It was August 1969 when thousands journeyed to Bethel, New York for the first-ever Woodstock festival. An era of anti-war and anti-government, young people wanted their voices heard – and music was the ultimate outlet.
Over the span of three days, attendees braved muddy grounds and cramped conditions to watch legends like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Creedence Clearwater Revival take the stage. Now, exactly five decades later, that unforgettable weekend remains a pivotal moment in our country’s history, with songs heard at Woodstock still ingrained in the minds of multiple generations.
To celebrate this milestone anniversary, Bristol Riverside Theatre is presenting Woodstock at 50: A Celebration from July 18-28 as part of its Summer Music Fest. Led by Keith Baker and the BRT Concert Band, the program features songs such as “Piece of My Heart,” “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Evil Ways,” performed by BRT favorites Danny Vaccaro, Demetria Joyce Bailey, Laura Giknis and Tasha Waters, and newcomer Paul Binotto.
Ahead of the concert’s opening night, The Times caught up with Vaccaro, who is thrilled to revisit the soundtrack of his childhood.
“I love it. It’s the music I grew up on,” he said. “It’s what my parents like, the music I first remember. It definitely has a place in my heart.”
To date, the New York native has appeared on the BRT stage in 10 plays, including On Golden Pond, but Woodstock at 50 is Vaccaro’s first concert experience at what he called his “home away from home.”
“It’s fun, different,” he said of the show. “Just the music, which is nice to focus on one thing.”
According to Vaccaro, each Woodstock at 50 singer chose a handful of solos from a master list provided by BRT artistic director Baker at the beginning of rehearsals. Vaccaro’s numbers include “I Put A Spell On You” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, which he said is one of his all-time favorite tracks, and “Blackbird” by The Beatles.
“The theme of the show is, it had to have been performed at Woodstock. So even though that’s a Beatles song, The Who did a cover of it, and it’s definitely a song of the era,” he said.
Still, Vaccaro stressed that he isn’t trying to be the second coming of Roger Daltrey.
“We’re not doing imitations. We’re not trying to be Janis Joplin or The Who. We’re putting our own spin on it because it’s a celebration of this music. We’re not trying to be the performers. We wouldn’t want our girls to have to do Janis. I don’t think their voices can handle it. Anyone’s voices,” he said with a laugh.
In Vaccaro’s opinion, there’s a good reason why the music performed at Woodstock continues to be relevant 50 years later.
“It’s music of revolution. The late ’60s, the anti-war sentiment, the anti-government sentiment. You see a lot of parallels with that today. And it truly was the voice of the people that came through the music,” he said. “I think Woodstock was the explosion of people needing a voice and maybe something like that will happen now in a different way. But I definitely think Woodstock was the culmination of the frustration, and what better way to express it than music.”
Admittedly, Vaccaro is one of the older Woodstock at 50 artists. But for him, it’s been a pleasure to watch his younger counterparts, who are in their 20s and 30s, embrace the music he’s been fond of for so long. As opening night draws near, he anticipates this same sentiment to be true of the audience, which he said is likely to encompass parents and children alike.
“This music ages so well. Of course you’re going to get the baby boomers, who this is exactly their music. But you’re going to get everyone from then on. It’s ageless,” Vaccaro said. “And you still hear these songs at the bars. It’s amazing, their legacy. I don’t know any other music that’s aged this well, that people are still listening to or that comes on the radio and people say, ‘Turn it up.’”
Overall, Vaccaro said Woodstock at 50 is truly a reflection on and celebration of the landmark festival.
“It’s going to be a great night of music you love,” he said. “Come celebrate the spirit of 1969.”
Performances are Thursday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, July 19 and 26 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 20 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, July 21 and 28 at 3 p.m.; Wednesday, July 24 and Thursday, July 25 at 2 p.m.; and Saturday, July 27 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Tickets start at $32, with discounts for students, groups and military personnel. Visit brtstage.org or call the BRT box office at 215-785-0100 for more information. Bristol Riverside Theatre is located at 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol.
BRT’s Summer Music Fest concludes with Broadway Summer Spectacular from Aug. 15-25, bringing Broadway to Bristol in an evening packed with hits from composers like Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jerry Herman and Leonard Bernstein. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org