Sunday, August 3, 2008

Joni Mitchell and the Man on the Moon

When the temperature fell to 40 below zero, and stayed there, and the snow was 4 feet deep, I decided I'd had enough of Superior, Wisconsin so I headed back to Boston in January 1969 to try to get into school there. And try to dodge the draft until I became a full-time student again. I spent the summer back home.

I grew up on the beaches just north of Cape Cod, in a town whose population tripled in the summer. When I saw the first ad for the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival and the line up of bands, I knew this was something I must not miss. Two friends and I got parental permission and car priviledges to drive to this festival in upstate New York in August, so we sent for tickets and received three tickets for all three days. Each three day ticket was $18. and I still have mine because nobody was collecting them by the time we got there.

Before that, though, I went to two July concerts at a nearby summer theatre called the South Shore Music Circus where I'd been taken many times to see musicals with my family. These theatres were open only during the three summer months and were called the 'Straw Hat Circuit' and were everywhere in the East back then to bring Broadway quality shows to us suburbians. By the late '60's they were offering rock, jazz and folk concerts on Sundays when the theatres normally were dark between shows.

On July 13, 1969, I saw Arlo Guthrie there, as he was on tour promoting, not only his own music, but the upcoming release of Arthur Penn's film of Alice's Restaurant. I thought, what better way to prepare for the movie than to see this concert, plus, I liked his music. Alice's Restaurant was Arthur Penn's first film after Bonnie and Clyde and that movie had completely blown my mind when it first came out and I was a senior in high school. So, I was highly anticipating Alice's Restaurant, which, unfortunately turned out to be kind of a mess of a movie and a good lesson in over-high expectations.

The concert was good, but paled in comparison to what I saw the following Sunday, July 20, 1969, in the same theatre, which was a seminal event in my life with music, not to mention a seminal moment in the history of the human race.

Friends I worked with that summer said I should come to this concert by a great new folk singer who had written "Both Sides Now" which was on the Judy Collins Wildflowers album everybody loved. I went 'cold' to see Joni Mitchell, knowing only that one song and the Tom Rush version of "Urge For Going", one of my favorite songs in 1966.

We sat in the third row and I saw what can only be described as the perfect performance. The most perfect match up of artist and material I had ever seen. I remember every song and every feeling I had that evening in that tent in Cohasset, Massachusetts. She sang "Chelsea Morning", "Nights in the City", "Both Sides Now", "For Free", "That Song About the Midway", she blended "Marcie" into "Nathan La Franeer" and did the same with "Rainy Night House" and "Blue Boy" and so much more. She even apologized when she sat at the grand piano saying she'd only been playing that instrument for six months publicly and to forgive her any mistakes. I was 18 and feeling that life was spread out like a banquet before me. The possibilities seemed endless.

Oh, and I need to mention, this was also the day that Neil Armtrong became the first human being to step foot on the moon. After leaving the concert and having dinner in Boston's Chinatown, we convened at some parent's house to watch the history-making "first step" live on television, as Joni Mitchell's music rang in the back of my head. These things you just don't forget!

And then on the morning of Friday, August 15, I set off for Woodstock with two friends and my introduction to live music was complete. Four days later I turned 19 and life was never the same again.


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