"Woodstock" is a counterculture anthem about the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Festival.
Joni Mitchell wrote the song from what she had heard from then-boyfriend, Graham Nash, about the festival. She had not been there herself, since she was told by a manager that it would be more advantageous for her to appear on The Dick Cavett Show. She wrote this song in a hotel room in New York City, watching televised reports of the festival. "The deprivation of not being able to go provided me with an intense angle on Woodstock," she told an interviewer shortly after the event. It was later released on her third album, Ladies of the Canyon in 1970, on her Shadows and Light album, and again in 1996 on her Hits album.
Mitchell's original version featured a stark and haunting arrangement - solo vocal, multi-tracked backing vocals and tremoloed Wurlitzer electric piano, all performed by Mitchell herself. All subsequent recordings featured a fuller backing band sound.
Prior to release on any album, Mitchell performed "Woodstock" at the 1969 Big Sur Folk Festival, one month after Woodstock. The solo performance can be seen in the festival concert film Celebration at Big Sur (released in 1971). The performance was an exception to Mitchell's mounting distaste for large festival gigs.
The song later went on to be hits for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Matthews Southern Comfort, the latter reaching #1 on the UK singles chart for three weeks in October 1970, and the former reaching #11 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Assembled Multitude's 1970 instrumental version reached #79 in the US. David Crosby, in an interview in the documentary Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind, said that Mitchell had captured the feeling and importance of the Woodstock festival better than anyone who had been there. Led Zeppelin incorporated Woodstock's lyrics and structure into live renditions of Jake Holmes' song "Dazed and Confused" between 1973 and 1975. In 1997 James Taylor performed "Woodstock" live at the 12th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
**Original recording is tuned just flat of standard tuning **