What a Strange Trip it's Been…
From Woodstock (1969) to West Fest (2009)!
by Greg Kristapovich
[October 30th, 2009]
The crowd at West Fest was estimated at anywhere between 70,000 to
more than 100,000!
I parked my truck at the east end of Golden Gate Park. "It must be
in this little park," I thought to myself; but I didn't hear any
sound. So, I asked someone who should know: a jogger. "Where is West
Fest?" I inquired. "At Speedway Meadows about two miles that way!"
she said, pointing to the west. "Two miles?!" I mumbled. I graciously
thanked the jogger and started walking. Then I thought, "Some of
those poor dudes trekking to Woodstock had to park their wheels and
walk anywhere from five to ten miles to get to the entrance of that
festival; there was so many people arriving! What's two miles?
"West Fest" was touted as the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock with
three stages and over 72 bands! There would literally be dozens of
rockers from the '60s and '70s some of whom ACTUALLY performed at
Woodstock!! Best of all, this West Fest had FREE admission and
non-stop music for nine hours! Yes, I will walk two miles for a
festival like that!
But for just a moment now, let's time-travel back to 1969! It was a
good year no, a great year! A new house cost a national average of
only $15,525! A new car, $3,378! Rent, $135/month! A movie ticket,
$1.50! Gas, 35 cents a gallon! And in '69 there was Woodstock, the
historical rock festival that drew 500,000 people, created some
now-legendary rock stars and proved that a large amount of people can
get together and enjoy peace and harmony with hopes of changing the world!
So, I'm still walkin'. Man, I didn't realize Golden Gate Park was
this long! I come to Hagiwara Tea Gardens and ask another jogger.
"You're almost there," he assured me. Just then, a stranger along the
path asked me where the festival was. I repeated the jogger's info
and assured him that we were almost there. The stranger had long hair
and a bulging backpack. His name is Jonathan Valencia. He grew up in
Columbia (South America), but now considers himself a world traveler.
Others might call him a nomad. He's 20 years old; too young to have
experienced Woodstock when it happened. But since he was going to the
40th Anniversary of Woodstock (West Fest), I thought I'd ask Jonathan
what the "Woodstock phenomenon" means to him.
"I always heard about it," said Jonathan in his heavy Columbian
accent. "It's about a little piece of the great artists that have
been in the world. And for some reason those stars, they are no more
in the world. So I want to hear their messages, their philosophies. I
heard that there will be those here (at West Fest), too!"
Finally we got to the entrance and what an incredible sight! There
were festival fans all over the place! Actually, through the day, the
crowd would grow from the eight thousand people I estimated (at 10
a.m.) to more than 70,000!
The Magic Love Bus is a 1982 International school bus, with partial
1973 Volkswagens attached on top! "We're the 'pace car' for the San
Francisco 'Love Parade'!" exclaimed its owner, Scotty "Moondog"
Miller, 45, (standing atop the bus)! Standing, front and center: Peri
Pfenninger, who painted the bus! They brought their groovy conveyance
from the Napa/Sonoma area and it was quite the attraction at West Fest!
I got to the main stage a tad late, and apparently missed the
performances by "Mouse Man" and his bagpipes, the American Indian
Blessing, the "butterfly release" and "Purple Haze", an attempt to
break the Guinness world record for largest guitar ensemble. (The
next day, San Francisco Chronicle's pop music critic Aidin Vaziri
wrote: "An attempt to top (the record) with 3,000 players performing
Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" …fell short by about 2,950 participants
and some of those may have been playing ukuleles." I also missed
performances by Jim Post of the Moby Grape, Edwin Hawkins and The New
Edwin Hawkins Singers singing "Oh Happy Day". I missed a few others
including beat poet Michael McClure and Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist
for the Doors. (While all this was going on, I was about the
equivalence of "three city blocks away" (within the festival
grounds!) checking out the various food and merchandise booths. There
was a diverse array of foods and many community and activist groups
were represented there. There were mind-boggling crafts and
novelties. One man was walking around selling posters with a picture
of President Barack Obama on it. The poster said, "Inhale to the
Chief!" (Recently, the Obama administration told the "feds" to back
off when prosecuting individuals for using marijuana so long as
they are adhering to their state laws. This new policy is aimed at
the fourteen states that now have laws permitting the use of medical
marijuana.) When I got to the Main Stage, I got in on Country Joe
McDonald singing the same song he sang at Woodstock: "The Fixin' to
Die Rag", his signature anti-war protest song. Joe also sang the
Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth".
El Chicano performed some very upbeat and infectious latin-rock.
You'll remember El Chicano. They were influenced by the Santana
sound, and themselves became a very popular concert act in the early
seventies. They were followed by Lester Chambers, (founding member of
the Chambers Brothers), accompanied by his son, Dylan (with cowbell,
tambourine and his very gritty, bluesy backup vocals!) They sang
their famous hits, "People Get Ready", "Can't Turn You Loose" and
"Time Has Come (Today)!" You know: "Tick, tock, tick, tock, cookoo",
and those surrealistic, psychedelic screams. Man, I thought it was
'69 again! (By the way, Lester and Dylan currently reside in
Copperopolis, CA and occasionally perform at the Nugget Bar in Murphys!)
Then, another flashback to the '60s: as the unmistakable sounds of
David La Flamme's violin started emanating from the speakers, I
thought to myself, "Groovy!!" Dave, along with Linda La Flamme
(vocals) formed the nucleus of "It's a Beautiful Day". (You can hear
some of their influence in the rock of the '70s and '80s, when you
listen to the group Kansas.) But basically, they invented violin rock
back in 1967! And man, can Dave wail away on that violin! Then, when
they slowed down the pace and started playing "White Bird", this
writer felt chills all over his body! It brought back memories!
Another of the Woodstock alumni, Harvey Mandel appeared at West Fest
and showed everyone why, to this day, he's still one of the premier
electric guitar players in the world!
At that time I was about to witness Zenobia and her "dove release"!
"This is going to be a magic moment," Zenobia revealed. "When the
doves are released, if everybody can imagine everybody on the entire
planet in the entire galaxy no matter what religion, coming
together so we can create a beautiful place for this entire planet
and everybody in it and for this concert here today! Hallelujah!
Let the doves bring us peace!" And with that, dozens of doves flew
from the main stage, and up to the sky. The announcer reassured the
crowd, "No doves were harmed in this demonstration. They're actually
flying home and they know where to go."
Then I got intensified chills when I saw Paul Kantner on stage,
tuning up his guitar! Many will recall Paul as the guitarist in the
Jefferson Airplane. Well, he's sort of rebuilt the Airplane. Grace
Slick wasn't with them; instead, a blonde named Cathy Richardson.
This gal sang with all the intensity of Slick. She was compelling and
simply incredible on "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit"! The band
also performed "Volunteers" (the title track of the Airplane's
highly-regarded 1969 album) as well as "Jane," (from the Jefferson
Starship's "Freedom at Point Zero" LP). The sounds of the Jefferson
Airplane reverberating through Golden Gate Park surely must have
given thousands of attendees a thrilling flashback!
After the Airplane took off, Master of Ceremonies Liam Mayclem
thanked them, and then shouted to the audience, "Well, the 49'ers did
not win today. Just like in 1969! We weren't all that good back then,
either. I don't know the Raiders' score. Some of these Hells Angels
will know the Raiders' score!" Liam also announced that the freeways
and the thoroughfares were totally jammed!
The Alameda All Stars (aka Gregg Allman's Band) cranked out some
sound blues-rock and had the thousands in attendance boogie-in' like
crazy! Then the band brought out a special guest Denny Laine. Some
readers will remember Laine as a founding member of the Moody Blues.
He moseyed over to the keyboards and broke into the Moody Blues first
hit, "Go Now!" The audience loved it! Then Denny crooned "With a
Little Help from My Friends", the Beatles song that Joe Cocker made
famous at Woodstock! And although Denny's effort wasn't quite as
powerful as Cocker's (the latter's was an unrivaled, tour-de-force
performance at Woodstock); still, Denny did O.K with it. Then, as if
this writer wasn't already in a state of Nirvana, they introduce
Lesley West, the famed guitarist for the iconic group Mountain! As
soon as he came out, he screamed, "I love San Francisco!" (I shouted
back, "But please don't forget to visit The Mother Lode, Lesley!")
Lesley broke into a powerful rendition of the bluesy rock song,
"Goin' Down". His fingers worked up and down the guitar fret
intensely and the stage rocked like a 7.0 quake! Next, Lesley cut
loose on "Mississippi Queen"!
What does "Woodstock" mean to these gals? "Happiness, love, peace,
freedom, and lots of fun! When I was a young girl watching all of the
Woodstock news articles, and the movie, my dream was to be at
Woodstock. So this is the closest that I'm going to get to that! I'm
living my dream today!" insists Debbie Wydler (left). "I was way too
young to go to the original one, so this is an opportunity to
experience what it was like! It's just awesome!" proclaimed Darlene
Tretheway (center). "Just having a good time, banding together,
hanging out and being one!" exclaimed Cheryl Gardner.
There was War at the Fest, (now called The Original Lowrider
Band!). You remember War, featuring Lee Oskar's incomparable
harmonica and the songs, "Why Can't We Be Friends?", "Cisco Kid",
and, of course, "Low Rider"!
The MC then shouted, "Are we proud to be hippies?" The crowd roared
back in the affirmative. "Then, we're going to see you again at the
50th (anniversary) Yeah!" he shouted back into the audience! "We're
gonna be like the 1906 Earthquake victims; they're gonna roll us out
and say, 'Yeah, there's a few left, and here they are! Somebody from
the era who hasn't changed or given up!'"
Next, a very moving moment: The Terry Haggerty Band performed the
song, "Blowing in the Wind" in tribute to the late Mary Travers (of
Peter, Paul and Mary). Travers died a few weeks ago. (Terry Haggerty
was a member in the legendary group Sons of Champlin.) THB then
debuted some new songs they had been working on for the last several months!
"My name is Thomas, age 48. They call me 'Red Eyes'. I'm originally
from Manhattan, but now I live in Berkeley. I didn't go to Woodstock.
I was only eight. What does Woodstock mean to me? "I believe it means
we can all get together, sing music, love each other and have no
problems; and the world can be like that! I'm a concert photographer.
My specialty: reggae. The first photograph I had published went on an
album by Bonnie Wailer: The 50th Tribute to Bob Marley. It won a
Grammy with my photo of Bonnie Wailer on the cover of that album!"
The day was festive! Frisbees flying; bubbles and balloons floating!
There were many speakers between acts. They entertained and educated
the crowd while the next act set up their equipment. One speaker was
former San Francisco DA, Terrance Hallinan. Said Hallinan, "I don't
know how many of you appreciate that Speedway Meadows is an important
place. It's hallowed ground. This is where rock really began! This is
where the big anti-Vietnam War marches came and settled in! And
probably of all the things that took place here; the most important
was in 1967 when the "Human Be-In" was held here! ….And that exploded
onto getting us out of Vietnam, to civil rights and then the medical
marijuana movement that is now so powerful! The next musician, I
think, is perfect San Francisco. There are actually two of them, they
both are; but I'm thinking of Jerry Harrison, of the Talking Heads.
He's joined by Ronnie Montrose!" But before those musicians came on,
Dolores Huerta from the United Farm Workers came onstage and called
for a National Holiday in honor of the late Ceasar Chavez. After Ms.
Huerta left the stage, Ronnie Montrose then cranked up his guitar,
and with his re-energized band, Montrose, kicked out the jams with a
highly-charged rendition of the Who's "My Generation"! Then, he
blasted out "Get on Your Bad Motor Scooter and Ride!" After that
song, Ronnie recalled, "I lived here in the '60s, and I WAS an
original hippy! Yes, indeed! And my band, Montrose started in 1973,
here, and Boots (Hughston) put the first Montrose concert on, live-in
Washington Square!" The band then churned out one of their big hits,
"Rock Candy"! The crowd went wild!
Many, many celebrities showed up! For example, a '60s Bay Area legend
of humor and commentary, Scoop Nisker of KFOG, Wavy Gravy, The
legendary Master of Ceremony at the Woodstock Festival unfortunately
couldn't be at West Fest, as he was back at The Hog Farm in
Laytonville, CA celebrating their 40 year anniversary too! Still,
there was a booth at West Fest featuring the art of Wavy Gravy and
Jerry Garcia. I spoke with Gino at the booth. He explained Wavy's
absence. "This is the 40 year anniversary of the Hog Farm.
Unfortunately, it was booked on the same date as this event (West
Fest). But the Hog Farm is family, and they are going to be with
their family, as is tradition; and no amount of money could drag them
away from where they came from!" Well put, Gino! (Gino lives at the
Hog Farm, Berkeley branch). Today, Gino was accompanied by Gloria
Dibiase who used to take care of Jerry Garcia's kids when they were
traveling. Her husband Vince is one of the people who handle a lot of
Jerry's art, and they still have the rights to sell Jerry's art.
Everybody who was anybody was there! Groovy Judy was there, sporting
a Jimi Hendrix tee. "Jimi was an amazing guitar player, first of all!
And he was a really groovy cat! And a very gentle spirit, a very
positive spirit. He was truly a one-of-a-kind artist!" Judi
explained. By the way, Judy performs in Arnold at their Cedar Center
Summer Concert Series. "I'm trying to get into the Twain Harte Summer
Concert Series, The Concert in the Pines, in Eproson Park"! (This
writer thinks that would be a cool gig!) Famed blues harmonica player
and singer Mick Martin was also at West Fest! The Love Bus was parked
at the festival, too and was quite the attraction! "Dr. Hip"
Schoenfeld, a popular Bay Area radio advice personality was there. So
was Aron "Pieman" Kay of the Yippies. The Black Panthers and The
Hells Angels were represented and were pretty friendly and mellow.
(Indeed, in most rock festivals since the '60s, the Hells Angels have
offered their services as a sort of "security" crew.)
Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson, from Sly and the Family Stone
performed with their current lineup (albeit without Sly), and were
awesome! "Sing a Simple Song!" sounded funky great! As did "Thank You
for Lettin' Me Be Myself (Again)" and "I Want to Take You Higher"!
Between acts, a man with a jumpsuit "uniform" that read "Balloon
Busters" shot balloons out of a tube and into the crowd! The next
performers blew my mind! It was a group called Narada Michel Waldeen
and special guests. And it was special, indeed! Narada tore up his
electric guitar with an impressive impersonation of Jimi Hendrix
doing Voodoo Chile and Purple Haze (AND one of the "special friends"
turned out to be the great Neal Schon, lead guitarist for Journey who
jammed onstage for a while! At the end of this performance, Narada
played in true Woodstock-Hendrix fashion, The Star-Spangled Banner.
And he sounded just like Hendrix! It was surreal! The festival was
coming to an end, and the announcer suggested, "There's only one rule
at the end of a show like this: be kind!"
But there was one more treat! The original cast of Hair gathered on
stage and sang "Aquarius (Let the Sun Shine" and "We Are the World"!
"It cost several hundred thousand dollars to put together, and it's
all free! And it's all because of one man, Boots Hughston," the
announcer shouted! "He is a saint! He puts together rock show anytime
anybody's sick! He was doing it at the Avalon in '69; he's doing it
in Speedway Meadow in '09! Let's give him a big hand! Boots
Hughston!" And this writer would personally like to thank several
people who made this story possible. First of all, Dennis Sanfilippo,
owner of Murphy's Nugget Bar, for obtaining a VIP pass for me,
allowing me to hang in the photographers' pit at the edge of the
stage. Thank you, also, to Lee Housekeeper of San Francisco Stories
who made sure that VIP pass was issued and could be forwarded through
Dennis, to me. Thank you to Danny Zuzzo, manager of The Nugget, who
organized the "Nugget Bus Ride" to West Fest! Danny also made it
possible for me to get onstage (but off to the side) to take that
picture of the crowed. This journalist has seen concerts and
festivals in both Northern California and Hawaii regularly since 1973
and I've never seen a festival like West Fest! If you missed it,
sorry; but be comforted by the thought that it'll probably be on DVD
soon, as there were several professional video cameramen filming the
whole thing! It will make for a "must have" DVD, or a "must see"
movie! In my story, I've tried to present some of the striking
highlights of the festival. There were just so many things going on,
it was simply overwhelming! If I were to describe everything that
took place (if it were even possible), this story would probably be
thirty pages instead of three. But please, enjoy this "condensed"
coverage of the great, West Fest of 2009!
By the way, Rolling Stone Magazine: If I scooped you on this one, sorry.
Peace, love, rock and roll and Woodstock memories forever!