Rhino celebrates Woodstock 50th anniversary with 38 CD box set

Limited edition collection documents historic festival across 38 CDs and 432 tracks with 267 previously unreleased

This summer will be the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the defining event of a generation and one of the most iconic moments in popular music history. Despite its enduring cultural significance, no one has ever attempted to document the historic festival as it unfolded in real time. That is precisely what producers Andy Zax and Steve Woolard have done with a new 38 disc, 432-track boxed set that includes a near complete reconstruction of Woodstock across nearly 36 hours, with every artist performance from the festival included in chronological order. The collection boasts 267 previously unreleased audio tracks, totaling nearly 20 hours.

Limited to 1,969 individually numbered copies, Woodstock – Back To The Garden – The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive comes in a screen-printed plywood box with canvas insert inspired by the Woodstock stage set up, designed by Grammy-winning graphic designer Masaki Koike. The set also includes a Blu-ray copy of the Woodstock film, a replica of the original program, a guitar strap, two Woodstock posters, a reprint of a diary written by an attendee during the festival, two 8×10 prints from legendary rock photographer Henry Diltz, and essays by Zax, acclaimed music scribe Jesse Jarnow, and trailblazing rock critic Ellen Sander. Also included is a copy of Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music (Reel Art Press), a comprehensive new hardbound book about the event written by Michael Lang, one of the festival’s co-creators. The collection will be available on August 2nd with pre-orders available via rhino.com/woodstock50, bundled with four exclusive 18×15 lithographs by Dale Saltzman, based on banners that were onsite at the original festival.

Rhino also will release two other collections earlier in the summer on June 28th. Woodstock – Back To The Garden – 50th Anniversary Experience features 162 tracks across ten CDs and is the first Woodstock collection to feature live recordings of every performer at the festival. Woodstock – Back To The Garden – 50th Anniversary Collection includes 42 tracks and will be available as both 3 CD and 5 LP sets. The ten disc version will also be available via digital download.

Between August 15-18, 1969, more than 400,000 people converged on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in upstate New York for Woodstock. Thirty-two acts performed including some of the most popular and influential musicians of the era such as Joan Baez, The Band, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, and The Who.

The concert spawned Michael Wadleigh’s Oscar-winning documentary as well as a pair of soundtrack albums. Together, the film and records have created a popular mythology surrounding Woodstock, one that only paints a partial picture of what actually happened. Back To The Garden, producer Andy Zax writes in the liner notes, is intended to let people hear the festival as it really happened.

The time-consuming challenge of reconstructing the concert audio began with locating the more than 60 multi-track reels recorded by Eddie Kramer and Lee Osborne, as well as the 100 or so soundboard reels recorded by the onstage crew. Sorting through those tapes – some of which had been edited, mislabeled or lost – and then reassembling them properly was a process that, in some cases, took years to complete.

Zax says he, sound producer Brian Kehew and mastering engineer Dave Schultz avoided interfering with the tapes as much as possible in order to preserve their authenticity. “It’s not surprising that other producers’ first reaction to these tapes over the years has been ‘uh-oh,’ immediately followed by ‘we’ve gotta find a way to fix this.’ I’m not unsympathetic to that approach, but if there’s a single overriding lesson that Brian Kehew and I have learned since we began working with the Woodstock tapes in 2005, it’s this: you can’t fix them… That’s less grim than it seems, because once you’ve accepted the idea that there is no way to make these recordings sound slick, you realize that these tapes are the sonic equivalent of heirloom tomatoes – slightly imperfect, but delicious.”

In some cases, however, they needed to take advantage of new technology to perform much-needed restorations that would not have been possible just a few years ago. Zax says, “The only surviving recording of Ravi Shankar’s Woodstock performance…is a mono reel with less than optimal sound. But the breakthrough de-mixing process developed by James Clarke at Abbey Road Studios allowed us to isolate and extract the parts played by each instrument and then create a new stereo mix. Similarly, recent improvements in polyphonic tuning have allowed us to repair previously unfixable horn parts in the Blood, Sweat & Tears performance, allowing it, for the first time, to be heard as originally intended.”

But the Woodstock audio isn’t solely about music: it’s also about the people who were there. Fortunately, the microphones were left on throughout the festival, capturing everything from stagehands discussing lunch and audience members shouting requests for baseball scores, to Max Yasgur’s uplifting address to the audience gathered on his farm.

You can also hear the cavalcade of stage announcements made by stage manager John Morris and lighting director Chip Monck, who were drafted as emcees for the festival because no one hired one. On all three of these new anniversary collections, you can hear them between songs making announcements about everything from lost keys to warnings about “flat blue acid.” The final disc in the 38 disc box serves as an appendix and contains ancillary recordings and a few bits of audio whose placement within the sequence could not be confirmed.

Author: Buddy Iahn

Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites.