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Barefoot in Babylon Bob Spitz

Barefoot in Babylon

Bob Spitz

Published November 15th 1979
ISBN : 9780670148011
Paperback
513 pages
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 About the Book 

First published in 1979, this fascinating book has been reissued on the 45th anniversary of Woodstock. It was a marker that defined a generation and this book tells the entire story of how it came into being, from the initial idea until the very last song. Now, if you are imagining a book filled with music anecdotes, then that is partly the case, but be aware that three quarters of this book leads up to the festival taking place and only the last third actually deals with what happened at the festival itself. That does not mean it is not interesting, far from it, but this is the full story of what happened and all the characters involved.The story begins with John Roberts and Joel Rosenman, who were interested in financing different business propositions. They were contacted by Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang with an idea for a recording studio/community for musicians which evolved into plans for a music festival. Not just any music festival though – a massive festival. What follows is a search for land in which to carry out their plans, which is fraught with difficulties, opposition and endless insurmountable barriers. These range from technical difficulties to security and the reluctant need for the help of the Establishment. After plans to use various locations ended in disaster, Max Yasgur became an unlikely saviour. With a place in which to finally hold the festival, they needed to book bands. However, this proved more difficult than initially thought, but eventually a breakthrough came through when some large acts agreed to appear. The first, pie in the sky, plans had included The Beatles, Dylan and The Stones. Well, none of them appeared, but once some headline acts were booked, it was easier to get people interested.What followed could have been a disaster. A lack of infrastructure, tickets not taken, grid locked traffic and pandemonium as people poured in. The authorities feared for health and safety, but eventually the festival went ahead. Joan Baez entered into the spirit of the times, by wandering to the free stage to play for those who could not get close to the main stage, but others were more concerned about what was unfolding. Ravi Shankar, ushered off the stage by bad weather, was concerned the audience would be hurt. Janis Joplin was apparently ‘freaked out’ by the crowd and retreated to the performers pavilion with a bottle of vodka in one hand and a bottle of tequila in the other and the intention of taking a lot of drugs. Meanwhile, the Grateful Dead demanded payment up front and in cash and Pete Townsend swatted Abbie Hoffman into the photographers pit after the revolutionary thought just before their set would be the good time for a speech…This book is a delight from cover to cover, but only if you are prepared to read a lot of detail. The music was obviously essential, but, for the crowd, there were other concerns. Rain, mud, near riots, a possible medical disaster, food shortages (there is a lovely image of a group holed up in the woods that wanted to, “liberate the food”) and possible electrocution was narrowly avoided. Eventually, what happened was a triumph for most, but there were certainly casualties of bad drugs and difficult conditions. This tells the whole story and I just wish there had been some photographs in the book, which would have helped me to picture all those involved. Still, a great read and one I heartily recommend.