When John Fogerty and the rest of Creedence Clearwater Revival arrived at the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in August of 1969, they were expecting to be one of the headlining acts.
Over the course of just under two years, the band had released four albums and notched three singles that each peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 (‘Proud Mary’, ‘Bad Moon Rising’, and ‘Green River’ all stalled at number two. ‘Travelin’ Band’/’Who’ll Stop the Rain’ and ‘Lookin’ out my Back Door’ would also peak at number two after Woodstock, with ‘Down on the Corner’/’Fortunate Son’ peaking at number three and ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain?’ reaching at number four. The festival, it would seem, was primed for their breakthrough moment.
When being interviewed by Conan O’Brien on his eponymous TBS show in 2015, Fogerty explained that he was promised a “prime-time slot” and expected to go on around 9pm Saturday night. But when he arrived, he found that there was a major backup in performers and that Creedence Clearwater Revival likely wouldn’t play until well into the night. Even worse, without Fogerty’s knowledge, CCR had been scheduled to follow one of the most notorious live band’s of all time, The Grateful Dead.
This era of the Dead was pure post-garage rock psychedelia and saw the band just starting to find their footing as folk-adjacent jam rockers. Pig Pen was still a major force as the band’s de facto frontman, busting out live favourites like ‘(I’m a) King Bee’ and ‘Turn on Your Love Light’ featuring intense audience participation that whipped their crowds into frenzies. They were, to put it mildly, a tough act to follow (the acts that were chosen to follow CCR were all showstoppers as well: Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, and the Jefferson Airplane).
“What they hadn’t told us until the 90s was that they had all taken LSD just as they went on stage,” Fogerty revealed. “And so, about the middle of their set, it went dead silent. I don’t really know what happened because I wasn’t watching the stage, I was only hearing. Anyway, it was quiet for about an hour and then they started playing again.”
What had actually happened was that the Dead fried their amps after four songs. Their crew managed to get them up and running again, and the band played an hour-long version of ‘Love Light’ until the amps blew once again. The Dead would later call it one of their worst performances ever.
What was bad luck for the Dead wound up taking some of the pressure off of Fogerty, and even though it was into the wee hours of the morning, Fogerty was enthusiastic to play to such an enormous crowd. Unfortunately, the hordes of people weren’t quite able to match his excitement.
“This is a big chance: there’s half a million people there. I come running out, and I look down there, and there’s a bunch of people that look a lot like me except they’re naked. And they’re asleep. They were all piled together. It looked like one of those pictures of the soul’s coming up out of Hell, like Dante’s Inferno.”
The band ran through ‘Born on the Bayou’, ‘Green River’, ‘Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)’, ‘Bootleg’, and ‘Commotion’ to a mostly passed out crowd before Fogerty sheepishly approached the microphone to thank the audience and see if anyone was even watching. In the dark distance of the night, Fogerty got a response that kept him going.
“Way out there about a quarter mile some guy’s flicking his lighter. He says ‘Don’t worry about it John, we’re with ya!’ So in front of half a million people, for the rest of my big Woodstock concert, I played for that guy.”
Check out the interview down below.