Between my first-ever concert (1969) and my last concert (who knows, I’m not dead yet), I’ve been to a lot of shows and heard a lot of live music. But the most historically interesting concert I’ve seen was the second one I’d ever been to.
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The first rock concert I’d ever been to took place on the Sunday before Woodstock - a free concert in Central Park. I was fourteen, and I begged my mother to let me go. Not to Woodstock - I knew the limits of my universe, and besides, I was leaving for summer camp - but just that free show in Central Park. Still, no dice. Fortunately, it was my dad’s Sunday to take me out and he was interested. Jefferson Airplane, with Santana opening. Santana was not on my radar before then, and of the Airplane, I only knew Somebody To Love. I had no elder sibling to turn me on to music - I was the oldest of three. At that point, it was Top-40 AM radio and WBAI, the listener-sponsored FM station that played mostly folk. I liked folk.
Dad (a big Gene Krupa fan) loved Santana, especially Jingo-lo-ba and Soul Sacrifice. He thought the Airplane were good, but not really his thing. Still, he listened. I was excited by the whole scene. We left early, during 3/5 of A Mile In Ten Seconds. The volume may have been too much for him, but he was also the kind of dad who left baseball games early. I left for camp the next morning, and Dad bought himself a ticket to Woodstock, but couldn’t get close enough to the festival site and went home.
A lot happened over the next six months: Tenth grade in a new school and the beginning of political consciousness: there was a war on, and in a few years, I’d be draftable. I began making friends who were much hipper than I was and going to anti-war demonstrations. I discovered free-form rock radio, mainly WNEW-FM, and I started buying records. Although it would be another four months until I smoked my first joint, I was becoming one of the cool kids. Then my dad asked me if I wanted to go to the Winter Festival for Peace at Madison Square Garden. His boss was a big macher in the garment district and could get house seats. Ohh yeah.
We sat in the fifth row, on the floor at the Garden. This was my second concert ever, and I could see the sweat of almost every performer who was in town and willing to perform for a charity that opposed the Vietnam War!
Most people who have heard of this concert have heard about Jimi Hendrix’s bad acid trip resulting in his crash-and-burn performance (in fact, if you Google the concert, Hendrix is all you’ll see), but for me, the entire show was extraordinary and significant. If someone told you they had seen Harry Belafonte, Dave Brubeck, Peter Paul & Mary, Blood Sweat & Tears, The Rascals, and Jimi Hendrix all on the same night… well, you can imagine.
Forgive me for not having the setlists. It was 53 years ago, I was 15, and memory fades. In fact, I had to look up the date to be sure of it. I remember PP&M performing short sets while more complex acts were setting up. I remember Harry Belafonte owning the stage, dancing and singing with his usual smooth passion. The sheer power of Richie Havens’ performance, one man with an acoustic guitar and without teeth, rivaled the rocking energy of the Rascals. I don’t remember Judy Collins performing - she may have, but I have no recollection of it. I remember Dave Brubeck and bass-baritone McHenry Boatwright performing Gates of Justice.
Okay, about Hendrix: He took some bad acid and couldn’t keep it together. There have been a lot of rumors over the years, but here’s what happened: he managed one-and-a-half songs (which, frankly, sounded like tuning up to me), threw a rose into the audience, said, “That’s what happens when Earth f**ks with Space, never forget that, that’s what happens,” and walked off, leaving Buddy Miles to try to reassure the audience, but Hendrix never came back.
The cast of Hair closed the show brilliantly, all of them on stage singing “Let The Sunshine In” as the houselights came up as slowly and dramatically as a sunrise.
The concert was supposed to end at one a.m., but with interminably long setups and several complications, I think it was between three and four o’clock. After that, Dad took me to breakfast.
I can’t say it was the best concert I’ve been to, or the most fun, or top of the pops in any other way - but it was history, and there was a lot more to it than just the beginning of the end for Jimi Hendrix.
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wow.wow. my era.my life. my music.my youth..and my compass.thank you!
I was in Virginia at the time, and had no older siblings either. I knew nothing about pop music except folk musics and "This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius". Oh, and Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. Sorry. I went to a Cat Stevens concert in college.