A Woodstock 50th anniversary concert was cancelled this month in upstate New York, but another two-weekend event in nearby Ashe County still celebrated the legendary festival’s birthday.
The “Woodstock Experience 2019” festival was staged in West Jefferson over the weekends of Aug. 9-11 and Aug. 16-18. It was six days of music that celebrated peace, love and classic rock ‘n’ roll, just like the original event that drew an estimated 400,000 people to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y.
The festival was held at Saloon Studios Live, which is a replica of a 19th-century, Old West town. The 20-acre complex includes a sheriff’s office, undertaker’s quarters, post office, bathhouse, blacksmith shop, stables, dress shop, cantina, general store and saloon. Authentic western artifacts abound—even the bar stools are horse saddles.
Of interest to music fans, the complex also includes an intimate indoor performance stage and recording venue with state-of-the-art recording equipment. The sprawling 50-by-30-foot outdoor stage was completed just prior to the festival, and I can report it has an outstanding light and sound system that resonates throughout the hills of West Jefferson.
Saloon Studios is owned by Mike and Laura Jones, Florida natives who moved to Ashe 19 years ago. They built the complex in 2017 and brought live shows to the indoor stage the following year. The junior “Woodstock at 50” was their boldest and most ambitious event to date.
The Joneses even provided a pay-per-view option to watch the festival, allowing a viewer to stream all six days of music on any device for $19.69—with the pricing being a deliberate nod to the year Woodstock changed America.
The live lineup I experienced on Aug. 17 was nothing short of impressive. Danny Johnson is a renowned guitarist who has recorded and toured with Rick Derringer, Rod Stewart and Steppenwolf. The crowd reacted enthusiastically to his rendition of “Born to Be Wild.”
Gerardo Velez was a mere teenager when he played percussion behind Jimi Hendrix at the 1969 Woodstock. On Aug. 17, he looked like a man half his age on center stage, displaying tireless energy as the heartbeat of the Eumir Deodato Group.
The next band to take the stage, Ten Years After, has a young, dynamic lead singer and guitarist in Marcus Bonfati. Two band members—keyboardist Chick Churchill and drummer Ric Lee—played at the original Woodstock. Lee, it should be noted, delivered the best drum solo I’ve ever heard on Aug. 17. It must have clocked in at over 10 minutes—and he turns 74 in a couple of months!
There’s no one in the current lineup of Jefferson Starship who played at the 1969 Woodstock, although 81-year-old singer-guitarist David Freiberg came close, joining Jefferson Airplane three years later.
Cathy Richardson has slipped into Grace Slick’s big shoes as lead vocalist. I’m sure there was a certain amount of pressure being compared to one of the most iconic rock voices of all-time (male or female), but she sure rose to the occasion on Aug. 17.
I’m certain festival organizers would have liked a bigger crowd over the two weekends in West Jefferson, but if the success of an event is measured in how well homage is paid to a vital cultural touchstone of our country’s history, then the 2019 Woodstock Experience was transcendent.
To view my gallery of photos captured at the 2019 Woodstock Experience in West Jefferson, visit https://www.journalpatriot.com/multimedia/woodstock-experience/collection_2b1dcfb8-c826-11e9-888b-5f5bcbb212a8.html.