Leslie West on Mountain Playing Woodstock ’69 – Rolling Stone
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Woodstock Remembered: Mountain Guitarist Leslie West on Playing the Fest

“When we flew over in the helicopter, it felt like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Bethel, New York:  August 1969. Woodstock Music Festival. Leslie West and Mountain performing. ©Tom Miner / The Image Works       NOTE: The copyright notice must include "The Image Works" DO NOT SHORTEN THE NAME OF THE COMPANY

Leslie West and Mountain performs at the Woodstock Music Festival in Bethel, New York, in 1969.

© Tom Miner/The Image Works

Woodstock was just our third job, and it was quite a thrill. Mountain got on the show because our booking agent also handled Jimi Hendrix. I remember watching Creedence, Sly and the Family Stone, the Who. And I was thinking, “How can I top that?” It was one good band after another. It was a thrill, I’ll tell you.

We hired our own helicopter ’cause we had heard that it would be chaos getting up there. When we flew over in the helicopter, it felt like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There was a first-aid kit, and I opened it up and took out an amyl nitrite popper. I looked out at that crowd, and I almost fell out of the helicopter.

I think I had the most amplifiers of anybody there. It was paralyzing because that stage, that setting, was some kind of natural amphitheater. The sound was so loud and shocking that I got scared. But once I started playing, I just kept going because I was afraid to stop.

There were bagels backstage, and they were going real quick. I remember that distinctly because our manager brought these barbecued chickens up in the helicopter — his wife had told him he’d better bring something to eat, and we were the only ones with food. Well, with all the smoke that was there, the appetites were crazy, and there was absolutely nothing to eat. We could have probably sold those chickens for like five grand apiece.

A version of this story was originally published in the August 24th, 1989 print edition of Rolling Stone.

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