The Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and more missed Woodstock — and not for very good reasons.
This is a good “hindsight is 20/20” list — but since hindsight IS 20/20, here you go.
Woodstock was certainly a monumental moment in music and cultural history — but clearly didn’t include all of the biggest bands of the era. I started researching why different bands weren’t included on the bill and found that a lot of them had excuses that are laughable.
In retrospect. At the time, all they thought they were missing was a low-paying random music festival in the middle of the rain.
1 | Bob Dylan – fear of a gathering storm of hippies
There are two theories on why Dylan turned down Woodstock. One is that his daughter got sick. I’m not buying it. I like the other theory — he lived near Woodstock… saw hippies slowly gathering… channeled his inner Cartman… and realized instead of playing at the concert, his best bet would be to get the hell out of town for the weekend and away from all the hippies. Sick daughter be damned.
2 | Jethro Tull – fear of naked ladies
Seriously. In an interview with SongFacts.com, Ian Anderson explained why he and the other Jethro Tull guys didn’t want to play.
I asked our manager, Terry Ellis, “Well, who else is going to be there?” And he listed a large number of groups who were reputedly going to play, and that it was going to be a hippie festival, and I said, “Will there be lots of naked ladies? And will there be taking drugs and drinking lots of beer, and fooling around in the mud?” Because rain was forecast. And he said, “Oh, yeah.” So I said, “Right. I don’t want to go.” Because I don’t like hippies, and I’m usually rather put off by naked ladies unless the time is right.
Wow. If I’m starting a band, I do NOT want a fear of naked ladies to be a quality possessed by my lead singer-slash-flautist.
3 | Led Zeppelin – concert in New Jersey instead
Zeppelin had their own tour going that summer, where they were headlining. So when they got the word that they could come play at Woodstock with a bunch of other bands, they passed it up — because why just be one of 30+ bands in a concert when you could headline your own show in Asbury Park, New Jersey?
4 | Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention – too much mud
Zappa turned down the gig last minute because he heard rain was coming and didn’t want to play around all that mud. (Bad for the festival, good for one of his future children who no doubt would’ve gotten a name like Runny Soil Zappa or Muddlicious Orthopedic June Caralarm Zappa.)
5 | Joni Mitchell – didn’t want to miss the Dick Cavett Show the following Tuesday
On August 19th, 1969, two days after Woodstock officially ended and one day after it actually ended, Dick Cavett featured Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby and Stills (sans Nash) on his ABC prime time show. Two of those three acts played at Woodstock. Joni Mitchell did not because, in a case of homeschooling-level over-caution, her manager made her skip her Woodstock gig so she wouldn’t miss her scheduled appearance on Dick Cavett.
Mitchell was so upset that she ended up writing the song Woodstock — not from first-hand experience, but from what Graham Nash (sans Crosby and Stills) told her about the festival. So basically, that song is like the A Million Little Pieces of Woodstock lore.
6 | I-ron Butterfly – demanded helicopters for transportation
As much as the crowd would’ve enjoyed making out to I-ron Butterfly’s hymns, they never got a chance. The Butterfly bunch couldn’t get their equipment up to Woodstock because of the traffic. So they made a deal to use The Who’s equipment, and helicopter themselves in.
The Woodstock organizers didn’t want to pay for helicopters for them… after all, if I-ron Butterfly gets helicopters then everyone’s gonna want them… plus, word is, they were a little uneasy about I-ron Butterfly’s edgier music riling up the crowd. (Perhaps they had flash forwards to Woodstock ’99 when Limp Bizkit’s angry suburban rap-rock induced a bunch of angry suburban kids to riot and plunder. No one has more justifiable angst than white suburban kids.) So I-ron Butterfly just stood there at the NYC Port Authority waiting for a chopper that never arrived.
7 | The Doors – fear of getting shot by someone in the crowd
Apparently, by 1969, Jim Morrison had such a raging case of agoraphobia that he refused to play outdoors because of a genuine belief that it would give snipers too good of a shot. Really. And, at that point, he still wasn’t The Saint so he couldn’t just roam around in disguise.
8 | The Beatles – Yoko wasn’t invited too
One of the biggest questions in music history is “Why weren’t the Beatles at Woodstock?” It’s up there with “Who was so vain that they probably thought this song was about them?”, “Did Rob Base just say he ‘can’t stand sex’?” and “Did New Kids On The Block really think people wouldn’t notice that Hangin’ Tough and You Got It (The Right Stuff) are the same basic song?” And there are three theories why the Beatles didn’t end up as a part of the festival…
(1) John couldn’t get a visa to come to the U.S. because of his drug arrests. (And Nixon didn’t like him.) (2) Other than their B-Sharps-inspiring rooftop concert in January of 1969, they hadn’t played a show together since 1966. (3) John agreed to play but only if Yoko’s Plastic Ono Band also got an invite… and the Woodstock organizers said hell no.
I’d say #1 is the most boring theory, #3 is the most entertaining theory… and #2 is probably the most accurate theory.
9 | Rolling Stones – Mick Jagger was shooting a bad movie in Australia
In case you think that stars making the transition from music to bad acting only started with the advent of the Fast and the Furious franchise, let this be a history lesson. Musicians have been making the ill-advised jump from the recording studio onto the movie set forever. And most of them are way more Ja Rule than Mos Def.
While Woodstock was going on, Mick Jagger was in Australia, starring in a film about the life of an Australian-born folk hero named Ned Kelly. He was one of those glorified outlaws who stood up to injustice from The Man, kind of like that Cuban guy from all the t-shirts.
Anyway, the movie ended up bombing, Mick was mediocre… and neither he nor the director even showed up to the premiere.
10 | Eric Clapton – in England with Steve Winwood working really hard on getting their new band off the ground
Woodstock caught Clapton at an awkward time. The Yardbirds were long dead, Cream was recently dead, and Clapton decided to pour all of his effort into launching his new supergroup, Blind Faith. So, rather than play Woodstock, Clapton and his Blind Faith bandmade Steve Winwood decided to have a retreat to really work on their music. It didn’t work — Blind Faith would barely last another few months.
I will draw a parallel to this in a few years when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade skip the 2012 Olympics to practice working together over the summer when they realize their results produced by their superteam is less than the sum of its parts.
11 | Roy Rogers – accurately realized it wasn’t really his scene
The organizers wanted him to come on at the end of the show and sing Happy Trails To You. Which would’ve been a worse ending than anacrhonistically having Journey play Don’t Stop Believin’ but cutting it off and abruptly going black.
Anyway, years later, Roy Rogers would say that’s exactly why he turned down the gig. Quote, “I would’ve been booed off the stage by all those goddamn hippies.”