MOORHEAD – The original Woodstock music festival, held Aug. 15-18, 1969, is remembered for its iconic performances and spirit of love and happiness.
As stories and documentaries have shown since, it was also a bit of a mess with rain and poor planning putting a damper on the 400,000 fans and artists alike.
Merrill Piepkorn is choosing to focus on the former for his and promoter Jade Present’s 50th Anniversary of Peace & Music, a two-day event that will be held this Friday and Saturday at Moorhead's Bluestem Amphitheater.
By his own account, he was a 20-year-old peacenik in the summer of 1969.
“The notion of peace and love and no more war appealed to me,” says Piepkorn, now a Democratic-NPL state senator representing north Fargo's District 44.
Piepkorn booked 19 acts to play sets by legendary artists like Jimi Hendrix (The Vistas), The Who (The Shuttles), Joan Baez (Jessie Veeder), Creedence Clearwater Revival (Ron Kerber Band), Sha Na Na (Bison Arts Group) and Janis Joplin (Diane Miller), among others.
“These are not impersonations,” says Gregg “Smokey” Temple, who will double as a performer and stage manager this weekend. “We really look at it as a tribute to the artists and music of Woodstock. Nobody’s really trying to act like the people.”
While Woodstock was historic and the 1970 documentary and soundtrack made some rising stars legends, there’s more stories to the songs.
Temple opens the show on Friday, playing John Sebastian’s “I Had a Dream.” The song kicks off the soundtrack, but Sebastian, founder of The Lovin’ Spoonful, played it on the second day of the festival. In fact, the singer wasn’t even on the bill, just attending the show, Temple points out. Promoters asked him to step in and play as other acts were having a hard time getting in because the roads were jammed with traffic.
On Saturday, Temple plays the music of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band with Piepkorn and The Radio Stars. The group will then play Ten Years After’s “I’m Going Home.”
“If you ever saw the movie, (the song) goes on way too long. We shortened it up a bit,” Temple says.
The group will also back up Anthony Diaz from Crookston, Minn., who won a contest from Prairie Public Broadcasting to sing Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
“Joe Cocker’s career got launched there,” Temple says.
“I’d never heard of Joe Cocker before. Probably not a lot of other people had either,” says Mike Jenkins, who plays keyboards with The Radio Stars in the Paul Butterfield set and also with the Pat Lenertz Band playing music by The Band.
Jenkins also plays a song with Gina Powers when she plays tribute to Melanie and Joni Mitchell. While she wasn’t even at the event, Mitchell wrote the song “Woodstock,” watching news reports. She debuted the song weeks after the concert, though most people now know it as a hit from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s 1970 album, “Deja Vu”.
“We’re not trying to be totally historically accurate, I guess,” Jenkins says, referring to Mitchell’s absence from the festival.
Post-Traumatic Funk Syndrome plays Saturday night, covering music from their idols, Blood, Sweat & Tears.
“A lot of people aren’t even aware that Blood, Sweat & Tears played there because they aren’t in the movie or the soundtrack,” says Tom Strait, trumpeter for PTFS.
Blood, Sweat & Tears had a prime slot, going on just before CSNY, and camera crews were rolling. The problem is the group’s manager at the time shut down filming because the group wasn’t being paid to be filmed.
“For years, the only trace of them you could find before the internet existed, you could find their name on a poster and that was it. So this is kind of like righting the ship a little bit,” Strait says, about playing a set few ever heard.
While Woodstock turned into a free show, Blood, Sweat & Tears was paid $15,000, second only to Jimi Hendrix’s $18,000 payout when he closed the festival the morning of the fourth day. Joan Baez and Creedence Clearwater Revival each brought in $10,000, the third biggest payoff.
This weekend’s show will close with Temple, Richard Torrance and Jim Allen playing music of Crosby, Stills & Nash, including the tune “Find the Cost of Freedom,” which will be dedicated to Vietnam veterans.
“Crosby, Stills & Nash and Santana were brand new. Most people didn’t even know who they were when they performed,” Temple says.
Piepkorn, who has also produced local tributes to Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, says organizing this weekend’s show is going better than for Woodstock 50 years ago.
“This show is in the spirit, the feeling, lore and myth of the original Woodstock, the spirit of chipping in to make it happen. It’s really gratifying to be part of something like that,” he says. “I’ll be glad when it’s over. This makes that Senate stuff look like a cakewalk.”
If you go
What: 50th Anniversary of Peace & Music
When: 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, and 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17
Where: Bluestem Amphitheater, 801 50th Ave. S., Moorhead
Info: Tickets for this all-ages event range from $29.50 to $79; https://jadepresents.com/ or 866-300-8300