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Best Woodstock Performances

Which have stood the test of time?


More than 200 songs were performed over the course of the Woodstock festival in 1969, so at first the prospect of picking favorites is a bit daunting. Even 45 years later, a fair number have stood the test of time. Re-live some of the most memorable, then share your favorites.

The Band - "The Weight"

The Band
R. Gates / Staff/Archive Photos/Getty Images
The Band's appearance at Woodstock was part of a tour promoting their first album, Music From Big Pink, released in 1968. A few weeks after Woodstock they recorded their self-titled second album. At Woodstock, The Band (Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko) gave what many of their fans believe are one of their best live performances ever.

Blood Sweat & Tears - "Spinning Wheel"

BS&T had two successful albums under their belts going into the Woodstock festival. Being one of the headline acts, they were scheduled near the end of the last day. Unfortunately, because of the many rain delays and power interruptions, their set didn't actually start until the wee hours of Monday morning, long after the festival had been scheduled to end. Nonetheless, their appearance further solidified their growing success, and they recorded their third album shortly before leaving on a world tour a few weeks after Woodstock.

Canned Heat - "Woodstock Boogie"

Capitol Records
Canned Heat's psychedelic-flavored blues style was a perfect match for the Woodstock audience. Comparative veterans, they had released four albums prior to Woodstock. Their set, which started at sunset on the second day of the festival, is the one for which the band is best known. The jam they called "Woodstock Boogie" had actually appeared on their 1968 album Boogie With Canned Heat as "Fried Hockey Boogie."

Joe Cocker - "A Little Help From My Friends"

Interscope Records
Cocker's Woodstock appearance was scheduled just days before the event. He had to be helicoptered in because of the massive traffic jams, and his set was cut short by one of the many thunderstorms that plagued the festival. Regardless, Cocker called the experience "very special" and delivered one of his most inspired performances of what would become one of his signature songs.

Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Keep On Chooglin'"

Fantasy Records
Although it was very early Sunday morning by the time they took the stage, CCR were enthusiastically received by those who hadn't opted for a few hours of sleep. The set drew from familiar material from the band's first three albums. The infectious "Keep On Chooglin'" was the last scheduled song in the set, prior to a crowd-ordered encore.

Crosby Stills Nash & Young - "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"

Photo by Henry Diltz
Their Woodstock performance was only the second live gig for the band, and they made no bones about being nervous. Stephen Stills told the crowd, "This is the second time we've ever played in front of people, man. We're scared s***less." Neil Young had joined the band a few months earlier, but didn't take the stage until CSN had performed several songs from their first album. The set opened with "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."

Richie Havens - "Handsome Johnny"

Rebound Records

You may now answer the trivia question, "What was the first song performed at Woodstock?" with confidence. Richie Havens, who was bumped into the lead-off position because the acts scheduled ahead of him were stuck in traffic, had the crowd under his spell from first lick to last. The anti-war theme of "Handsome Johnny" made it the ideal opener. Havens co-wrote the song with Lou Gossett, who would go on to career as an award-winning actor.

Jimi Hendrix - "Voodoo Child"

© Photo Flashbacks - The Doug Hartley Collection
As the final performer on the Woodstock stage, Hendrix electrified the crowd throughout his entire set. The media made much of his fuzz-laden arrangement of "Star Spangled Banner," but many fans consider the performance of "Voodoo Child" to be the highlight of the set.

Jefferson Airplane - "Saturday Afternoon"

Scheduled as the Saturday night headline act, Jefferson Airplane finally took the stage shortly after sunrise on Sunday morning. Grace Slick managed to joke about it as the band mounted the stage, promising some "morning mania music." The set opener was "Saturday Afternoon" from the 1967 After Bathing At Baxter's album.

Janis Joplin - "Ball and Chain"

© Photo Flashbacks - The Doug Hartley Collection
Joplin had gone solo nearly a year before Woodstock, and her performance consisted mainly of songs from her first solo album, Her rendition of "Ball and Chain" first appeared on her last album with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Cheap Thrills. It was still a staple of her live performances when she belted it out at Woodstock.
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