Dick Cavett provided a mainstream voice to the weird subcultures that America was home to throughout the late 1960s and all the way through to the 1980s. One of his finest moments, however, came when he brought Woodstock to life on his programme for all the people who couldn’t make the legendary weekend of live music.
The entire weekend was a watershed moment for music, but one specific part was the most poignant of all. As the subversive edge of America’s youth descended upon a small town, with fear of crime and panic sweeping the outer limits, the event was topped off with an iconic set from the great Jimi Hendrix.
The historic and groundbreaking event was held from August 15–18 in 1969, hosted on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York. Originally billed as ‘An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’ but people instead just referred to it simply as the Woodstock Rock Festival. The first edition of the festival attracted a mammoth audience size of more than 400,000 who flocked to the fields on the East Coast for the bash.
The first day of the festival welcomed a remarkable headline set from a six-months pregnant Joan Baez and, with the likes of The Byrds, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and The Who taking all taking to the stage before a headline set from Jefferson Airplane, which began at 8am because of the terrible weather, the Woodstock lineup was jam-packed with now-legendary names. Hendrix would be the last act of the entire festival and cemented his legacy with a set of the highest calibre which has become a thing of legend.
Cavett tried to recreate this magic by inviting Jefferson Airplane, David Crosby and Joni Mitchell onto his programme to discuss their experiences of the festival — the only issue would be that Mitchell pulled out of the performance at the festival on the request of her manager who wanted to make sure she was on top form for Cavett.
Following her experience as the odd one out on Cavett, Mitchell immediately penned her track ‘Woodstock’ which became one of her most well-loved numbers, one that which was written from the perspective of missing out on this crucial moment in music history.
“I was one of the many who were thwarted,” she said on the CBC program The National. “That was the place every kid wanted to be. I got to the airport with CSN and our agent, David Geffen, and our manager, Elliott, on a Sunday night. It was a catastrophe. I had to do The Dick Cavett Show the following day, and it was Geffen who decided we can’t get Joni out in time. So he took me back to his suite where he lived, and we watched it on TV.”
She poignantly added: “I was the deprived kid who couldn’t go, so I wrote it from the point of view of a kid going. If I had been there in the back room with all the egomaniacal crap that goes on backstage, I would not have had that perspective.”
The whole segment on Cavett captures this feeling of missing out as Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds are on cloud nine gushing about their life-changing weekend whilst Joni is awkwardly sat there with very little to say. It’s a crying shame that she was robbed of her moment to play at one of the most significant cultural events of all time but at least, we got that beautiful song out of her unnecessary anguish.
Check out the segment below from the show as Cavett tries to replicate the festival.