Beautiful Obscurity: Dylan songs at the Woodstock Festival, 1969

By Aaron Galbraith in the USA and Tony Attwood in the UK

There is an index to other episodes from this series here

Aaron: For this one I thought we could take a look at the Dylan covers performed at the Woodstock festival, August 15 to 18 1969. This is going to be a two-parter and we’ll look at the tracks in performance order.

First up from Friday August 15th to Saturday 16th  (her set started at 1am!) it’s…

Melanie with Mr Tambourine Man

Tony:  This really is a shock.   The guitar playing is that of an amateur sitting on the floor at the end of a private party in the 1960s, not what I would expect at a great festival.  And the singing could come from such a venue as well.

But there’s an oddity here: the foot tapping.   When Dylan (and almost everyone else) performs the song, the emphasis of the beat is on the first beat of each four beat bar as in

Hey Mr Tambourine Man play a song for me

From my memory, that really is how just about everyone – maybe everyone – does the song.  The opening “Hey” is the accented first beat of the bar”.  But what Melanie is doing (presumably purposely) is tapping her foot in a way that can very clearly be heard, on the second and fourth beat of each bar.   Now this is what anyone who understands and knows about swing does – it is was rock and jazz drummers do, but not what Dylan does in this song.

So we get

Hey [tap] Mister Tambourine Man play a song for me

As a result all the unimportant words, parts of words and even once no word (after hey) are accented.  It is really strange and rather alluring.

Aaron: Next up and on directly after Melanie (beginning at 1.45am) it’s…

Arlo Guthrie with Walkin’ Down The Line

Hmm, I’m not really that much of a fan of Arlo nor of his way of addressing an audience – if I go to a gig and don’t want to sing, well, that’s up to me.

But as a performance, it certainly is a good rendition of a song that we all know, and he does have a very fine voice.   And here’s a thought, he’s now 74 years old.  Wow, it seems like only yesterday.

Yep, a jolly performance of a song, and if we didn’t have that admonition of the audience, well, I’d enjoy it much more.  Dylan’s original was recorded in 1962 and recorded for Broadside; today it almost feels like a traditional folk song.

Aaron: Directly after Arlo’s set at 3am came…

Joan Baez with the first of (count ‘em) 3 different performances of the song I Shall Be Released throughout the weekend.

Joan Baez

Tony:  Another fine and accomplished performance in what must have been difficult circumstances, and a lovely understated accompaniment behind her.   And that lovely “Sing it” to encourage the audience participation.   I couldn’t hear any, but well, the mics were pointing the other way.   She really does tell the audience what the meaning is, and I didn’t feel the slightest bit commanded by her demand for people to join in.  Unlike Arlo.

Aaron: Curiously no Dylan tracks are performed throughout the Saturday daytime/Sunday night sets.   The next 3 Dylan tracks come courtesy of…

Joe Cocker who performed his set from 2pm to 3.45pm on Sunday August 17th.

Dear Landlord

Tony: OK problem time.   Not all videos that can be seen in the US are available in the UK, and this is one of them.  There is also the track on Spotify, but rather unusually that also comes up with the note that it is not available in the UK

So I am left with this 1970 version

Tony: What a fine voice he had – I’d forgotten – but I did remember the hand gestures.   Of course I don’t know if this is like the Woodstock version, but hopefully it is not too far off.  It’s a fine interpretation with really inventive instrumentation from both piano and guitar, and it makes a great dance track.

I just don’t know if it what he did at Woodstock!  But if you are in other parts of the world, you probably will.

Just Like A Woman 

Tony: Oh no – it looks like the whole run has been disavowed for UK audiences.  Now that’s odd.  Here’s a replacement, but not from Woodstock – but I do enjoy this.  It is so understated, which is not something I would normally associate with Joe Cocker.

Tony: I know that I am not supposed to be listening to this version, but I do rather enjoy it.  It’s the way

Aaron: And lastly the second version of I Shall Be Released

So for once our fun and games of Aaron writing in the US and me writing in the UK has fallen apart.  There is an article about Joe Cocker at Woodstock here with a video

But I think the key to the whole thing of vanishing music in the UK, is that there is an album “Live at Woodstock” by Joe Cocker released in 2009 which might not want the copyright of the film reproduced for free in Europe.

So by way of compensation for UK readers here is I shall be released from another time and place

Aaron: In part II we will cover the remaining Dylan covers from the festival plus a bonus surprise performance!!

Tony: Let’s hope they’re available in the UK as well as the USA.  Mind you, Aaron, we’ve got away with this game for quite a long time with only a couple of hitches, so we’re not doing too badly!

One comment

  1. Music measure and poetic measure mess with one another but Melanie messes both matters up way too much….it’s gruesome.

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