Santana - The Woodstock Experience
I missed out on the original Woodstock Festival in 1969 by a few years, but the festival has affected me to degrees that never really hit me until recently. Obviously, the music from the festival has touched the lives of millions of people since the summer of 1969, as have the continued works from the various musicians. But, I think, what’s had a greater impact on me has been that musical barriers were knocked over by the soul force of the movement. Sharing the stage on this glorious weekend was the folk-y acoustic rock sounds of CSN with Neil Young, the full on spiritual folk work of Richie Havens, the harder rockin’ edge of Jimi Hendrix, the soulful sounds of Sly and the Family Stone; The Who, Mountain, CCR, The Grateful Dead . . . oh, the list goes on! The music encompassed all genres, regardless of style; oblivious to agenda, all meant to unify a group of people, a nation to peace through music. Amongst those performing the Woodstock Music & Art Fair was the great Carlos Santana, who put on a legendary performance that was captured for our ears to enjoy today. Santana: The Woodstock Experience is just that, an experience.
By now, we all know who Carlos Santana is. If you grew up listening to the radio in the 70’s and 80’s, you undoubtedly heard “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va” until you thought your ears were gonna’ bleed. In more recent years, we’ve heard him as he’s teamed up with a variety of singers and super producers to a varying degree of success. In the case of Supernatural, 15 million plus units sold. In the summer of 1969, Carlos Santana was a virtual unknown. Just prior to the release of the debut Santana album, the band took the stage at Woodstock on Saturday, August 16th and powered through a blistering set of quasi-psychedlic, blues rooted, soul shaking rock n’ roll, and in the process, won over an indifferent crowd and paved the way to his status of Guitar Hero.
It would nice to say that when the band hits the stage and breaks into the instrumental, “Waiting,” that one could feel the stage rattle with the percussion of explosives, an immediate sensation that history was being made. However, this was not the case, and nor could I ever imagine explosions and pot flashes with the likes of Santana. Instead, what we get is the soulful, Latin infused polyrhythmic groove of timbales, congas, and various other percussion instruments accompanied by the howl of a Hammond organ, followed shortly thereafter by the subtle strumming from Carlos himself. The rhythms mesmerize while the organ belts out that all too familiar melody, and then it happens. The signature guitar tone from Carlos Santana tears through the rhythms. Short bursts of emotion placed between the grooves. Brief notes packed with feeling come across like fragmented thoughts. The song has a jazzy vibe, all of the performers playing their individual parts with their own individual style, yet all of it working in perfect cohesion to carry the song through to the end.
I hadn’t realized until I read the liner notes from the original album that Carlos not only handled all of the guitar duties, but he tackled the vocals as well. Huh . . . who knew? After a short banter to the crowd, the band dives into the classic “Evil Ways.” Smooth groovin’ and catchy as all get out, this song comes across great. Santana’s voice, though at times lacking some body, fits the droning groove of this song perfectly. Then there’s that classic organ solo as it howls like a tortured soul, touching on that now familiar melodic theme; breathing enough for the guitar to make a brief appearance for added texture, filled with the essence of the weekend’s event. And man, that guitar solo towards the end of the tune never gets old! When listening to this performance, pay attention to the entire rhythm section as the four musicians (two percussionists, one drummer, and one bassist) lock into one another and hold a steady groove, acting as a backdrop that allows the soloists to do their thing.
The Woodstock Experience captures a young band just at the brink of blowing up into a nationally known entity, and the performance is actually pretty stunning in just how in tuned these guys were with each other. Take the intro to “You Just Don’t Care” as the musicians seemingly pull the song out of mid air. Man . . . feel the soul in that! Carlos’ guitar screams in heart wrenching anguish and his voice is filled with that perfect amount of bluesy pain. The high point of the album, for me, comes with the polyrhythmic, lustfully flavorful “Savor.” The rhythms are steaming with sexuality, again sticking into a solid groove while keyboardist Gregg Rolie cuts loose with an orgasmic key pounding solo. This is the kind of soulful tune that they just don’t make anymore. Then there’s the drum solo kept in time by the congas hammering away in the background, then dropping out completely to leave the high hat and cymbals to ring out. Amazing performance! You gotta’ remember . . . there was a time when Santana was a band and not just a man. The Woodstock Experience is that era. To make the song even cooler is that after the drum solo, the bass picks up the mesmerizing groove of “Jingo” and the band drops back in, one after the other, churning the groove over again and again. Carlos Santana’s guitar bursts onto the scene with the quintessential Carlos Santana sustained single note piercing the air. God . . . that sound is like heaven! So much spirit and soul capture in that single note, I think it was at this point that many of the patrons of the day’s event probably lost their senses for good. Imagine being intoxicated to unknown heights and hearing that guitar. It must have been like the clouds parting and the rays of the sun shining down into the eyes of everybody on that muddy field.
If you’re like me and missed out on the original event, then Santana: The Woodstock Experience is a must, if not for the music, then at least for the packaging that the whole thing comes in. Check this out! Not only do you get the live performance from the festival, but you get the Santana debut album replicating the original album art and all. On top of that, there’s a poster of the band jamming out on one side and the hippie folk enjoying the day’s events on the other side. All of it comes to you in a slipcase for easy storage. Honestly? I felt like I used to when I would come home with a new 12” album complete with double gatefold sleeve and all of its various inserts. There’s a magic to it . . . almost like this sense of going back to a simpler time. Take all of the material portions of this release and couple it with the extraordinary musical performances and you’ve made a solid purchase, my friends. Speaking of magic . . . make sure you watch the viedo below of "Soul Sacrifice." This should give you a good idea of what I mean by Santana the band versus Santana the man. - Pope JTE