Sandwiching The Band between Ten Years After and Johnny Winter on Woodstock’s closing night seems like an odd choice. Robertson, Helm, Danko, Hudson, and Manuel were brilliant players, but The Band’s music was far from the blistering, bluesy rock that preceded and followed their set.
But The Band was as big as they come in August 1969, near legends after the release of 1968’s Music From Big Pink. Their steeped-in-Americana vibe might not have had the energy of Alvin Lee’s “I’m Going Home,” but they undoubtedly deserved a plum spot in the billing.
You guys know the basics: Arkansas born Levon Helm played drums for Ronnie Hawkins up in Canada and blah blah blah the other guys fell into place and became The Hawks. When Dylan went electric in ’65 he hired The Hawks as his backing band, and when they left Dylan they took the name The Band.
For ten years they created achingly beautiful tone poems, blurry tintypes of a romanticized, lost America, and then they split for all of the reasons that every brilliant group of musicians eventually splits. Those same problems created a rift between Robertson and the rest of the group that couldn’t be bridged for The Band’s eighties reunion.
It was during this reunion in 1986 that Richard Manuel killed himself. I still have the Rolling Stone obituary tucked away somewhere. We’ve lost both the great Levon Helm and Rick Danko, too.
Keyboard virtuoso Garth Hudson is still working, thank goodness. His last release was a Band tribute album back in 2010. You can visit his website here.
That leaves front man Robbie Robertson, a sorely underrated guitarist among those who love their meedley meedlies. Robertson had a great eighties, 1987 in particular. That year saw the release of both his critically and commercially successful self-titled solo album and his score for Martin Scorsese’s The Color Of Money. The two hooked up again a couple of years ago for Shutter Island.
Robertson’s latest solo album, How To Become Clairvoyant did pretty well, too, making the top 20 in the US.
The Band didn’t make it into the official Woodstock canon, i.e., the film and soundtrack, due to “legal complications.” I don’t know exactly what those complications were, but its a safe bet that money was involved. One of the greatest bands of the sixties and seventies erased from the defining event of the era with the stroke of a pen.
Time has a way of righting injustices, though. The majority of their set can be found on a bootleg named The Band: At Woodstock. The only song missing is “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” and you’ll see below where to find that one.
Here’s The Band’s complete Woodstock set list and where to find official recordings:
1. Chest Fever
2. Don’t Do It
3. Tears Of Rage
4. We Can Talk About It Now
5. Long Black Veil (Woodstock: 25th Anniversary (CD))
6. Don’t Ya Tell Henry
7. Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos (Across the Great Divide (CD))
8. Wheels On Fire
9. I Shall Be Released
10. The Weight (Woodstock: 25th Anniversary (CD))
11. Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever (Woodstock: 25th Anniversary (CD))
Your official (and bootleg) Woodstock soundtrack song count to date: 167