Inside Creedence Clearwater Revival’s disastrous Woodstock show

In the era of the hippy movement, Creedence Clearwater Revival felt like a band for everybody. Whether it was people into roots music, hippies wanting to start the revolution, or casual fans listening at home, nearly anyone could relate to the rustic sounds of John Fogerty playing the guitar and hollering out songs like ‘Proud Mary’. When CCR finally descended onto the Woodstock festival, it was a vastly different story than they expected.

Then again, Woodstock had been mythologised well before CCR even got onstage. Taking place in a field in the rural side of New York, some of the biggest acts in the world played sets that completely reshaped the rock world, like Jimi Hendrix delivering his now-iconic version of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. Once Fogerty reached the festival grounds, their set time wasn’t exactly optimal.

As soon as they got up to perform, Fogerty recalled getting little to no energy from the crowd, having to go onstage at three in the morning after a night of fans getting blitzed on every substance known to man. Fogerty remembered the whole thing feeling dead when he hit the stage, explaining, “We were ready to rock out, and we waited and waited, and finally it was our turn … there were a half million people asleep. These people were out. It was like a painting of a Dante scene, just bodies from hell, all intertwined and asleep, covered with mud.”

Even when kicking into songs like ‘Born on the Bayou’, Fogerty played his heart out to people in front who would have gladly listened to dead silence while they tried to sleep. As Fogerty staggered through the first part of the set, he would later say that one fan helped turn everything around, recalling, “A quarter mile away in the darkness, on the other edge of this bowl, there was some guy flicking his Bic lighter, and in the night I hear, ‘Don’t worry about it, John. We’re with you.’ I played the rest of the show for that guy.”

Although not everyone was thrilled with what they heard from CCR that day, that didn’t stop their momentum from rising one day at a time. From one album to the next, Fogerty played the kind of songs anyone could relate to, basking in the simple pleasures of life on songs like ‘Lookin’ Out My Back Door’.

Despite his penchant for writing universal melodies, the hippies also found an ally in Fogerty on tracks like ‘Fortunate Son’. Instead of the proud flag-waving Americans that seemed to be all for the Vietnam War, Fogerty was standing with his fellow rockers about not wanting to fight an unjust war.

In the years since the band’s performance, that day would become paramount in shaping the next generation of rock and rollers. Although they represented California for most of their career, Fogerty’s gruff delivery also strongly influenced the southern rock that came afterwards, leaving its mark on the sounds of acts like Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Though Creedence weren’t bound to stick around for too much longer, their inclusion among the Woodstock originals has etched them into rock and roll history.

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