In 1969, a musical earthquake rocked the world and tremors from that seminal event are still being felt — 46 years later. For more than 60 hours, half a million people listened to some of the greatest musicians in a generation at a dairy farm, 160odd km from New York City. That concert was called the “Woodstock Music and Art Fair” and the universe of rock music changed forever. Chronicles have been written on Woodstock ’69 and Martin Scorsese&’s film on the concert has become a classic. Iconic musicians took their first giant steps to international stardom on that stage.
It is a memory of paradise for those in attendance; a lament for those who could not make it. Even people who were not born then, like myself, would love to take a time machine and get down to Max Yasgur&’s farm to grab that three-day extravaganza that took off on 15 August 1969. Its influence on the music scene in particular, and the hippie movement in general, cannot be overestimated.
Yet, just when one thought everything about the festival had been discovered, some old documents resurfaced last week that shed new light on those three days. A last minute venue change meant that the organisers had to make the festival a free event. Many have wondered how much the artists who played Woodstock ’69 were paid. Going by those documents, Jimi Hendrix was the highest paid, at $18,000.
No surprises, when you think back to what the rock critic of The New York Post said about Hendrix&’s performance of The Star Spangled Banner, “It was the single greatest moment of the ’60s.” Yet, the guitar god&’s set was heard by a fraction of the crowd as Hendrix came on stage to close the festival at 9 am on 18 August.
After winning a Grammy for Album of the Year for their eponymous LP, American jazz-rock band Blood, Sweat and Tears were second on the fees list with $15,000. A touch overpaid, maybe? Joan Baez, six months’ pregnant at the time, was next with $10,000. She was paid at par with Southern rockers Creedence Clearwater Revival, who went on stage in the early hours of 17 August.
The Band, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Sly and the Family Stone were all paid $7,500 each. Canned Heat came in at ninth spot with $6,500. The Who completed the top 10 with $6,250. Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, who played through the rain on the first day, was paid $4,500. The Grateful Dead got $2,250 for their set.
Wonder what the Deadheads have to say to that? Joe Cocker, whose unique rendition of The Beatles’ With A Little Help From My Friends is still considered one of the greatest performances at the festival, pocketed $1,375. Carlos Santana who played Woodstock before his debut album was released got — hold your breath — $750. The performance proved to be a breakthrough in Santana&’s career.
At that price, he was definitely a bargain. These amounts seem a pittance compared to what stars of today are paid for a live gig. Adele or Eminem will cost anything between $750,000 and a million dollars. Jay Z and Miley Cyrus would cost upwards of a million. Times have changed from 1969 and inflation is the signpost of the money market now. Yet, Hendrix&’s fee, adjusted for inflation, would come to around $112,000 today. But it was said that the organisers, an unproven entity — Woodstock Ventures — paid through the roof to secure the services of artists.
For a long time, a view was held that the psychedelic band, Jefferson Airplane had to be paid almost $12,000 to take the stage. That contention has been dispelled. Unconfirmed reports at the time also said that The Grateful Dead wanted cash in hand before they had begun playing. However, the figures quoted were in no way indicative of the musical prowess of each performer. The who were paid almost a third of what Hendrix got. Does that in any way make them lesser musicians than Hendrix? Of course not.
The festival enthralled millions of music lovers across the globe and these latest revelations will play another part in rightfully mythicising Woodstock ’69.