Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis was just three years old when the original Woodstock festival took place, but he watched the film version obsessively as a kid and it played a huge role in shaping him as an artist. As he prepares for another leg of Dinosaur Jr.’s ongoing tour behind their recent slate of 1990s album reissues, Mascis spoke with Rolling Stone about his five favorite Woodstock performances.
Jimi Hendrix, “Spanish Castle Magic”
This wasn’t in the movie, but I got the director’s cut of Hendrix’s set and this song is totally awesome. I didn’t realize from the movie how good his set was, but he was really on fire at Woodstock. The solos in this song are just awesome. It’s one of the first songs he did and it’s just ripping.
When I first saw the Woodstock movie, I didn’t care about “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the songs they put in the movie, but when I got the record it became my favorite Hendrix record. I don’t know why they picked the songs they picked in the movie. Maybe because “Purple Haze” was the big hit or whatever, but there is some really intense playing from Hendrix at Woodstock and I wish it had come across in the movie.
Richie Havens, “Freedom”
I’ve heard stories that Richie would always get all the money [in the baskets they passed around] when playing folk clubs in New York. People like Roger McGuinn would say they didn’t want to follow him or go anywhere near him because he was that good. What he could do with an acoustic guitar was so inspiring to me. He nearly made a hole in it from strumming so hard. He’d strum with the thumb on his left hand and it made me think, “Maybe someone playing acoustic guitar can be cool.” At the time, I was more into rock, but he had so much energy that it really spoke to me.
And at the end of his Woodstock set when he’s singing “Freedom,” he’s ad-libbing at the end. It’s incredible. I love how he walks off as he’s still singing and the guys are still playing.
Sly and the Family Stone, “I Want to Take You Higher”
This performance just blew me away. I don’t know what night of the festival it was, but they were really wailing. It’s just so high energy. I’d never heard them before seeing them in the movie. They had way more energy than many of the rock bands and really involving the crowd. They got everyone going.
Woodstock was such a big movie for me as a kid. When I first formed a band I never understood why people didn’t want to use big amps like at Woodstock. Everyone gave us shit for being so loud and I’d say, “It worked at Woodstock. It sounded awesome there and they had stacks and stacks.” But all of a sudden it wasn’t cool to play like that. It became more about creating your sound than capturing your sound. I never understood why people weren’t into playing like that because it worked so well at Woodstock.
The Who, “See Me, Feel Me”
It just starts out so quiet and just builds to this wild frenzy. It seems really epic the way they sing. It’s just monstrous. I never really liked the song on the record as much as this one. I remember once [in 2007] I played acoustic guitar with Pete Townshend at Joe’s Pub [in New York.] I told him I wanted to do “See Me, Feel Me,” but the Woodstock version. He didn’t quite understand what I meant, but there’s just something about the Woodstock thing.
Canned Heat, “A Change Is Gonna Come”
Canned Heat wasn’t in the original movie, but they were when they extended it. I really liked Canned Heat and I like when this hippie kid comes onstage and steals a cigarette from the singer and he just puts his arm around him. I guess that was one of the first gigs that [guitarist] Harvey Mandel played with Canned Heat and he was playing awesome stuff.
I really love [Alan] “Blind Owl” [Wilson]. He’s one of my favorites and I really like his singing even though he’s not singing on this song. I like his playing here and I really just like Canned Heat’s whole thing. They have this song in the extended version of the movie and it’s great to see him rocking. It’s a really heavy stomp boogie they were known for, just really pounding and heavy. The bass and drums are just locked in. It’s a really sludgy attack with cool guitar lines over the top.