We love live music. In all of its glorious forms. From small intimate venues to large arenas and the energy and excitement surrounding festivals. Each venue has it’s own unique charm, utility, and way to consume live music.
While headlining acts such as Arianna Grande and Beyonce help draw the crowds, women are still vastly outnumbered by men as performers at today’s music festivals.
According to Pitchfork, in 2018, women acts only accounted for 19 percent of performers. This is an issue that dates back to the summer of love – 1969 and the historic festival that took place in Bethel, New York – Woodstock, where only 3 out of the 32 acts were women solo artists.
The historic Woodstock musical festival was monumental and summed up an entire era representing peace, love, and music. Let’s take a look at some of the iconic women of the summer of ‘69.
Since Woodstock, not a lot has changed at music festivals in terms of women being represented and also who gets to attend them. It’s even more apparent today that music festivals are not cheap. For some, attending one entails saving up for an entire year while still others it’s not even in their range of possibility.
Woodstock, with its loud messages of peace, love, and unity was still not free. It did, however, have a “free stage”. Sadly, many of the acts at the free stage were not notable. That is, aside from one.
Joan Baez, true to her lifelong message of economic and racial equality was the only major act to perform at Woodstocks free stage. Baez has used her voice to speak out against injustice for her entire career so her appearance at the Woodstock free stage was not out of character at all.
What’s even more remarkable was that Baez was far along into her pregnancy at this point. The takeaway moment from that evening at the free stage was her set’s closure when she performed “We Shall Overcome”.
Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane
By the time the band Jefferson Airplane hit the stage at Woodstock, they were so worn down by their excessive partying that it was not exactly their best set. Powering through their exhaustion, Grace Slick and her bandmates brought an iconic yet “uneven” performance to the center stage early Sunday morning.
While some considered this to be a sloppy set given by the chart-toppers (the group’s set was even omitted from the original film, “Woodstock”), those in attendance will never forget Jefferson Airplane from the set’s start to finish, all 100-minutes of it, but especially when Grace Slick opened up with her memorable “good morning, Woodstock!” welcoming.
Joni Mitchell may not have been physically present at Woodstock but she still played an integral role in cementing its history. The folk singer and acclaimed songwriter was invited to perform but respectfully declined due to prior obligations and a recommendation from her manager.
Saddened by missing out on the fun her peers were having in upstate New York without her, Mitchell watched the TV in her hotel room as reports from the festival’s events unfolded.
This inspired Joni to write a song about it titled “Woodstock”, which was from the perspective of a concert-goer.
The lyrics were inspired by the reports from the news, her then-boyfriend Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills, and Nash), and friends present at the event. The song went on to become a success for Mitchell and was covered twice in a short period – first by Crosby, Stills, and Nash and then Matthews Southern Comfort Band – both versions received favorable chart placement in 1970 and 1971.
Nancy “Nansi” Nevins
Singer and guitarist Nansi Nevins and her band Sweetwater were set to open up Woodstock but instead found themselves stuck in traffic. Because of their delay, Richie Havens took to the center stage to hold off the crowd for as long as he could with his now-famous set where he claims to have run through all of the songs that he knew. Havens was barely able to hold off the crowd for any longer and was saved only by a helicopter that flew Sweetwater in.
The band, which was only one of two that was fronted by a woman at the event, laid down a memorable set at an even more memorable music festival.
Nevins has said that “there has never been another Woodstock or another time like that. It’s the real deal. Little else is these days”.
One of the biggest names in music during this period was Janis Joplin, without question. Her career cut short by a fatal drug overdose at the age of 27. What is so phenomenal is how such a short-lived career had made such a lasting impact. Joplin found herself being inducted into the Rock N Roll hall of fame in 1995.
Joplin, like many other performers at Woodstock, was marred by a lack of sleep and excessive drug use. It’s incredible how such a legendary festival had so many less-than-par performances. Yet, we remember them. They are legendary in our minds. Also, in our minds, Janis Joplin could do no wrong. Critics called her set at Woodstock “disappointing” and her set was also excluded from the soundtrack and movie. This was done entirely at her request.
Joplin was famously remembered as asking the crowd, “You got enough water? Did you get a place to sleep? I don’t mean to be preachy but the music’s for grooving, man. It’s not for putting yourself through bad changes.”
I guess you had to be there.
Melanie Safka is known by her stage name “Melanie”. Like Joni Mitchell, Melanie wrote a hit song about the festival, but unlike Mitchell, Melanie was there.
Her nod to Woodstock was also her first chart-topper. “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)” was a tune about how the crowd lit candles during her performance. Melanie was not a household name before this but came out of Woodstock a star.