18 Aug 2019

Steve Katz: Woodstock was an entirely uncomfortable experience

From Sunday Morning, 10:04 am on 18 August 2019

Woodstock might have been a life-changing event for many of the 400,000 concert-goers in attendance in 1969, but it wasn't a career highlight for many of the performers.

Former Blood, Sweat & Tears guitarist Steve Katz told Jim Mora he felt the festival was the end of a movement rather than the starting point for a generation who thought they could change the world.

Swami opening Woodstock

Swami opening Woodstock Photo: public domain

  • Woodstock 50th anniversary of an iconic photo
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears were a big band in 1969 in the midst of of a run of hits. The second eponymous album released in 1968 was a critical and commercial success and BS&T were the second highest paid act at Woodstock (after Jimi Hendrix).

    Katz said they were paid $US15,000 but he doesn’t remember seeing any of it. “It all went to our accountant, it was the music business in 1969, no-one saw any money!”

    By the time BS&T hit the stage it was 1am, Katz says.

    “It was very uncomfortable I think it was raining when we were on and I always thought that we did a terrible set, so I never really thought about it, I didn’t know they were recording it at all.”

    A box set of the entire concert has just been released on it with the 10 songs performed by BS&T at Woodstock and Katz was pleasantly surprised by what he heard.

    “I was able to hear our full set and it’s really pretty good, I was shocked and I spoke to Fred Lipsius [alto sax] who was in the band and I said Freddie wasn’t it like really uncomfortable and he said ''yeah I hated it". And I did also - I was wearing white pants.”

    Katz says his abiding memory is of wanting the set to be over quickly.

    “It wasn’t like we were one of the kids having a great time. I think we were inspired by the rain, let’s get out of this thing and go home, then again, we were all very stoned.

    "I read an interview with Graham Nash and these guys [Crosby, Stills & Nash] were backstage with us and he said yeah, everybody was really ripped - and we were.”

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    Photo: Leo Steele

    Katz played another seminal festival, the Monterery Pop Festival, in 1967 but by Woodstock in 1969 the counter-culture was attracting the interest of the money men, he says.  

    “I felt Woodstock was an end of a movement, it became huge at that point and I thought the Monterey Pop [Festival] that I played at also with the Blues Project was the beginning of something really special.

    “Then the corporate world started swooping down ‘oh my god hundreds of thousands of kids, there’s a market right there’.

    “I don’t know if they were out to change the world when the kids went to Woodstock, I think they were out to have a good time.”

    Katz says adding to the discomfort of playing at Woodstock was the distance between band and audience.

    “When you’re looking out at 300,000 people or whatever it’s just like a curtain. I think the problem was the audience was far from us. And when the audience is far from you, you lose intimacy and basically you’re playing for yourself.

    “You have to look into people’s eyes, and it was two o'clock in the morning the crowd was far from us, half of them were asleep probably.”

    Katz says the band were ferried to and from the festival in a couple of station wagons, the band’s singer, David Clayton-Thomas, remembers differently.

    “David’s been giving interviews saying we were helicoptered in, I’ve never been in a helicopter in my life, so if we were I must have been really stoned!

    “I can’t speak for other musicians except for the guys I still speak to in my own band. I don’t think The Who had a great time, Crosby, Stills and Nash I think they were very uncomfortable. I think Hendrix was sick when he was on stage, although you wouldn’t know it because he was amazing.”