Best Woodstock Performances

Which have stood the test of time?

More than 200 songs were performed over the course of the Woodstock festival in 1969, so at first, the prospect of picking favorites is a bit daunting. Even 45 years later, a fair number have stood the test of time. Re-live some of the most memorable, then share your favorites.

The Band
R. Gates / Staff/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The Band's appearance at Woodstock was part of a tour promoting their first album, Music From Big Pink, released in 1968. A few weeks after Woodstock they recorded their self-titled second album. At Woodstock, The Band (Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko) gave what many of their fans believe are one of their best live performances ever. More »

Sony

BS&T had two successful albums under their belts going into the Woodstock festival. Being one of the headlines acts, they were scheduled near the end of the last day. Unfortunately, because of the many rain delays and power interruptions, their set didn't actually start until the wee hours of Monday morning, long after the festival had been scheduled to end. Nonetheless, their appearance further solidified their growing success, and they recorded their third album shortly before leaving on a world tour a few weeks after Woodstock. More »

Capitol Records

Canned Heat's psychedelic-flavored blues style was a perfect match for the Woodstock audience. Comparative veterans, they had released four albums prior to Woodstock. Their set, which started at sunset on the second day of the festival, is the one for which the band is best known. The jam they called "Woodstock Boogie" had actually appeared on their 1968 album Boogie With Canned Heat as "Fried Hockey Boogie." More »

Interscope Records

Cocker's Woodstock appearance was scheduled just days before the event. He had to be helicoptered in because of the massive traffic jams, and his set was cut short by one of the many thunderstorms that plagued the festival. Regardless, Cocker called the experience "very special" and delivered one of his most inspired performances of what would become one of his signature songs. More »

Fantasy Records

Although it was very early Sunday morning by the time they took the stage, CCR were enthusiastically received by those who hadn't opted for a few hours of sleep. The set drew from familiar material from the band's first three albums. The infectious "Keep On Chooglin'" was the last scheduled song in the set, prior to a crowd-ordered encore. More »

Photo by Henry Diltz

Their Woodstock performance was only the second live gig for the band, and they made no bones about being nervous. Stephen Stills told the crowd, "This is the second time we've ever played in front of people, man. We're scared s***less." Neil Young had joined the band a few months earlier but didn't take the stage until CSN had performed several songs from their first album. The set opened with "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." More »

Richie Havens - "Handsome Johnny"

Rebound Records


You may now answer the trivia question, "What was the first song performed at Woodstock?" with confidence. Richie Havens, who was bumped into the lead-off position because the acts scheduled ahead of him were stuck in traffic, had the crowd under his spell from the first lick to last. The anti-war theme of "Handsome Johnny" made it the ideal opener. Havens co-wrote the song with Lou Gossett, who would go on to a career as an award-winning actor.

© Photo Flashbacks - The Doug Hartley Collection

As the final performer on the Woodstock stage, Hendrix electrified the crowd throughout his entire set. The media made much of his fuzz-laden arrangement of "Star Spangled Banner," but many fans consider the performance of "Voodoo Child" to be the highlight of the set. More »

Jefferson Airplane - "Saturday Afternoon"

RCA

Scheduled as the Saturday night headline act, Jefferson Airplane finally took the stage shortly after sunrise on Sunday morning. Grace Slick managed to joke about it as the band mounted the stage, promising some "morning mania music." The set opener was "Saturday Afternoon" from 1967 After Bathing At Baxter's album.

© Photo Flashbacks - The Doug Hartley Collection

Joplin had gone solo nearly a year before Woodstock, and her performance consisted mainly of songs from her first solo album, Her rendition of "Ball and Chain" first appeared on her last album with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Cheap Thrills. It was still a staple of her live performances when she belted it out at Woodstock. More »

Mountain - "Southbound Train"

Raven Records

Blues rockers Mountain hadn't yet released any albums and had performed a grand total of three live gigs before they took the stage at Woodstock on the evening of the second day of the festival. Leslie West, Felix Pappalardi, Steve Knight and Norman Smart soldiered through a 12-song set, capped off by "Southbound Train."

Santana - "Soul Sacrifice"

Sony

Timing is everything, and having legendary promoter Bill Graham as your manager doesn't hurt. Santana was well-known on the San Francisco club circuit, but virtually unknown to most of the Woodstock audience. Nonetheless, there was an immediate connection, and Santana's entire set is cited as the meteoric launch of their long and successful career, beginning with their self-titled debut album, released just days after the festival. This performance of "Soul Sacrifice" is one of the band's most memorable. It features the youngest performer at Woodstock, 20-year-old drummer Michael Shrieve.

The Who - "My Generation"

© Photo Flashbacks - The Doug Hartley Collection

The Who were one of the best-known bands at Woodstock. Like Jefferson Airplane, who they played just ahead of, they were scheduled to headline the Saturday night performances but didn't get to perform until the pre-dawn hours Sunday. Their set consisted almost entirely of the rock opera Tommy (not counting the interlude when Pete Townshend clocked Abbie Hoffman in the head with his guitar after Hoffman stormed the stage and commandeered the microphone), but they ended the set with the title track from their 1965 debut album, My Generation.