Michael Lang and the festival’s organizers had no idea that they were spawning an enduring cultural monument — creating history, in other words.
Equally unaware were the many musicians who — for a variety of reasons — couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to the Sullivan County extravaganza. And a chance at rock immortality was squandered. (Although it should be remembered that appearing at Woodstock was not an automatic ticket to enduring fame. Sha Na Na, nobody’s idea of rock immortality, were participants. As was Bert Sommer, later to surface in the 1970s as a one-time member of Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, the house band for the Saturday-morning children’s TV program The Krofft Supershow.)
Lang wisely decided not to even make a stab at approaching the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, correctly reasoning that these bands would overwhelm the proceedings. The list of musicians he did approach — unsuccessfully — makes for an endless series of what-ifs:
Simon and Garfunkel, thoroughly sick of each other by 1969, declined to appear. Donovan and Johnny Cash, for various reasons, also gave the thumbs-down. Laura Nyro, crippled by overwhelming stage fright, declined Lang’s entreaties. An increasingly addled Jim Morrison (legitimately fearful of police harassment) scotched any chance of the Doors joining the Woodstock lineup.
With impeccably bad timing, guitar legend Jeff Beck and his fabled group —featuring the pre-schlocky Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass — broke up shortly before the festival.
The most unsurprising refusal came from the most surprising choice: Western legend Roy Rogers, a sentimental favorite who nonetheless passed over the chance to appear and jam with the likes of Hendrix and The Who. And that may be the most intriguing what-if of all.
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