Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday Night in Coney Island: Brooklyn's 40th Anniversary Salute to Woodstock with John Sebastian, Mountain, and Creedence Clearwater Revisited

Tonight we went to Coney Island for the inaugural event in the Seaside Summer Concert Series at Asser Levy/Seaside Park and went back in time to when we turned 18 in the summer of '69.

We joined thousands of the borough's other ex-rockers and alter kockers for Brooklyn's Salute to the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock, with Creedence Clearwater Revisited, John Sebastian, and Mountain featuring Leslie West and Corky Lang.

Our friends Linda and Howie drove up to go to Woodstock with some pals, but if we remember correctly, they were freaked out by the traffic on the Quickway and so appalled by the mud and lack of bathrooms, they left after the first day.

In the fall of 1969, we were in group therapy sessions run by our psychiatrist, Dr. Abbott Lippman, on Albemarle Road off Coney Island Avenue. John, one of the kids in the group had been to Woodstock, and whenever there were long silences in group therapy or someone said something Dr. Lippman thought was irrelevant or self-deluding, he'd turn to John and say, "So, John, was there much mud at Woodstock?"

"So was there was much mud at Woodstock?" became one of our catch phrases when we were bored with the conversation.

We didn't get off the F train till about 7:45 p.m. although the concert was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Not only is this summer the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, it's also the 40th anniversary of us meeting Borough President Marty Markowitz, when he was the president only of the evening student government at Brooklyn College and we were an entering day freshman. But we know that Marty can talk for a long time.

Once we got off at West 8th Street, we followed the crowds, and a grandma taking kids home from day camp at the Shorefront Y, down Seabreeze Avenue to Asser Levy/Seaside Park.

The first person we encountered was an anti-Marty petitioner who said that if the borough president's plan to replace the current bandshell with an $64 million amphitheater happens, these free concerts will cost $40. "Save our neighborhood park," she said. We signed.

We passed the card players and the chess players and the VIP entrance and the disabled entrance and made our way to where people could pay $5 for a seat at a folding chair.

Other folks brought their own chairs from home.

It was a long line.

Onstage, someone was trying to do for "God Bless America" what Jimi did for "The Star-Spangled Banner."

While we were waiting, and Marty was introducing various city council members and others, people handed us leaflets, like for mayoral candidate Controller Bill Thompson.

These kids were passing out leaflets for Councilman John Liu, running for Thompson's job.

A flyer for a show called The Boychick Affair told you everything about the makeup of this crowd. These are the people we grew up, our landsmen from southern Brooklyn.

A Lubavitcher who looked old enough to have been at Woodstock asked us, "Are you Joosh?"

"Certainly not," we replied, following the example of our Brooklyn College friend Lenny Tropp when confronted with the Mitzvahmobile on Hillel Place in the early '70s.

There was nary a hipster in sight. At 58, we were probably close to the median age of the huge crowd.

It's weird to hear old Jewish ladies saying things like "Oy, that Jethro Tull concert in '70 was so great!"

There were some who looked like they never left the hippie era. We're glad to have cut off our once-shoulder-length hair and ditched our headband, love beads and macrame belt.

We found a seat far back from the stage, which we could see through other people's heads. We sat through a rendition of our beloved borough's official theme, "Every Day's a Holiday in Brooklyn." El Día de los Muertos came to mind.

The crowds really cheered when Marty stopped introducing people and John Sebastian took the stage.

We were to a John Sebastian show at Brooklyn College's Whitman Auditorium back in the early 1970s when he looked like this:

It was nostalgic to hear songs like "Do You Believe in Magic" and "Summer in the City" again, but John's voice is a lot raspier now. According to Wikipedia, here's his Woodstock cred:

He had a memorable, albeit unscheduled appearance at Woodstock, appearing after Country Joe McDonald's set, playing songs such as "I Had A Dream," "Rainbows All Over Your Blues" and "Younger Generation" which he dedicated to a newborn baby at the festival. Documentary remarks by festival organizers revealed that Sebastian was under the influence at the time, hence his spontaneity and casual, unplanned set.

"He's talking his songs now," an old man behind us said. His companions said Sebastian was doing a lot better than some other singers from forty years ago whose recent concerts they'd attended. ("Whaddaya talking about, do you remember how bad Linda Ronstadt stunk in Long Island?") There was a lot of music kibitzing.

We enjoyed his set. Dragonscrew714 posted this video of John singing "Darling Be Home Soon":

John said he loved Brooklyn - of course - but grew up "on the other side of the bridge," in Greenwich Village. He told a nice story about his father, John Benson Sr., a noted classical harmonica player, and how he, young John, decided to "quit the harmonica" at age five. But he closed with a very good harmonica solo.

He also did his Brooklynesque hit, the classic title song of the TV show Welcome Back, Kotter. A friend played it for us when we moved back to Brooklyn after decades away. The sweathogs in the audience enjoyed the nostalgia.

It was great to see John Sebastian for us, and it did bring back great early-teen memories of The Lovin' Spoonful as well as echoes from John's musical roots in the blues and folk.

And even if they were croaked, "Did You Ever (Have to Make up Your Mind)" and "Mobileline" would sound good to at least one old fart sitting in his distant seat. (Maybe because our ears ain't so good anymore?)

For us, the highlight of the evening was the set by Mountain, featuring Corky Laing and the amazing Leslie West.

Our brother was a big Cream fan, so when Felix Pappalardi joined Leslie West and the others in Mountain, we heard their albums coming from the next room dozens of times.

According to Wikipedia,
[Mountain] played their fourth live concert at the 1969 Woodstock Festival in Bethel, New York (later chronicling the experience in their song "For Yasgur's Farm"), but the band did not appear in the film of the event nor was their performance included on volume 1 of the festival's live album. It was however
included on the second volume.

The crowd really seemed to love Mountain. By then it was dark, and we thought we'd walk around and catch people's reactions to seeing renditions of classics like "Mississippi Queen" and "Nantucket Sleighride." At Surf Avenue, people were rocking out.

This dog got his music and water too.

Leslie is a Brooklynite, from East 19th Street and Albemarle Road, though he later moved out to Long Island. His mom changed their name from Weinstein. He said that when he made it with Mountain, he splurged on a Bentley and took all his relatives from the old neighborhood to Nathan's in Coney Island, making the mistake of letting them eat hot dogs with mustard and french fries with ketchup in the back seat.

He was amazing on guitar, and Corky's pretty amazing too, as was the rest of the band. Mountain will be in Bethel to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Woodstock in a month, and at the end of the band's set, Leslie West is planning to get married to his fiancee Jenni Maurer onstage.

We absolutely adored his long rendition of "Blowin' in the Wind," which Leslie said sounded to him as if Bob Dylan had written it just last weekend.

During the next break, after the audience gave Mountain a grateful sendoff, we made our way to the first row of non-VIP seats, though way over on the right side of the stage. Marty had taken off his signature white sport jacket and underneath was a multi-hued pseudopsychedelic T-shirt with a peace sign.

On our 20th birthday in June 1971, we went with our girlfriend to Macy's in Kings Plaza and bought ourselves a gold peace sign we wore around our neck for years. We don't know what happened to that chain, but this old duffer had a peace sign on the back of his jean jacket.

On the ground, we found a crumpled-up leaflet protesting the amphitheater plan.

Creedence Clearwater Revival's performance at Woodstock is the stuff of legend. Tim K wrote on the Woodstock website:

Never forget when Creedence came on. They hit the opening riff and, because of Top 40 radio, everyone recognized that twang of John Fogerty's guitar. The crowd (and I mean the entire crowd) rose to their feet as one and cheered.

How incredible was that? Yet the very litigious John Fogerty never wanted that video shown because he was unhappy with the sound.

We were glad to see Creedence Clearwater Revisited, but as a gray-haired guy with a John Lennon T-shirt who said he was "getting too old for concerts" whom we met at the Ocean Parkway el station as 11 p.m. approached, told us: "They're now basically a CCR cover band. . . like the Beatles would be without John Lennon or The Doors without Jim Morrison."

That said, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford are still first-rate musicians.

And their songs, well... How can you go wrong with "Suzie Q"? Or "Who'll Stop the Rain"?

Or "Born on the Bayou"? Or "Bad Moon Rising"? Man, those songs are the soundtrack to years of our lives. . .

Anyone above a certain age will feel something when they listen to CCRevisited sing "Proud Mary." It would be weird if we didn't.

Tonight Coney Island went back to a glorious time 40 years ago. But in two days Coney Island will host the Siren Festival. There'll always be glorious times, so while nostalgia is always fun, well, we got home after midnight and that's later than it used to be for some of us.


J.D. Finch said...

What a fantastic (and exhaustive!) word snapshot of an evening of r'n'r history and nostalgia. Like your friends, I too escaped Woodstock after about a day and a half due to the rough -- if not actually unhealthy -- conditions. Of course one of the loudest complainers at the time was Michael Jahn of the New York Times, who was appalled at the mud, etc. Too bad Sebastian can't get the old Spoonful back together (oh man, now I'm sounding like my parents lamenting the Glenn Miller Orchestra): while they rocked they also tapped into the NY zeitgeist, doing soundtrack work for Woody Allen and You're A Big Boy Now. I was also amused by your statement that you'd hear Mountain music coming from another room. I had the same experience with my younger brother. I'm 58, like you -- it must have just missed us somehow. Creedence sounded fantastic in the vid you posted. Perhaps it was because Fogerty always stayed drug-free. Some of the bands that performed were pretty out of tune and you can guess their substance use had a lot to do with it. Thanks for your Coney Island Woodstock report, Richard. It was a trip, as they say.

black said...

John Sebastians voice is shot. Mountain opened very powerful with "Never in my Life" and then got very weak with crap like "Blowin in the wind, Imiginary Western and Nantucket Sleigh ride. He could have blew up the show with much more powerful songs like "Blood on the Sun and "Stormy Monday". Missippi Queen was a let down as well with very little projection on the vocal and guitar riffs. Was he tired or didn't he get paid enough for this gig? Creedence did a good show but like others have commented it's now a good cover band. I hope in the future Mountain pumps up the show with more energenic rock selections of which he has many.

kafkaesque said...

thanks for the review. I'd wanted to go, love John Sebastian and Mountain, but couldn't bring myself to shlep from Manhattan

Malbone said...

Good God! Are Woodstock veterans really that old? When I lived in Coney Island, in Brightwater Towers across the street from Asser Levy Park, the big draw for the lawnchair set was the Franko Goldman band playing Sousa's greatest hits, and the occasional festival of Yiddish theater songs.