While the Woodstock festival heralding "three days of peace and music" has become seen by historians as the highwater mark for Sixtie's idealism, with an attendance of 400,000 the singer-songwriter who penned the definitive anthem commemorating the cultural milestone in fact never attended. Joni Mitchell watched on televsion as the counterculture "half a million strong" spent the three days in the muddy "garden" of Max Yasgur's farm in the Catskills.
Mitchell was originally booked to perform at Woodstock on Sunday, 17 August, 1969, the last full day of the festival and caught a flight to New York from Chicago where she had been performing with Crosby, Stills and Nash the night before. By the time she arrived with CSN in New York, their manager had already seen the reports of 17 mile traffic jams, a 98 mile drive to the farm in Bethel taking 8 hours and festival goers abandoning their cars to walk the last 15 on foot. Michell was booked to perform on The Dick Cavett Show Monday night and was convinced by her management (and David Geffen) that it was one or the other, there would be no way she could make it upstate and back in time for her network television appearance. She instead watched news reports of the festival with Geffen on television.
"The deprivation of being stuck in a hotel room and not being able to go provided me with an intense angle on Woodstock. I was one of the fans. I was put in a position of a kid that couldn't make it. So I was glued to the media. And at the time I was going through a Born-Again Christian Trip.... Woodstock... impressed me as being a modern miracle... for a herd of people that large to cooperate so well, it was pretty remarkable and there was tremendous optimism. So I wrote the song... out of these feelings"
Crosby, Stills and Nash made the trek, performed "scared shitless" in front of a sea of people and made it back in time for Crosby and Stills to appear on the Cavett program with Mitchell. They shared their first-hand account of what was already becoming a legendary event, giving her further inspiration, but also convincing her as she later remarked, "I don't think the song would have been born had I been backstage."
Joni Mitchell actually gave "Woodstock" to Crosby, Stills and Nash and they, along with Neil Young released the song, replete with their trademark harmonies on the CSNY album Deja vu in March, 1970. Mitchell released her own take on the album Ladies of the Canyon the following month.
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