How Joni Mitchell wrote ‘Woodstock’ without ever going to the festival
Woodstock ’69 was one of the most significant cultural events that America has ever witnessed, it would change the course of countless careers and immediately become a thing of legend. However, one person who unfortunately missed out on their Woodstock moment was the great Joni Mitchell.
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.
Despite not appearing at the event, the footage from the weekend was unavoidable and Mitchell was inspired to write the song from the perspective of her fear of missing out. The track went on to become one of her most-loved numbers which featured on her timeless Ladies of the Canyon record in 1970 as well as serving as the B-Side to ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.
‘Woodstock’ tells the story of a young music fan’s voyage to the festival and the life-changing weekend that they embarked on — it is the perfect encapsulation of the historical event which played a huge part in creating its legacy despite Mitchell pulling out of the bash.
“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. 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,” she added.
Mitchell made up for the lost time when she got to perform the track at the site of the original 1969 festival almost 30 years later in 1998 during A Day In The Garden festival which was a tribute to the iconic event and she finally got her belated Woodstock moment.