Gary Graff, pop music writer
BETHEL, N.Y. -- Twenty-nine years ago, Joni Mitchell -- extrapolating on an event she did not attend -- sang that "we've got to get ourselves back to the garden."
That's just what the music world did over the weekend, when a combination of modern and classic rockers joined an estimated 75,000 music fans for A Day in the Garden, a three-day festival held at the site of the original Woodstock festival here.
It was a markedly different affair from its predecessor. It was clean and orderly. Friendly and well-organized. Drug use was discreet. Nudity was non-evident. There were no births, no deaths and no arrests on-site. The fence stayed intact, the garbage was being picked up and the New York Thruway remained uncongested.
It did rain, during Stevie Nicks' set on Friday night, but not enough to create the muddy mess of the first Woodstock and its 1994 25th anniversary sequel.
So it wasn't your father's -- or, dare we say it? -- grandfather's Woodstock. But for those who attended, the festival's spirit was still intact. "This is amazing," John Wozniak of Marcy Playground said after his band brought "Sex and Candy" to the land of peace and love. "It's just about as surreal as it gets. I sucked it in, drank it all in, every minute detail. It was amazing."
Even Third Eye Blind singer Stephan Jenkins, who was critical of the new festival before his band played, conceded that "when we drove over the hill here and saw this thing that was actually a movie, it's hard to stay completely jaded."
Rather than the landmark statement of a generation's cohesiveness and mission that was the original Woodstock, the Garden party was a multigenerational homage to that event and a step toward the site's future as permanent entertainment facility, which is the stated desire of its owner, former cable TV impresario Alan Gerry.
Due to modest ticket sales (capacity was 90,000 for the weekend), Gerry lost money on the $5 million-plus festival, which he financed through his nonprofit Gerry Foundation. But he wrote it off as a necessary "research and development" expense.
Pete Townshend -- who had an "absolutely rotten" time with The Who at the first Woodstock but resolved that with a relaxed concert that was easily the festival's musical highlight -- noted that "the very fact that somebody has bought this bit of land and wants there to be music here, it says a lot about what really was important about the original occasion. If anything, what this is doing simply is honoring what was meant to happen back then, picking up the pieces."
Even Richie Havens, surveying the peaceful, family friendly gathering on the same ground that housed a chaotic hippie happening 29 years ago, surmised that the Woodstock site's future could well be bright.
"I think everything gets sophisticated after it is created," he said. "I think this is the sophistication of what was started (in 1969). It now just has the idea of safety . . . and convenience around it."
A Day in the Garden also left a legacy of good music, though not of career-making performances that marked the original Woodstock. Townshend's lengthy concert on Saturday was the most striking and engaging, during which he and his band offered rootsy and pleasantly loose-limbed rearrangements of songs from The Who and his solo career, plus surprising covers of two Canned Heat songs -- "On the Road Again" and "Going Up the Country," the latter featuring guest Taj Mahal.
Noting that "the last time we played this here, the sun was coming up," Townshend closed his show with a majestic rendition of the "Tommy" finale "See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You," accompanied by a local choir.
Many of the festival's acts used their sets to preview new material. Backed by an ace band that featured trumpeter Mark Isham, Joni Mitchell played several songs from her next album, "Taming the Tiger," as well as older favorites such as "Hejira" and "Big Yellow Taxi." She finished her Saturday show by finally performing "Woodstock" at the site of its inspiration.
The Goo Goo Dolls rocked the field on Sunday with a number of energetic new songs, including "Broadway," "Flat Top" and "Wake Up in Your Arms," though the hit ballads "Name" and "Iris" drew the biggest response.
Marcy Playground abetted its smash "Sex and Candy" with tunes slated for its second album, including "Wave Motion Gun," "And I Knew," "Teenage Hypochondriac" and "Crazy Katie and her Red Jet Air Balloon." An animated Joan Osborne slid a couple of fresh selections -- "Libertine" and "Sensitive" -- into her set but told the crowd only that her next album would be out "someday."
Most of the other performances featured a highlight or two. Don Henley covered a pair of John Hiatt songs ("Shredding the Document" and "Feels Like Rain"), while Third Eye Blind covered U2's "I Will Follow" with blazing energy. Meanwhile, some of the old-timers rekindled the Woodstock spirit with familiar selections -- including Ten Years After's guitar opus "I'm Going Home" and Melanie's "Candles in the Rain," for instance. And though Ziggy Marley was sick and had to miss the gig, brother Stephen Marley capably fronted the Melody Makers for a set that brought father Bob Marley's spirit to the proceedings with renditions of "No Woman No Cry" and "Get Up, Stand Up."
A Day in the Garden may not live on in the way the original Woodstock has, but it certainly showed that getting back to "the garden" was a fine way to spend a summer afternoon. And when Townshend told the crowd that "maybe all of us will come back here some day soon" -- referring to next year's 30th anniversary, perhaps -- it seemed like a hard invitation to turn down.