Remembering when Jefferson Airplane performed ‘White Rabbit’ live at Woodstock
Woodstock ’69 was a turning point in cultural history and a significant event which transcended music, an event which was one of the most vital landmarks that America has ever witnessed. It would change the course of countless careers and immediately become a thing of legend. The first night of the groundbreaking festival was headlined by Jefferson Airplane whose set has flown under the radar somewhat after the spectacle that Jimi Hendrix caused the very same year. However, this footage of the band performing ‘White Rabbit’ is spinetingling.
The historic and groundbreaking event, which was held from August 15–18 in 1969 and hosted on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York, was originally billed as ‘An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’. However, the people instead began to simply refer to it 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.
For the whole weekend, the weather was torrential. If the event was held in modern-day it would have almost certainly been cancelled due to health and safety measures which were seemingly an afterthought back in the late 1960s.
The first day of Woodstock welcomed a remarkable headline set from a six-months pregnant Joan Baez and, with the likes of The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and The Who taking all taking to the stage before a headline set from Jefferson Airplane, a performance which began at 8am because of the torrid weather, the Woodstock lineup was jam-packed with now-legendary names.
Thankfully by the time that Jefferson Airplane took to the stage the sky had cleared, a turn of events which allowed footage to capture Grace Slick on perfect form as she leads the crowd through a spellbinding performance of ‘White Rabbit’ which will raise up every last hair on your entire body.
The track may have later become an anthem for narcotics, but Slick says that beyond drugs the song “is about following your curiosity. The White Rabbit is your curiosity”. The affiliation with drugs that is idiosyncratic with ‘White Rabbit’ makes it the perfect Woodstock anthem which celebrated people experimenting with their curious side, which was being suppressed for decades before liberal attitudes to life began being honoured.
The singer also revealed that the song’s references may have been shocking to some but seemed a natural progression to her, suggesting it may well be because of the previous generation’s own experimentations, “Our parents read us stories like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz,” Slick recalled.
She added: “They all have a place where children get drugs, and are able to fly or see an Emerald City or experience extraordinary animals and people… And our parents are suddenly saying, ‘Why are you taking drugs?’ Well, hello!”
Slick puts in a soulful performance that would be the highpoint of Jefferson Airplane’s career that saw them play a vital role in making Woodstock the thriving success it was and their set is often unfairly dismissed when people reminisce about the landmark event.
After watching this blistering performance of ‘White Rabbit’, it’s impossible to not admire Grace Slick’s one of a kind voice as she belts out a song that could have been written for Woodstock.