In the height of protests against the Vietnam War, The Woodstock Music and Art Fair occurred between August 15 and 18, 1969. The fair was held on a farm in Bethel, New York, and brought a mix of artists together, from well-known groups to musicians making their debut.
The protest against the war, the incredible lineup, and so much more helped to bring this music festival into history’s eye, which is still celebrated today. Here are some of the most notable Woodstock songs from the four-day event.
- Freedom – Richie Havens
- My Crystal Spider – Sweetwater
- Jennifer – Bert Sommer
- Raga Puriya Dhanashri Gat in Sawarital – Ravi Shankar
- If I Were a Carpenter – Tim Hardin
- Beautiful People – Melanie
- Coming into Los Angeles – Arlo Guthrie
- Sweet Sir Galahad – Joan Baez
- That’s How I Eat – The Quill
- The “Fish” Cheer / I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag – Country Joe and the Fish
- Soul Sacrifice – Santana
- I Had a Dream – John Sebastian
- Too Much Thinking – Keef Hartley Band
- When You Find Out Who You Are – The Incredible String Band
- Woodstock Boogie – Canned Heat
- For Yasgur’s Farm – Mountain
- St. Stephen – Grateful Dead
- Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater Revival
- My Generation – The Who
- Somebody to Love – Jefferson Airplane
- Feelin’ Alright? – Joe Cocker
- Ball and Chain – Janis Joplin
- I’m Going Home – Ten Years After
- Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever – The Band
- Johnny B. Goode – Johnny Winter
- I Want to Take You Higher – Sly & The Family Stone
- You’ve Made Me So Very Happy – Blood, Sweat & Tears
- Suite: Judy Blue Eyes – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
- Everything’s Gonna Be Alright – The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
- At the Hop – Sha Na Na
- Star Spangled Banner – Jimi Hendrix
Freedom – Richie Havens
When Richie Havens agreed to be the starting act for Woodstock, he didn’t know what he was getting into. Near the end of his set, he was told the other bands hadn’t arrived, so he needed to stay on stage and keep playing. After playing every song he knew, the next band still couldn’t be found, so he began improvising music and singing the spiritual ‘Motherless Child.’ This song and his extended set are now a prominent part of music history.
Related: Here are some more songs with freedom in the lyrics.
My Crystal Spider – Sweetwater
Sweetwater is a band that, at first listen, took influence from Jefferson Airplane’s fusion style of music. Using fusion as a launching pad, Sweetwater was an ethnically diverse band known for incorporating many exotic instruments and purposefully shunning electric guitar in the studio and on stage. Their most memorable song is the experimental psychedelic track ‘My Crystal Spider.’ It utilizes the band’s unique penchant for unusual arrangements, including Middle Eastern-style vocals.
Jennifer – Bert Sommer
Bert Sommer is a New Yorker whose best-known accomplishment outside of playing music was being cast as Woof in the original cast of Hair. During his time with the musical, he met a woman named Jennifer Warnes, who would inspire his song ‘Jennifer.’ Despite lyrics that implied a deep connection, Jennifer said she never saw Sommer after the musical ended. Sommer was the third performer on the first day of Woodstock and opened up his set with this song.
Related: Want to hear more songs from musicals? Check out these famous Broadway songs.
Raga Puriya Dhanashri Gat in Sawarital – Ravi Shankar
At the age of 49, Ravi Shankar was easily among the oldest performers at Woodstock. When he took to the stage, he began with the song ‘Raga Puriya Dhanashri Gat in Sawarital.’ The song itself is electrifying with its complex tones and melodies. One listen is enough to understand why George Harrison became smitten with Indian music and why it set him on a path of exploring India’s culture and religion.
If I Were a Carpenter – Tim Hardin
This folk song was written by Tim Hardin and recorded by several other artists before Hardin recorded his own version in 1967. At Woodstock, this was one of the two songs Hardin performed. The song itself is a beautiful acoustic song about love. The heartfelt lyrics of the song pair perfectly with the music. The song is about an insecure man who wants to win the heart of the woman he loves. It is believed Hardin wrote the song after he fell in love with the actress Susan Yardley.
Related: Listen to the best songs about being insecure.
Beautiful People – Melanie
The artist, simply known as Melanie, is known for having a brief but widespread popularity. She had no time to play celebrity because she focused on helping people. The music of ‘Beautiful People’ is ethereal and simply a gorgeous piece of pop music. The other-world quality of the music works in tandem with painfully heartfelt lyrics. It’s easy to see her heart is focused on serving those in need. The lyrics were inspired by a New York blackout when she was a child; she was so worried about the older residents in her building that she went door to door handing out candles.
Coming into Los Angeles – Arlo Guthrie
Arlo Gutherie, the son of Woody Guthrie, had a tremendous legacy to follow. Like his dad, Arlo has chosen to commit to various political causes. ‘Coming into Los Angeles’ invokes a vocal style reminiscent of Bob Dylan. However, the lyrical content isn’t as deep as some of the other music of the time. Musically, it features fingerpicking, also in Bob Dylan’s style, and some think it could have helped to inspire Marc Knopfler’s guitar-picking style.
Related: See the best songs about crime and punishment.
Sweet Sir Galahad – Joan Baez
Joan Baez needs no introduction due to her prolific work. A lot of her work is famous for various topics, but ‘Sweet Sir Galahad’ was a very personal song. It was about the man who courted and married Baez’s sister after her first husband passed in a motorcycle accident. Baez cites the song as her first composition.
That’s How I Eat – The Quill
If you scour the internet for info on ‘That’s How I Eat,’ you’re unlikely to find much info. The unique song comes from the rock band The Quill. The group played extensively throughout the mid-Atlantic states and New England and New York in the late 1960s. They performed the song at Woodstock. The song sounds straightforward and kind of odd with its mechanical descriptions of the process of eating, but it seems to come down to the message of societal commentary of a single line in the song, “I won’t care.”
Related: Check out our foodie-approved playlist of songs about eating.
The “Fish” Cheer / I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag – Country Joe and the Fish
At Woodstock, Country Joe McDonald didn’t hold back as he took the stage and opened the song, asking the audience to declare their protest through direct language. The song he chose to perform at Woodstock is a satire of the US government, directly protesting the Vietnam War. He released the song after he was discharged from the US Navy, having written the song in about 30 minutes.
Related: Find more protest songs on our list of the best war related songs.
Soul Sacrifice – Santana
‘Soul Sacrifice’ is an instrumental piece used as the closing track of Santana’s debut album. The song is an African-Latin rock hybrid using congas and power guitars. The song helped the band form their signature sound, and most folks heard it for the first time at Woodstock when the band took the stage as the third act on day 2 of the festival before releasing their first album with the song on it.
I Had a Dream – John Sebastian
John Sebastian had a dream, a dream of peace. “I had a dream last night; what a lovely dream it was. I dreamed we were alright.” The song uses harp, guitar, and horns, drawing the instruments together in a unique harmonizing theme. It’s no wonder the song was chosen for this protest against the Vietnam War.
Related: What did you dream last night? Here are the best songs about a dream.
Too Much Thinking – Keef Hartley Band
The Keef Hartley Band may not be the first name you think of when you think of late 60s rock and protest music; in fact, you may not have heard of the British drummer and band leader at all. But his song ‘Too Much Thinking’ made it into the setlist at Woodstock. The lyrics help us see why. “Too much thinking, no. If I don’t stop, I’m gonna start sinking. Trying to find myself, but I don’t know where to look ’cause you can’t find yourself by looking at any book.” The protest isn’t as direct in the lyrics as in many of the songs there, but the social commentary is still scathing.
Related: Don’t think too hard! Enjoy our thinking songs list.
When You Find Out Who You Are – The Incredible String Band
The Incredible String Band (ISB) was a British psychedelic folk band with a huge following in the British counterculture. Their ethereal song ‘When You Find Out Who You Are’ was chosen for Woodstock, perhaps because of the lyrics’ message, as the event was a protest celebration. “It’s of a strange and furious time when men did speed to pray along the road of discontent to gods of gold and clay. But when you find out who you are, beautiful beyond your dreams, just look around, and notice where you are.”
Woodstock Boogie – Canned Heat
‘Woodstock Boogie’ begins with an extended guitar solo before jumping into a tight boogie-woogie jam that fans of ZZ Top and Booker T & the MGs will appreciate. Canned Heat’s take on boogie-woogie will get your foot tapping and make you jump and dance. One major thing that separated Canned Heat from its contemporaries is that they were an all-white band that went out of its way to credit the black musicians who inspired its work.
For Yasgur’s Farm – Mountain
Mountain was a hard rock band considered instrumental in the development of metal. Their song ‘Yasgur’s Farm’ has song elements that metal lovers will recognize as foundational to the genre. When Mountain played the song at Woodstock, it had no name. After their performance, Mountain loved the experience so much that they named the untitled song after the event’s location.
St. Stephen – Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead opened their Woodstock setlist with ‘St. Stephen’ on Saturday night into early Sunday morning. The equipment had loads of malfunctions, and the rain and mud helped to dampen the late Jerry Garcia’s impression of their performance that night. But the band did open strongly with the incredible performance of the song, and it continues to be one of the highlights from the festival for many, including Garcia.
Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater Revival
John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) wrote one of the band’s most well-known songs on the day he was discharged from the army: ‘Proud Mary.’ The band performed the song at Woodstock, an oddly well-suited piece to the theme of the peaceful protest nature of the festival. While the song isn’t about the war, the song is heavily linked to the mentality of freedom and a celebration (at least for Fogerty) of being freed from the military.
Related: This song features on our playlist of songs with the name Mary.
My Generation – The Who
Initially leaning heavily into a surf rock sound, ‘My Generation’ was performed by the British rock band The Who. The song became one of their biggest and most recognizable songs, even to this day. They originally released the song in 1965, so by the time they got to Woodstock, everyone knew the song and sang along. The song now had a heavier rock sound than its original iteration, but you can still hear some surf rock vibes in the non-distorted guitar sections.
Related: Hear this song on our list of great 60s hits.
Somebody to Love – Jefferson Airplane
Jefferson Airplane started as a folk-rock project before they helped define psychedelic rock. And the band headlined at Woodstock with their iconic psychedelic folks rock song ‘Somebody to Love.’ They performed the song at around 8 a.m. on Sunday, day two of Woodstock, technically the last set of the long roster for day one. They were headliners for sure, but because the event was so vibrant with such enthusiasm and deep interactions with the audience, everything for the event ran over, thus displacing even the biggest names to later than planned.
Feelin’ Alright? – Joe Cocker
Written by Dave Mason of British rock band Traffic, ‘Feelin’ Alright?’ was part of Joe Cocker’s setlist at Woodstock in 1969. Traffic released the song in 1968, but Cocker included it as his lead-off for his debut album in 1969. The song became his instant hit and remained one of the biggest hits, so it became his featured song at Woodstock.
Ball and Chain – Janis Joplin
One of the few women to headline at Woodstock, Janis Joplin showed up in all her musical glory with ‘Ball and Chain.’ The song was written and originally recorded by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton. The title references prison imagery of the ball and chain of shackles tied to an inmate’s leg to prevent escape. Joplin’s performance of this intensely emotional song helped to solidify her as a soulful musician in her own right.
I’m Going Home – Ten Years After
The British blues rock band Ten Years After was most popular in the late 60s and early 70s, with eight Top 40 albums in the UK and twelve on the US Billboard 200. They’re best known for the song they sang at Woodstock, ‘I’m Going Home.’ The performance was their breakthrough appearance in the USA. The song has a lot of nods to earlier rock classics, like ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and the line “whole lotta shakin’,” both referencing Elvis.
Related: If you’re homesick, listen to these songs about coming back home.
Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever – The Band
Written by Ivy Jo Hunter and Stevie Wonder and originally performed as a Motown classic by the Four Tops, ‘Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever’ made its way into Woodstock’s annals through The Band’s performance. The Band’s take on the song leans far heavier into the rock vibe of the day, but if you listen to the harmonies and backing organ, you can still hear some of the Motown influence in the song.
Related: Enjoy our funky list of the best Motown songs.
Johnny B. Goode – Johnny Winter
Chuck Berry wrote ‘Johnny B. Goode’ as a somewhat autobiographical retelling of his life as a musician. The classic rock song features a rock guitar with energetic lyrics and rhythm making it a popular dance song. And Johnny Winter played the song at Woodstock. He released a studio version of the song that same year on his album Second Winter.
Related: Listen to Chuck Berry’s version on our rock and roll songs playlist.
I Want to Take You Higher – Sly & The Family Stone
‘I Want to Take You Higher’ was performed by Sly & the Family Stone at Woodstock on day two of the festival. This moment in time is considered one of their transcendent performances. They started playing in the wee hours of the morning and played this song at approximately 4 a.m. Despite the crazy hour, the crowds throned and sang along with full energy, doing exactly as the song hoped, in taking everyone ‘higher’ that morning.
You’ve Made Me So Very Happy – Blood, Sweat & Tears
Originally a Motown song by Brenda Holloway, Berry Gordy, Frank Wilson, and Patrice Holloway, ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ was the closing song for the set of Blood, Sweat & Tears at Woodstock. Their album was the number-one album at the time of the opening day of Woodstock. Because of their wild popularity at the time, they were supposed to be top earners from the day (just below Jimi Hendrix), but they never actually got paid and didn’t wind up in the film.
Related: Cheer up with our happy song playlist.
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
When the song was written, Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills, and Nash was dating folk singer July Collins. The song, ‘Suite: Blue Eyes’ came from his relationship with her and the many journals he kept about their life together. The final verse of the song is in Spanish, about Cuba, and was tacked on in a different language because Stills knew it didn’t really fit the rest of the theme of the song, and he felt it was a good way of adding “secret” lyrics that not as many of their typical fans would get.
Related: Here are the best blue eyes songs.
Everything’s Gonna Be Alright – The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
A memorable performance at Woodstock was given by The Butterfield Blues Band, though the group isn’t as well-known as many of the other artists who attended that festival. None of their songs made the official film for the event, but ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ was one of their outtakes from the festival concert. The song title implies the song’s message that life is tough and sometimes scary, but ultimately everything will be okay with a little faith.
At the Hop – Sha Na Na
When you think of Woodstock, you might not immediately think of a doo-wop-style pop song called ‘At the Hop,’ but Sha-Na-Na performed the song at the musical festival. At the time, the band was unknown and mostly did doo-wop songs and 50s covers. They played before Jimi Hendrix on the festival’s final day and playing here helped launch their career into the spotlight.
Star Spangled Banner – Jimi Hendrix
Early in the morning of August 18, 1969—the closing of Woodstock—Jimi Hendrix finally got to play in the legendary festival. He was supposed to have played the night before, but being a rock concert, well, the other groups went long, and Hendrix got bumped. On Monday morning, Hendrix played his splintering rendition of the national anthem, ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’
Related: This song is one of the best songs about peace and love.