‘Back to the Garden’ Sets Present Woodstock in Full or in Highlights
Does anyone need a 38-CD deluxe boxed set documenting the three days of peace and music that was Woodstock? Apparently 1,969 people did: the numbered set, selling for $799.98, sold out quickly. The 38-CD set, which features 432 tracks, comes packaged in a screen-printed plywood box with a canvas insert inspired by the Woodstock stage, and it also contains multiple artifacts, such as a replica of the original program, two 8×10 prints from the acclaimed rock photographer Henry Diltz, a guitar strap, and two Woodstock posters. Since the 38-CD set is no longer available, listeners desperate to get back to the garden can also pick up Woodstock: Back to the Garden in a 10-CD set, featuring 162 tracks, or a 3-CD set that features 42 tracks.
The most interesting feature of the sets is not the music, though of course many of the performances themselves are etched in our memories. Richie Havens’ opening set, John Sebastian’s warm set, Alvin Lee and Ten Years After’s blistering stage version of “I’m Going Home” (which was the encore of their set), Jefferson Airplane’s rousing “Volunteers,” Janis Joplin’s down-to-the-bone “Ball and Chain,” and Jimi Hendrix’s spellbinding version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” are all here. The 10-CD set also contains live recordings by all the performers who were at Woodstock; preserved in this set are performances by Tim Hardin, Bert Sommer, the Keef Hartley Band, Melanie, and Mountain.
But what’s most compelling about these sets are producer Andy Zax’s descriptions of the ways that the project came together in the first place. He recalls that the biggest challenge started with finding the 60 or more multi-track reels recorded on-site by Eddie Kramer and Lee Osborne, as well as the other sound reels recorded by stage crew. Once Zax and sound producer Brian Kehew stated working with these tapes in 2005, they avoided trying to disturb or fix the tapes. Instead, Zax and his team realized that there was “no way to make these recordings sound slick; you realize that these tapes are the sonic equivalent of heirloom tomatoes — slightly imperfect, but delicious.” In their effort to re-create the experience of those three days, Zax and his team preserve the banter of the stagehands, the audience members shouting requests for baseball scores, stage announcements about bad acid or urging attendees to phone home, and land owner Max Yasgur’s address of thanks to the gathered throng.
As strange as it may sound, the community announcements may be the best part of these sets, for they illustrate the ways in which the people on the stage, the organizers, and the audience came together as a community over three days, trying to take care of each other during the highs and lows of the festival. Woodstock: Back to the Garden re-creates an event that has long been shrouded in the cloak of cultural myth and that long ago turned from actual event to symbol.