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Flashback: Joni Mitchell Plays ‘Woodstock’ at Site of Original Fest in 1998

Half-forgotten 29th-anniversary Woodstock event, “A Day in the Garden,” also featured Pete Townshend, Richie Havens

In the least surprising news of the year, the organizers behind Woodstock 50 gave into the inevitable on Wednesday and announced that the festival would not be taking place. “Unfortunately, we ran out of time,” Michael Lang told Rolling Stone shortly after the news broke. “[It] was an unfortunate venture, but I chalk it up to having the wrong partners early on. We did everything we could have done and we had the right motivations. We put together what I thought was an amazing lineup of talent. I thought we had all that right.”

Lang’s last major concert was Woodstock 99, a notoriously disastrous event that culminated in a fiery riot. What far fewer people remember is another Woodstock event was held the year before that, one that Lang had nothing to do with. It was called A Day in the Garden and, unlike Woodstock 94 and Woodstock 99, it was held at the site of the original festival in Bethel, New York. This time around, nobody slept there and the capacity was capped at 30,000 people.

The three-day event featured Woodstock legacy acts Pete Townshend, Richie Havens, and Melanie along with Donovan, Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind, Stevie Nicks, Joan Osborne and Lou Reed. Highlights included Pete Townshend reviving “See Me, Feel Me” as the sun went down and Stevie Nicks playing an epic rendition of “Edge of Seventeen.”

The most impressive booking was Joni Mitchell, who toured very infrequently throughout the 1980s and 1990s and would essentially retire from the road in 2000. She was supposed to play the original Woodstock in 1969, but her manager David Geffen worried that the chaos of the event would make it impossible for her to make a planned appearance on the The Dick Cavett Show the following day. She was a new artist then and he felt that national TV exposure was far more valuable than playing a single concert.

David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and the Jefferson Airplane managed to play Woodstock and make Cavettt, and you can see from the expression on Joni Mitchell’s face throughout the interview that was crushed to have missed out on all the fun. Not long afterwards, she wrote her classic song “Woodstock” about the festival even though she wasn’t there. It was covered by CSNY on their 1970 LP Deja Vu, and here’s footage of Joni finally visiting Bethel Woods in 1998 where she, of course, sang the song.

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