Where Are the Original Woodstock 1969 Performers Now?

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Nearly fifty years have come and gone since 30 bands and artists were part of rock history as performers at the original Woodstock festival. For some, careers were launched. For others, it was just another gig (albeit with an audience of half a million.) Some are gone, some have faded into history, and some are alive, well, and still making music.

Joan Baez

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Prior to Woodstock, her music strongly reflected her opposition to the Viet Nam war and her passion for the protection of human rights. Since Woodstock, she has expanded her activism to include the environment, the death penalty, gay and lesbian rights, poverty, and the Iraq war. Her most recent album, Day After Tomorrow was released in 2008, and she continues to maintain a heavy tour schedule.

The Band

 

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Guitarist Robbie Robertson rarely performs in public (the last time was at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival in 2007) but has done considerable work in films, as a producer, performer, or composer. Drummer Levon Helm won a Grammy for his 2007 album, Dirt Farmer and toured with his own band until his death from cancer in 2012. Keyboardist Garth Hudson performs with his band, The Best! and is a busy session player. Bassist/vocalist Rick Danko died in 1999 after years of painkillers and alcohol due to chronic pain from a 1968 car crash. Keyboardist Richard Manuel committed suicide in 1986 after a long struggle with substance abuse.

Butterfield Blues Band

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It was just a few months after Woodstock that the Butterfield Blues Band disbanded. Founder Paul Butterfield did solo and session work until his death in 1987 at the age of 44 of a heart attack attributed to years of drug and alcohol abuse. Saxophonist David Sanborn has had a highly successful career as a performer and composer. He released a new studio album, Only Everything, in 2010 and maintain a busy tour schedule. Guitarist Buzz Feiten joined The Rascals and is now a solo and session player.

Grateful Dead

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Two members of the Woodstock lineup have died: keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan in 1973 and guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia, whose death in 1995 marked the end of the band’s three-decade run. Bob Weir (guitar), Phil Lesh (bass), Bill Kreutzmann (drums), Mickey Hart (drums) and Tom Constanten (keyboards) have each pursued solo careers, and have performed together in various combinations off and on since 1998. Weir, Lesh, Kreutzmann, and Hart have toured in recent years as The Dead. Constanten toured with other original Woodstock performers as Heroes of Woodstock.

Arlo Guthrie

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In addition to continuing to write and perform songs about social injustice, Guthrie has appeared in films and on television, produced concerts, and written a children’s book. His 28th album, Tales of ’69 was released in 2009. He continues to tour, often with his son, Abe.

Jefferson Airplane

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Marty Balin (vocals) has remained active in the music business, releasing eight solo albums and performing with the band’s successor, Jefferson Starship. Grace Slick (vocals) retired from music in 1988 after a stint with Starship and took up painting and drawing. Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals) stayed close to home, occasionally performing with the Starship until his death in 2016. Jorma Kaukonen (guitar, vocals) and Jack Casady (bass) formed Hot Tuna after their Airplane ride, and both continue to tour with Tuna. Nicky Hopkins (piano) worked as a solo and session performer until he died in 1994 at age 50 of complications from intestinal surgery. Drummer Spencer Dryden was in and out of music, and died of colon cancer in 2005 at the age of 66.

Mountain

 

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, Felix Pappalardi, N.D. Smart and Steve Knight had performed in public just three times before they took the stage at Woodstock. Over the years, West (guitar, vocals) has formed and re-formed Mountain several times, and also performs as a solo artist. Pappalardi (bass, vocals) moved from performing to producing albums during the ’70s. In 1983, he was shot and killed by his wife, Gail, a co-writer of several Mountain songs. Smart, who was replaced on drums by Corky Laing shortly after Woodstock, went on to work with Todd Rundgren and Ian & Sylvia. Knight left music to work as an engineer, author and, from 1999 to 2007, a member of the Town Board of the town of Woodstock.

Santana

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Perhaps no other band was launched further faster than Santana after their Woodstock performance. The band has continued, with a wide array of personnel, under the direction of founder and lead guitarist Carlos Santana (with the exception of a brief period in the early ’70s when the band played on without him.) Keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie went on to become one of the original members of Journey in 1973. He continues to perform with his Gregg Rolie Band. Drummer Michael Shrieve, the youngest Woodstock performer at age 20, went on to work with a number of other rock acts. Today he performs in his own band, a jazz fusion group. David Brown (bass) died in 2000 of liver and kidney failure. In 2016, Santana, Shrieve and other surviving members of the original group gave a series of reunion concerts in Las Vegas.

John Sebastian

 

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Sebastian had left The Lovin’ Spoonful in 1968. He was in the audience enjoying “Country Joe” McDonald’s set when a concert staff member recognized him and asked him to play an impromptu set because so many of the scheduled performers were still stuck in traffic jams far from the venue. In 1970 he released the first of a half dozen solo albums. Since the late ’70s he has concentrated on writing and performing music for film and television, and instructional videos for guitar students.


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Many (if not most) in the Woodstock audience were hearing Johnny Winter for the first time, but the gritty blues rocker had them standing in the aisles (if there had been aisles) by the end of his set. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, he produced Muddy Waters’ last three albums, two of which won Grammy awards. His 18th studio album, Roots was released in 2011. He continued to captivate live audiences, albeit at a slower pace due to health problems in recent years, until his death in 2014 at age 70, while he was on tour in Europe.

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