Woodstock 1969 Revisited

Blues-rock artists that performed at the festival

The Woodstock Music & Art Fair was held from Friday, August 15th through Monday, August 18th, 1969 in Bethel, New York (not actually in Woodstock, as is commonly believed). The festival featured performances from 32 bands and artists, spawning two best-selling soundtrack albums and a documentary film. What is often overlooked, however, is that fully one-quarter of the artists performing at Woodstock had strong roots in the blues. Here are their stories….

Butterfield Blues Band

Paul Butterfield's An Anthology
Paul Butterfield's An Anthology. Photo courtesy Elektra Records

Paul Butterfield and crew were grizzled veterans of the mid-1960s Chicago blues scene, a multi-racial blues-rock band that had brought the sound of the city to a worldwide audience. Although both of the band's original flash-bang guitarists, Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop, had departed before the Butterfield Blues Band's Woodstock appearance, the assembled players – fronted by blues harp wiz Butterfield – delivered a knockdown set nonetheless. Butterfield would go solo in the early-1970s, but would tragically die in 1987 after years of drug and alcohol abuse.

Canned Heat

Canned Heat 1969
Canned Heat 1969. Photo courtesy Canned Heat

Canned Heat, the "Kings of Boogie-Rock" had a solid track record by the time of their appearance on the second day of the festival, with four albums and a couple of hits under their belts. They only performed four (lengthy) songs, but their "Going Up The Country" was included on the soundtrack album and would become the unofficial theme song for the festival when featured in the film. Canned Heat is still boogieing today, in spite of the deaths of founding members Bob "Bear" Hite and


Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin's Pearl
Janis Joplin's Pearl. Photo courtesy Sony Music

Texas-born Janis Joplin's rise to fame came at the front of psychedelic blues-rockers Big Brother & the Holding Company. By Woodstock, though, she had parted company with the San Francisco band and formed her own Kozmic Blues Band, envisioning a mix of rock and Stax-inspired R&B music. Joplin's festival performance was spotty due to the singer's uninhibited use of drugs and alcohol, and none of Joplin's ten songs made the cut for either the original film or the soundtrack album. By the end of the year, the Kozmic Blues Band was kaput, and Joplin formed the Full Tilt Boogie Band to record her landmark 1970 album Pearl. Sadly, Joplin would die in October 1970, shortly after recording the songs that would become her musical legacy.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix. Photo courtesy Experience Hendrix

Although bad weather and scheduling delays pushed his set back to the wee hours of Monday morning, Jimi Hendrix enjoyed the freedom of one of the longest sets at the Woodstock festival, clocking in at nearly two hours. Introduced as the "Jimi Hendrix Experience," Hendrix corrected the name, calling the band "Gypsy Sun and Rainbows," or just "Band of Gypsies." In addition to Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, the band consisted of Jimi's old Army buddy Billy Cox on bass, and another friend of his from the early-1960s "chitlin' circuit," guitarist Larry Lee, as well as percussionists Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez. Although Hendrix's Woodstock performance has since become the stuff of legend, he tragically died a little over a year later.

Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter
Johnny Winter. Photo courtesy Alligator Records

The blues-rock guitarist from Texas was red-hot at Woodstock, coasting into the festival on the critical acclaim afforded his self-titled debut album, which was released two months earlier. Performing with a band that included his brother Edgar on keyboards and sax, Winter ran through a short, albeit energetic eight song set that included blues-rock gems from his debut and from his upcoming

Second Winter

album (released in October '69). Since Woodstock, Johnny Winter has become one of the blues most beloved artists, and the talented guitarist continues to tour and record today.

Keef Hartley Band

Keef Hartley's Lancanshire Hustler
Keef Hartley's Lancanshire Hustler. Photo courtesy Price Grabber

England's Keef Hartley Band was virtually unknown when they climbed the stage on Saturday afternoon at Woodstock, and the band's performance evidently didn't do much to improve their position with U.S. record buyers. None of their six songs made the film or either of the two soundtrack albums. It was an oversight, really, on the part of the festival's producers. Drummer Hartley was a veteran of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and between 1969 and 1973, the Keef Hartley Band released six studio and a live album to critical acclaim in the U.K. Hartley retired from the music biz in the late-1970s and became a noted designer of furniture and cabinets. Hartley released his autobiography, titled Halfbreed, in 2007.

Leslie West & Mountain

Leslie West & Mountain, 2007
Leslie West & Mountain, 2007. Photo courtesy Mazur PR

More of a concept, really, than a band in August 1969, Mountain grew out of guitarist Leslie West's bluesy solo debut album of the same name, produced by former Cream producer Felix Pappalardi. West teamed with bassist Pappalardi to create a power trio (plus one) in the image of Clapton's Cream. The Woodstock performance was only Mountain's fourth show together as a band, and they would release their proper debut album, Climbing!, in 1970. After the band's mid-1970s break-up, Mountain's West and drummer Corky Laing would team with Cream's Jack Bruce as West, Bruce & Laing for a pair of albums, before reforming in the mid-80s. Mountain has toured and recorded sporadically ever since.

Ten Years After

Ten Years After's A Space In Time
Ten Years After's A Space In Time. Photo courtesy Capitol Records

Led by hotshot guitarist Alvin Lee, Ten Years After was part of the mid-1960s British blues-rock boom fueled by the success of bands like the Yardbirds and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. The band's explosive five-song Woodstock set, including "I'm Going Home" from Undead, Ten Year After's second album, proved to be their stateside breakthrough, and they would record four more albums before breaking up during the mid-70s. Although Lee has pursued a solo career since the 1970s, there have been frequent reunions of the band through the years. In 2004, the other band members replaced Lee with guitarist Joe Gooch, and have been performing as Ten Years After without their founder since.