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(Credit: Jim McClear)

Music

How John Sebastian accidentally played at Woodstock Festival

@TylerGolsen

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who performed at the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival that could be able accurately described as “underrated”. Sure, some acts like Richie Havens and Blood, Sweat, and Tears aren’t quite held in the same light as the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, or Sly and the Family Stone, but they earned their place on that stage just like everybody else. The only person who stumbled his way into the stage that day was The Lovin’ Spoonful frontman, John Sebastian.

Sebastian left The Lovin’ Spoonful in 1968 and had released his debut single, ‘She’s a Lady’, shortly thereafter. He was a well-known figure who would have been easily recognised by the crowd, but Sebastian didn’t attend the festival to play: he simply attended to watch the performances.

But then trouble came. Unpredictable weather threw the original schedule into flux, and by day two, organisers were scrambling to keep the show going. A number of artists had yet to show up for their slots, and Santana was still getting their equipment together when Country Joe McDonald was sent on stage to perform an impromptu set. The exact timeline of performers is still up for debate, but at some point, Sebastian was picked out of the crowd and asked to stall.

Given an acoustic guitar, Sebastian played three songs that he had written for his upcoming debut solo LP: ‘How Have You Been’, ‘I Had a Dream’, and ‘Rainbows All Over Your Blues’. He also picked out two songs that he had previously recorded with The Lovin’ Spoonful in 1967, ‘Younger Generation’ from Everything Playing and ‘Darling Be Home Soon’ from the You’re A Big Boy, Now soundtrack. Sebastian dedicated the former to a newborn baby that had been birthed at the festival and called the audience “beautiful” as he finished the latter.

By all accounts, the performance could have been a disaster. That’s because Sebastian was allegedly high at the time, something he has both confirmed and been coy about in more modern interviews. Reports that he was either smoking marijuana or dropping acid before the performance have spread over the years, and while Sebastian admitted to taking drugs since he wasn’t due to perform, he has also stated the reports of him being high were overblown.

In any case, Sebastian proved invaluable to the organisers for keeping the show going. Even more importantly, he etched his name into history as a performer at perhaps the most famous music festival of all time. Sebastian even managed to parlay his ad-hoc performance into future appearances at Woodstock reunion shows in 1979, 1994, and 2009.