As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, one of its enduring mysteries will finally be solved. What did Creedence Clearwater Revival’s set sound like? Going into Woodstock, Creedence Clearwater Revival were arguably one of the biggest names on the bill and held the prime headlining spot on Saturday, 16 August, the second day of the festival. The band released their debut, self-titled record in May 1968, followed by Bayou Country in January 1969 and Green River just days before Woodstock. They had already scored numerous Top 40 hits on the American charts and were riding high as they prepared for the Woodstock stage.
Creedence Clearwater Revival were scheduled to take the stage following the Grateful Dead. As the day went on, the schedule began to fall apart, culminating with the Dead playing a much longer set than they were allotted. By the time Creedence Clearwater Revival finally got on the stage, it was well past midnight on 17 August and, after a full day of music and festivities, the crowd was tired. Over the years, Creedence frontman John Fogerty has joked that the Dead put the crowd to sleep. Fogerty and his band played a one hour set of hits that he later blocked from being included on the legendary record and film of the event. Four tracks from this set – “Commotion”, “Green River”, “Ninety Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)”, and “I Put a Spell on You” – were eventually released on the Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music 25th Anniversary record, but the rest of the set remained unreleased until now.
As you would assume, the 11-song, one hour set is packed with all the hits from those classic first three records. However, as you would also assume for a band taking the stage well after midnight, the energy isn’t always there for the entire set. The theory has always been that Fogerty and the band were not happy with their performance and the reaction of the exhausted crowd, so they held the recording back. To some extent, this release proves that theory. The set kicks off with a straight run-through of “Born on the Bayou”, a good performance but nothing overly outstanding from the band. The same could be said as they went into the just-released “Green River” and their version of the Wilson Pickett classic “Ninety Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)”. All strong performances but with little spark or energy.
The middle portion of the set continued with more of the same, workmanlike performances of the band’s hits, serviceable for sure, but lacking the spark that defined some of the other Woodstock performances. Finally, eight songs into their performance, the band turns a corner with the first track on their debut record, a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You”. We finally begin to hear the electricity in John Fogerty’s voice, while Stu Cook, Tom Fogerty and Doug Clifford come alive during the instrumental and wake up the crowd. That energy becomes infectious and takes over the remainder of the performance. “The Night Time Is the Right Time” and extended versions of “Keep on Chooglin'” and “Suzy Q” show what this legendary band were truly capable of at the height of their powers.
On Live at Woodstock we get a glimpse of what some of the bands had to deal with during that memorable weekend 50 years ago. A later-than-planned time slot, a subdued, tired crowd and a band that had to work it to get its full power out to the crowd well after 1:00 am. Was it a perfect performance? Not by any means. Was it a classic performance that was long overdue for a wide release? Absolutely.