I posted this live performance of “Woodstock” about 10½ years ago (been a long time here, eh?), but I saw it again on those infernal YouTube “suggestions” on the right. And once again I was mesmerized by the quality of Joni Mitchell’s artistry. She wins the trifecta of rock/folk musicianship: superb at singing, playing an instrument, and writing songs—something that only artists like Paul McCartney, Stephen Stills, or James Taylor can do.
This version is from 1970, and shows how much music can be made with a voice, a piano, and a great tune. Joni introduces the song with a story about how she didn’t get to go to Woodstock, and so wrote the song after watching the show on television. You can read more at the Wikipedia link above.
Crosby, Still, Nash & Young also performed an album version in 1970 that rocks much harder than Joni’s, and truly I can’t say which I like better. This really is “apples and oranges.”
Backstory of the CSN&Y version (from Wikipedia):
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had learned the song from Mitchell herself, who was Nash’s girlfriend at the time, but the band’s version introduced major changes in tone. Jimi Hendrix was involved early in the song’s development, and a recording taped on 30 September 1969, half a year before the album came out, with Hendrix playing bass and overdubbing guitar was released in 2018 on the album Both Sides of the Sky. Sound engineer Eddie Kramer stated that with Jimi “… helping the song along, it sounds like Crosby, Stills & Hendrix”. The final version had Stephen Stills singing a slightly rearranged version of Mitchell’s lyrics which put the line, “we are billion year old carbon” — which only appeared in her final chorus — into each of the first three choruses. Then that line was replaced with “we are caught in the devil’s bargain” in the last chorus, which was also in Mitchell’s final chorus.
“Woodstock” was one of the few Déjà Vu tracks where Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young all performed their parts in the same session. Later the original lead vocal by Stephen Stills was partly replaced with a later vocal recorded by Stills, who recalled: “I replaced one and a half verses that were excruciatingly out of tune.” Neil Young disagreed, saying that “the track was magic. Then later on [Crosby, Stills & Nash] were in the studio nitpicking [with the result that] Stephen erased the vocal and put another one on that wasn’t nearly as good.