89°F
weather icon Clear

John Fogerty recalls what made Woodstock so special

He couldn’t see much beyond the muck-spackled bodies, attired in dirt in lieu of clothes.

There John Fogerty stood, in front of half a million people, playing to one.

At the time, it all felt frustratingly anticlimactic for the Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman, who remembers the helicopter ride he took on Aug. 16, 1969, flying over a sea of humanity in upstate New York.

How did those masses look from above? “Like ants or termites or something,” the 74-year-old Fogerty recalls. “A zillion of them.”

So this was Woodstock.

Thursday, that marathon concert turned cultural touchstone turns 50, remaining a sign of the times whose legacy has endured even as those times have changed and changed again.

It made Carlos Santana and Joe Cocker stars, gave Jimi Hendrix a platform for one of the most electrifying performances of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” proved that hundreds of thousands of longhairs and their straitlaced counterparts could come together peacefully while uniting a generation under the banner of rock ’n’ roll.

And it might not have happened the way it did if not for the man on the other end of the phone.

Woodstock’s 50th anniversary is being commemorated by a PBS special, a new book, a director’s cut of the now-iconic concert film, a 38-disc box set of recordings from the fest and more.

It’s also being celebrated by Fogerty himself. He’s been revisiting his band’s blistering Woodstock set during his “My 50 Year Trip” residency, which debuted in April and returns to Wynn Las Vegas in November.

About that night …

It was well past 1 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 17, 1969, when Creedence took the stage.

Fogerty could barely see a thing.

“It was dark, and with the technology at the time, you could only see about two rows of people and then it was pitch black. They didn’t have the wonderful lighting that they do nowadays,” he recalls. “I looked down and I saw that basically everybody was all muddy, a lot them were naked, and they were asleep, rightfully.”

Blame it on the Grateful Dead.

Creedence was originally supposed to perform around 9 p.m., according to Fogerty.

But the Dead went long — way long — and even by the jam band’s own admission was far from its best.

“With the Grateful Dead having such a stilted performance, people just lost interest, and so I was basically playing to the darkness,” Fogerty says. “At some point, I actually went up to the microphone, because I thought we were playing great, and said something about, ‘Well, we’re playing our hearts out up here for ya. We just want you to have a good time.’

“And way out in the dark I could see somebody flicking his lighter,” he continues. “I hear a voice say, (in a far-off tone) ‘Don’t worry about it, John. We’re with ya!’ So I made up my mind, in front of all those people who I assumed were asleep, ‘I’m going to play the rest of the show for that guy.’ And that’s what I did.”

Because of the somnolent crowd, when Creedence was approached to be a part of the now-iconic “Woodstock” concert film, Fogerty passed.

“They sent me one song, just a reel-to-reel tape of ‘Bad Moon Rising,’ and said, ‘We’d like you to be in the movie and use this song,’ ” Fogerty says. “And we had such a problem — meaning that there was no reaction from the audience — I just felt that Creedence was hotter than a rocket everywhere else in the world, and I thought, ‘Why would I want to be in a movie that shows us struggling with a sleeping audience?’ So I declined at the time.”

Nevertheless, like Woodstock itself, Creedence’s performance would become the stuff of lore.

A hard happening to make happen

As detailed in the recently released book “Woodstock: 50 Years of Peace and Music” (Charlesbridge, $29.99), by author Daniel Bukszpan, it was a minor miracle that Woodstock happened at all given the organizational chaos and challenges that shrouded it from the start.

First off, Woodstock didn’t actually take place in the town of Woodstock, New York, but 50 miles away in the hamlet of Bethel, where a local dairy farmer named Max Yasgur rented out a portion of his land for $50,000. It was the festival’s third option.

From the get-go, there were serious logistical issues: As Woodstock’s opening day approached, organizers faced a dilemma: finish building the stage or the fencing around the festival grounds.

There simply wasn’t enough time for both.

“It was either bankruptcy or a riot,” Joel Rosenman, one of Woodstock’s promoters, told Newsday in 2009.

And with that, Woodstock became a free festival.

While there was no cost for fans, the same could not be said for the organizers: The day after Woodstock ended, they were $2.6 million in the hole. (That equates to more than $18 million when adjusted for inflation. The festival finally became profitable in the ’80s thanks to royalties from the concert film originally released in 1970.)

Attendees had their own challenges to contend with.

There were 1,500 Porta-Potties for 400,000 people, which translated to one toilet for every 267 concertgoers.

There was also a severe water and food shortage, with organizers struggling to find vendors to cater to such a large crowd — they inexplicably settled on Food for Love, a company with the right name but just three employees.

Some audience members grew so hungry, they risked their teeth by eating raw ears of corn from Yasgur’s fields.

Then there was the rain, which turned the site into one giant mud hole.

Even getting there was an incredible chore: Traffic was so congested, one nearby highway was backed up 17 miles at one point, elongating a 90-minute drive into an eight-hour trip.

Band aid

Assembling the festival’s lineup also was fraught with difficulties.

Fogerty recalls becoming aware of Woodstock in the spring of 1969 during some East Coast gigs.

“There were these billboards that said, ‘Come to Woodstock,’ and I said, ‘I wonder what that thing is?’ ” he remembers. “I’d go back to the Bay Area, and on the radio, they’d be talking about Jimi and Janis (Joplin) and the Who, stuff like that, so I just assumed all those people were already on board this thing called Woodstock.”

Fogerty says that he was contacted about Creedence playing Woodstock in June or July of that year, pretty late in the game, and thought the lineup was already full of big-name acts.

“But it turns out that when I said yes, Creedence was actually the first band to sign on for Woodstock,” Fogerty notes. “There’s actually a plaque on the wall at the Woodstock concert museum, it says, ‘After Creedence Clearwater signed on, then all the other bands decided it was OK,’ or something like that. That’s kind of what made Woodstock happen.”

But all these ups and downs don’t detract from Woodstock’s legacy.

Rather, they underscore the power of so many people coming together despite odds as long as the lines to the restrooms.

Beyond the music, this is ultimately what Woodstock represents, dirt beneath the fingernails and all.

“I will say, looking back, I was very proud of our generation,” Fogerty says. “I was very proud of the kids who went there and, under very severe conditions, managed to be polite and nice and civil. There was really no trouble, no incidents at all. They arrived peacefully, and left peacefully. I just thought that was pretty wonderful.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Juan’s Flaming Fajitas in Las Vegas celebrates National Fajita Day
Cook Ruben Fuentes and general manager Taylor Pulliam of Juan’s Flaming Fajitas in Las Vegas prepare steak and shrimp fajitas with the restaurant’s signature fiery treatment. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pasta Shop Ristorante serves a watermelon-shrimp salad
Pasta Shop Ristorante & Art Gallery in Henderson serves a summer salad that combines watermelon with greens, feta and shrimp. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Factory Kitchen in Las Vegas makes classic affogato
Jorge Luque, pastry chef at The Factory Kitchen at The Venetian in Las Vegas, makes affogato with two simple ingredients - house-made gelato and fresh espresso. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review Journal with image from The Factory Kitchen)
The Cereal Killerz Kitchen serves over 100 cereals
Christopher Burns, owner of The Cereal Killerz Kitchen at Galleria at Sunset mall in Henderson, makes a Milk & Cookies Shake from his more than 100 varieties of cereal. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer in Las Vegas makes a State Fair CrazyShake
Bianca Zepeva, a shaker at Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer at The Venetian in Las Vegas, makes a State Fair CrazyShake with a kettle corn rim, caramel, corn-based ice cream, popcorn brittle, crushed kettle corn, sprinkles and a cherry. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Balboa Pizza Company makes Thai peanut chicken wings
Irma Perez, kitchen manager at Balboa Pizza Company at The District at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, near Las Vegas, brines chicken wings for 24 hours before roasting and frying them and finishing them in various styles such as Thai peanut. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
New Venetian pool deck
Final touches are currently being added to the hotel’s main tower pool deck, which consists of five pools. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who is Vegas Vic? (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada State Museum Director Dennis McBride explains the origins of the Vegas icon.
Slater’s 50/50 in Las Vegas serves a 4-pound Big Island Feast Burger
Cindy Sun, general manager of Slater’s 50/50 in Las Vegas, makes the Big Island Feast Burger with 2 1/2 pounds of the house bacon/beef blend, Napa-cilantro slaw, six slices of American cheese, a can of grilled Spam, six slices of chargrilled pineapple, four fried eggs and a drizzle of teriyaki and serves it with macaroni salad. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Get a first look of MSG Sphere construction in Las Vegas
Representatives of The Madison Square Garden Company give the first glimpse of progress Tuesday of the under-construction MSG Sphere — a first-of-its-kind performance venue with high-tech audio and visual capabilities.
Shark Week cupcakes at Freed’s Bakery in Las Vegas
Brittnee Klinger, a cake decorator at Freed’s Bakery in Las Vegas, makes Shark Week cupcakes with ocean-blue buttercream, fondant fins and a blood-red strawberry filling. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fans and friends recall Elvis opening in Las Vegas
Fifty years ago on July 31st 1969, Elvis Presley opened at the International hotel in Las Vegas. He went on to do 837 consecutive sold-out shows at the property.
Hot peach cobbler at Beaumont’s Southern Kitchen at Texas Station
Michael Ross, room chef/pitmaster at Beaumont’s Southern Kitchen at Texas Station in Las Vegas, makes peach cobbler by baking peaches in a cast-iron pan with batter and crumble, then topping with Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and bourbon-caramel sauce. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Water Grill opens at The Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas
Water Grill, from a 30-year-old California company opening its first Las Vegas location, specializes is fresh seafood including 16 types of oysters. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cat's Meow comes to Las Vegas
New Orleans-based karaoke chain opens new location in Neonopolis. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making the Loco Moco Breakfast Burger at Broken Yolk Cafe in Las Vegas
Manny Menina, line cook at Broken Yolk Cafe in Las Vegas, stacks 8 ounces of beef, 2 strips of bacon, hash browns, caramelized onions and 2 fried eggs on 4 King’s Hawaiian slider buns to make the Loco Moco Breakfast Burger. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
SecretBurger at China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
Carlos Cruz, executive chef of Jose Andres’ China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, makes the SecretBurger off-menu, one-night-only ‘All Quacked Up’ with a kimchi pancake, Peking duck, house-made hoisin sauce, a fried duck egg, pickled micro-vegetables, caviar and gold flakes and serves it with a Stillwater Artisanal Ale. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Famous Blue Angel statue commemorated in downtown Las Vegas mural
The 16-foot tall Blue Angel statue that stood above the Blue Angel Motel for six decades is featured in a mural spanning three walls at a downtown Las Vegas building. James Stanford designed the “A Phalanx of Angels Ascending" mural based on his photography, and Cliff Morris painted the mural at 705 Las Vegas Blvd. North, near the Neon Museum. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Making Castle Frites at the new Frites at Excalibur
Tom McGrath, district manager/executive chef at Frites at the Excalibur in Las Vegas, tops his beef-tallow fries like a loaded baked potato - with white and yellow cheddar, sour cream, bacon and chives. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hello Kitty Cafe on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
The Hello Kitty Cafe opens Friday, July 12th, 2019, between New York, New York and Park MGM on the Las Vegas Strip. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Amano Las Vegas' Fat Baby Sandwich
Chef Jason Weber of Amano Las Vegas has created a sandwich stuffed with pasta, and it's a hit. (Mat Luschek / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
A class at Melissa Coppel Chocolate and Pastry School in Las Vegas.
Melissa Coppel, who teaches classes in various countries around the world, attracts students from far and wide to her eponymous school in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Havana Lobster at Boteco in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Marcus Fortunato, co-owner of Boteco in Las Vegas, learned to make Havana Lobster from the chef at El Figaro, a favorite of former Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Chef Gustav Mauler Is retiring
Las Vegas chef Gustav Mauler announces his retirement on Sunday, June 30, 2019.
Bellagio Conservatory unveils Italian summer exhibit
The Bellagio's Conservatory & Botanical Gardens have opened the gates to its summer display. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
A.D. Hopkins on his debut novel
Veteran journalist introduces readers to “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Seven Magic Mountains restoration complete
Artist Ugo Rondinone’s iconic Seven Magic Mountains receives a complete painting restoration in June 2019.
Making off-the-menu bean curd rolls at Mr. Chow in Las Vegas
Senior chef tournant Cesar Laran has created secret bean curd rolls at Mr. Chow at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. To make them, he rolls bean curd sheets around a filling of carrots, celery and shiitake mushrooms, then smokes them with oolong tea and sugar. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making Bread Pudding French Toast at Esther’s Kitchen in Las Vegas
James Trees, chef/owner of Esther’s Kitchen in Las Vegas, slices house-made blueberry bread pudding, coats it in egg yolks and mascarpone, fries it and tops it with spiced walnuts, Lyle’s Golden Syrup and creme fraiche. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Celine Dion closes 1,141-show residency on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Hear from Celine Dion about her 16 years on the Las Vegas Strip and what the future has in store for her. (Caesars Entertainment)
THE LATEST
Jason Aldean announces shows on Las Vegas Strip

Jason Aldean has mused for years about a run in Las Vegas. He’s found his spot at Park Theater on Dec. 6-8 with “Ride All Night.”

Mogwai at Psycho Las Vegas — PHOTOS

Scottish instrumentalists Mogwai are known for their amps-to-11 live shows, where the dynamics inherent in their sweeping compositions come to exceptionally loud life.