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Roll Back by Peter Aaron

Janis JoplinThe Woodstock Experience

SantanaThe Woodstock Experience

Jefferson AirplaneThe Woodstock Experience

Johnny WinterThe Woodstock Experience

Sly & the Family StoneThe Woodstock Experience

Unless you’re still shaking off that infamous brown acid, by now you’re well aware that this August marks the 40th anniversary of 1969’s original Woodstock festival. To commemorate the occasion—and, let’s be honest, help its ailing coffers by milking the aging hippies while there’s still time; after all, how many will still be around for the 50th?—Legacy Recordings has issued The Woodstock Experience, a series of double-CD sets by key festival artists (Janis Joplin, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Johnny Winter, and Sly & the Family Stone) that combine re-mastered versions of each act’s ’69 studio album with their full Woodstock performance. The five releases are available together in one deluxe box set or separately as these sharp, limited edition, individually numbered slipcase packages, each of which houses mini LP replica sleeves and a foldout poster.

At the time of the festival, Janis Joplin had recently left Big Brother & the Holding Company and her solo debut I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again, Mama!, wasn’t released until later that year. Most of Joplin’s fiery 10-song appearance was featured in the Woodstock concert film and on the original soundtrack album; this set’s three previously unissued cuts further show her band’s Stax/Volt influence via a version of Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose” sung by saxophonist “Snooky” Flowers.

Another act whose debut was yet to be released, Santana was pretty much an unknown to audiences outside of San Francisco when the group was added to the bill—a situation that would change practically overnight, thanks to the band’s stunning Woodstock set. In tandem with Santana’s crucial self-titled first LP, this release includes the band’s roiling “Evil Ways” from the Woodstock film and adds seven formerly withheld tracks reprising said album’s studio renditions with extra fervor, plus an organ-heavy “Fried Neckbones and Some Home Fries.”


Along with fellow series-excluded festival superstars the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix, the Jefferson Airplane was one of Woodstock’s acknowledged headliners, as well as the first act booked for the so-called “Aquarian Exposition.” Despite its explosive title cut and extraordinary guitar work by Jorma Kaukonen, Volunteers, the sextet’s sixth album, which is dominated by naive rhetoric and drippy arrangements, is less essential than its groundbreaking predecessors Surrealistic Pillow and After Bathing at Baxter’s. But the live stuff, a mind-blowing fourteen tracks (seven of them in the vaults until now) makes this set a must-buy. The concert’s outward-reaching adaptation of “Wooden Ships” blows the Volunteers version, um, out of the water, and the supremely heavy romp through “The House at Pooneil Corners” is a career highlight.

Since Johnny Winter was cut from the film, many music fans are unaware that the Texas guitar god even played Woodstock. And upon hearing this absolutely scorching performance, it’s hard to fathom why in the hell his set went unreleased (with the exception of “Meantown Blues,” which has appeared elsewhere) until now. Offered here with Winter’s self-titled second album (his first for Columbia), this volume of The Woodstock Experience may just be the most recommended of the lot, an intense blast of fierce, blues-fired hard rock that includes his brother Edgar on three cuts.

If there was one band at Woodstock that truly embodied the event’s touted good vibes, it was Sly & the Family Stone. Logistical woes forced the group to play on Sunday at an unsavory 3:30 am, but you’d never know it from the nine party-bringing blow-out performances—two previously issued and seven unearthed—immortalized here. Still riding high on that May’s release of Stand!, the psychedelic-soul pioneers’ defining opus, Sly and company jam out on the album’s title track, “Everyday People,” “You Can Make It If You Try,” and more in their inimitable raucous and uplifting style to take us out with a bang. Is the Thruway open yet? —Peter Aaron

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