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Woodstock at 45: David Sanborn remembers

David Sanborn at Woodstock
David Sanborn at Woodstock
David Sanborn at Woodstock

Americans have a particular yen for marking anniversaries ending in 0 or 5, so there will be some buzz this weekend as we look back on the 45th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival. Expect to hear the occasional reference to when we were stardust, we were golden, in the media over the next few days,
Now, the greatest of all rock festivals was dedicated to just that, rock, but let’s not forget jazz’s role in its genesis. Woodstock, after all, drew its initial inspiration from ‘67’s Monterey Pop Festival, which was meant to pick up on the success of the Newport Folk Festival, which itself was inspired by jazz festivals in, you guessed it, Monterey and Newport. There’ll be a quiz on this later.
There was plenty of blues to be found at Woodstock, including Canned Heat and Johnny Winter. While there were no jazz acts, there were some significant jazz talents among the dozens of musicians who graced the festival's plywood stage. One of the most famous is David Sanborn, who came to Woodstock as a 24-year-old saxophonist in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
The Butter Band played seven songs that Monday morning August 18: “All In a Day,” “Morning Sunrise,” “Drifting Blues,” “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “No Amount of Loving,” “Love March” and “Everything's Gonna Be Alright.” While the band didn’t make the movie cut, “Love March” was included on the original three-record “Woodstock” album. Sanborn recalled his festival experience in a 2004 magazine interview, which you can read below.
One correction: Despite what Sanborn says, the Butterfield Band did not perform right before Jimi Hendrix. The running order that morning was Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Butter, Sha Na Na (of all people) and then Hendrix.

Question: You played Woodstock in 1969 with the Butterfield Blues Band. What was that like?
Sanborn: When I was with Butterfield, we pretty much played wherever the gigs were. There were a lot of pop festivals in those days – there was the Miami Pop Festival, the Atlanta Pop Festival. So even though it was pretty evident that this was going to be the biggest event we had ever played, we had no idea of the historical dimension of it – that it would be latched onto by the media as a watershed event which came to define a generation.

Question: Were you there all three days or just for your performance?
Sanborn: No, we had played Chicago the night before. We were supposed to play around 10 o’clock at night, so we got to the place around 7 or 8 and found a sea of bodies and a soup of mud. It turned out we were there all night. So we got to hear a lot of bands. We finally got to go onstage just as the sun was coming up. We were the next-to-last act, right before Jimi Hendrix.

Question: What was the audience like at that point?
Sanborn: There were still a few hundred thousand people there. Some of them seemed pretty stunned at that point by the whole experience. Although I guess you could change the vowel in that word if you wanted.

Question: Why do you think Woodstock became such a watershed event?
Sanborn: I think several factors contributed to the historical nature of it. Mostly it was that there were so many people there and there was so little violence. I believe it was, up to that point, the largest gathering for a music event. I mean, you could see that something enormous was happening.

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