The 50th anniversary of the music festival that baby boomers can’t seem to stop idealizing feels like it’s been going on for months already.
But at long last, the actual anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair is upon us. The gathering billed as “An Aquarian Exposition” presenting “3 Days of Peace & Music” took place in a natural amphitheater on Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, N.Y., from Aug. 15-18, 1969.
A half-century later, thanks to reissue label Rhino Records and Philadelphia radio station WXPN-FM (88.5), fans who wish to be transported back to that moment in counterculture history can come close to it this weekend without having to get muddy and naked.
At 5:07 p.m. Thursday, WXPN will begin broadcasting what the University of Pennsylvania public radio station is billing as Woodstock — As It Happened — 50 Years On, a more or less comprehensive airing of the festival in its entirety.
That means starting with strumming Ritchie Havens 50 years to the minute from the time he began his set and ending with Jimi Hendrix shredding sometime around 11 a.m. on Sunday.
According to Bruce Warren, the station’s associate general manager for programming, XPN will play the music “the way it was originally performed, at exactly the same times the sets were performed, to give our listeners a feel for how it all really went down.”
The broadcast will be an XPN exclusive; it’s the only radio station in the nation taking on the fully immersive task. It’s possible because earlier this month Rhino released Woodstock — Back to the Garden — The 50th Anniversary Archive, a 38-CD, 432-track, limited-edition box that gathers every bit of audio information heard by the 400,000 people who gathered on Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm and lived to tell about it, over and over again, for 50 years.
Yep, I said 38 CDs. XPN will air each one of them, from start to finish, including sets by all 32 acts, among them The Band, Sly & the Family Stone, Crosby Stills, Nash & Young, John Sebastian, The Who, Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Santana, and yes … Sha Na Na.
It’s not a continuous broadcast. The station will air some regularly scheduled programming, such as Kristen Kurtis’ drive-time morning show and David Dye’s afternoon Funky Friday. All told, 35 hours, 19 minutes, and 11 seconds of Woodstock audio will be heard.
Of course, the Rhino box is also for sale. If you want to own every bit of the historic festival, it comes in a screen-printed plywood box with lots of extras, including a book by promoter Michael Lang (who failed in his efforts to pull off Woodstock 50 this summer), and a pair of 8-by-10 pictures by famed rock photographer Henry Diltz (who’s appearing at City Winery Philadelphia on Oct. 8 along with fellow music shooter Mick Rock).
The mega-box comes in a limited edition of 1,969 copies, and it retails for a mere $799.98. There are also other configurations, with 10-CD, three-CD, and five LP versions. And the reissue can be sampled on streaming services. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s entire 11-song set is available on Spotify, and it’s a powerful testament to the John Fogerty-led band’s greatness. It choogles!
» READ MORE: Woodstock at 50: Peace, Love and Life Lessons
There are other ways to celebrate the anniversary besides listening to the radio. On Thursday, the Ardmore Music Hall presents a legit three cover band celebration, with Roosevelt Collier as Jimi Hendrix, Kensington Clearwater Revival playing CCR, and Chelsea Viacava & Friends doing Janis Joplin.
Fogerty himself was supposed to play at Woodstock 50 in Watkin’s Glen, N.Y. Instead, he’ll be at the Excite Center at Parx Casino in Bensalem, Pa., on Saturday on his My 50 Year Trip tour.
Director Barak Goodman’s Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation — the 2019 Woodstock documentary — can be streamed on PBS and Amazon. And Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 Woodstock movie that played such a large role in building the festival’s myth (and whose editors included Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese) will screen at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.