I have always had a special affinity for the bands that played at Woodstock just over 40 years ago: from Sly & the Family Stone, who took the Woodstock crowd higher through their “boom-shaka-laka-laka’s,” to Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe & the Fish, who celebrated the joys of hippiedom, to guitar-god Jimi Hendrix, whose epic take on the “Star-Spangled Banner” remains one of Woodstock’s — and arguably, The 1960s’ — defining moments.
I like to think my fondness for these bands comes from the fact that, if you do the math and perhaps fudge a week or two, I was conceived when Woodstock occurred. OK, my parents were halfway across the country at the time, but it was a Woodstock Nation, man! The love couldn’t be contained to just Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York.
One of the most beloved bands that played at Woodstock — famously in their second-ever public performance — was Crosby, Stills & Nash, hereafter CSN. (Of course, it’s CSN and sometimes Y for Young, but let’s not get too far into the band’s complicated history.)
Notably, apart from solo performers like Joan Baez and Richie Havens, CSN are pretty much the only band from Woodstock that still exists in its Woodstock incarnation. In contrast, the recent Heroes of Woodstock show in Los Angeles consisted of Woodstock bands that put on great performances but were still missing key personnel due to death (Janis Joplin from Big Brother & The Holding Co.) or departures (Alvin Lee, who left Ten Years After, and Grace Slick, who retired from Jefferson Airplane and its descendants).
And CSN are not just still together — they still deliver the goods, as they amply demonstrated at Thursday night’s superb show at the Santa Barbara Bowl, a rescheduled show because David Crosby had been ill. In this age of Auto-Tune, it was refreshing to hear their heavenly, seemingly effortless, unprocessed harmonies fill the Santa Barbara air. One might gripe that Stephen Stills’ voice has not held up quite as well as the others’, but his vastly underrated guitar playing more than made up.
The first set featured CSN’s mellower side, mellow enough that in the cheap seats their music competed with the sound of crickets chirping. The concert started with “Helplessly Hoping” from CSN’s debut album, and hit a highlight with the joyful innocence of “Our House.” They also performed tasty covers of other performers’ songs, including The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rambler,” and The Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band.” These were presumably a preview of the Rick Rubin-produced album of cover songs on which they’re working. The first set ended with a bang with “Southern Cross.”
The second set reminded the crowd that CSN can also rock out. It kicked off with Stills’ solo hit “Love the One You’re With,” and included the chugging “Marrakesh Express,” an impassioned “Long Time Gone,” the knotty “Deja Vu,” and the anti-nuclear-war “Wooden Ships.” A highlight was Crosby belting out a rousing version of the hippie anthem, “Almost Cut My Hair.”
As a (partial) reminder of their prior careers, three songs by Stills’ earlier band, Buffalo Springfield, were performed: “Rock & Roll Woman,” “Bluebird” and a spirited “For What It’s Worth.” But there were strangely no songs from Crosby’s and Nash’s earlier bands, The Byrds and The Hollies, respectively.
But that’s fine given the multitude of classic CSN songs written by each of the three. When Crosby introduced “Deja Vu” (apparently at the wrong time in the setlist, whereupon Crosby joked that this was the first mistake he had made since 1989), he clarified what each member brings to their repertoire: Stills writes “absolutely fantastic rock and roll,” Graham Nash writes “anthems, songs that go around the entire world,” and Crosby’s job “is to write the weird s***.”
However, with their identification as a Woodstock band, one notable omission from the setlist was the song “Woodstock,” written by Nash’s then-girlfriend Joni Mitchell and later recorded by CSN and Young. Maybe this was a subtle reminder that, while they basically got their start at Woodstock, that is only one small slice of their 40-year history.
Wasted on the Way
Ruby Tuesday (Rolling Stones)
You Can Close Your Eyes (James Taylor)
Girl from the North Country (Bob Dylan)
Midnight Rambler (Allman Brothers)
A Dream For You
In Your Name
Uncle John’s Band (Grateful Dead)
Love the One You’re With
Rock & Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield)
Long Time Gone
To the Last Whale: Critical Mass / Wind on the Water
Bluebird (Buffalo Springfield)
Almost Cut My Hair
For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
Teach Your Children