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Music

The Grateful Dead would have been killed if Woodstock had been held in England

@SamWKemp

The 1969 Woodstock Festival may have gone down in history, but according to Grateful Dead member Bob Weir, it very nearly went down the pooper. The event was plagued by all manner of technical difficulties due in part to a series of summer storms. Not only did this mean that the festival ground quickly became a quagmire, but it also led to a near-death experience or two.

Speaking to Alan Paul back in 2015, Grateful Dead guitarist and singer Bob Weir recalled the band’s five-song set at Woodstock ’69, recounting how the band nearly got killed in the process. The band performed on the Saturday following performances by the likes of Santana, the Incredible String Band, and Canned Heat. By day two, Woodstock was already more mud than turf, and many of the facilities were not equipped to provide sanitation for first aid to the huge crowds that had gathered. Although, for Weir and company, the absence of a functioning toilet was the least of their problems.

According to Weir, it was very difficult to give the already-miffed crowd a good show because the band members were being electrocuted throughout the performance. “Our soundman decided that the sound system was woefully inadequate, and he was going to set up our P.A,” he began. “He got the ground plane wrong, real wrong. So anytime Garcia, Phil or I touched our strings, we got 30 or 35 volts, enough to really irritate you. And all hell broke loose if you had the temerity to go anywhere near your microphone while touching your strings.”

“I did so, and a blue line about an inch and a half thick flew out, hit me in the mouth, lifted me off my feet and sent me eight or ten feet through the air, crashing into my amplifier,” Weir continued. “I had a few fuzzy moments, and when the birdies went away, I had a fat lip. If this had been in England, with their higher voltage, I would have been history.”

As you would expect, these constant electrocutions weren’t conducive to a good live show: “As a result of that whole fiasco, the Grateful Dead have been written out of the history of Woodstock,” Weir added. “We played so poorly that we wouldn’t allow the footage to be used in the movie or soundtrack album. You try playing with a constant 35-volt shock every time you touch a string.”

Weir isn’t the only rocker with an unpopular opinion about Woodstock. Talking to Howard Stern in 2014, Neil Young said: “Woodstock was a bullshit gig, a piece of shit. We played fucking awful.” He added: “No one was into the music. I think Stephen [Stills] was way overboard into the huge crowd. Everybody was on this Hollywood trip with the fuckin’ cameras. They weren’t playin’ to the audience as much as to the cameras…I could see everybody changing their performances for the fucking camera, and I thought that was bullshit. All these assholes filming, everybody’s carried away with how cool they are…I wasn’t moved.”

You can check out The Grateful Dead’s show at Woodstock ’69 below.