silence, music was insanity; music knocked you out senseless; music was uplifting, music was even dreadful for the message it conveyed to the world. More importantly, it was about conscience delivered loud and clear without inhibitions and the accompanying bitterness.
Woodstock upended established norms of protest against countries and governments that went to war without reason. It gave peace a fighting chance and opened the doors to dissent through music. It was free, liberating and eclectic in expressing compassion for those poor souls who lost their bodies to those senseless wars thrust upon them. To men and women who went out into the valleys and rice fields of death in Vietnam as strife stirred in the Middle East.
Woodstock remains the modern world's most influential events for peace where the performers took a stance in the rain and in the sweltering heat over four seemingly endless days and nights. The groups played on; three days of music was noticed not just as rock and roll but as one resounding anthemthat brought the world and global musicians together.
I was born four years after Woodstock and I have sought new meanings to life from the songs played at the festival. I often return to Joe Cocker's energetic rendition of With a little help from my friends. His throaty vocals lifted the Beatles number to another level. He was spasmodic on stage (I watched it on YouTube), screaming, shaking; the electric guitars may have been jarring but they didn't matter on the occasion. Words were a distant accompaniment on stage when he sang; it was raw, yet he sounded hopeful with his air guitar.
I've been to several concerts in my youth but now prefer the comfort of my sofa to listen to music but I've never seen or experienced the spontaniety of a Woodstock. It takes my breath away every time I watch Santana coming alive and giving himself up for Soul Sacrifice. The drums and the strains of the lead guitars are simply out of the world. There was spirit at Woodstock that made the yearning, the desire for calm almost spiritual.
The best acts at the festival remain a matter of debate but the focus should be on the rock and folk harmonies fifty years ago. I owned some CDs and cassette collections from the event, but now prefer the ease of YouTube to listen to Jim Hendrix, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (now old, but among my favourites for their acoustic harmonies), Janis Joplin, The Who, Joan Baez and several others who rocked with a conscience never seen or heard before. I wasn't there, but I can feel a calm amidst the rumbling of wars raging all around me today. Music was love, it was passionate and went ballistic against war at Woodstock. It drowned the sounds of bullets and bombs for four days. There was peace.
- allan@khalejtimes.com

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