Celebrating the Women of Woodstock

woodstock

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are highlighting stories from the Women of Woodstock.

From Nancy Nevins’ amazing recovery to Grace Slick’s Woodstock wakeup call.

A VOICE ALMOST LOST

Sweetwater frontwoman Nancy “Nansi” Nevins’ unique vocal stylings perfectly captured “'60s Psychedelic Sound.”  However, her voice was almost lost forever in a tragic accident. On December 8, 1969, months after her Woodstock performance, Nevins’ vehicle was struck by a drunk driver on a California freeway. She sustained a brain injury that left her in a coma for ten days. One of her vocal chords was also damaged during a life-saving tracheotomy. Despite her injury, she continues to sing since her recovery, saying in an interview, “I will never sing in that early voice again. Don’t worry. I have another voice today.” Nevins has since become a Professor of English, teaching at various colleges across California.

PLAYING ALONGSIDE RAVI

Maya Kulkarni Chadda was a regular attendee at Bhulabhai Desai Institute in Mumbai; she helped choreograph a production where Ravi Shankar played sitar. The two would form a strong bond, leading to an unforgettable performance together later on. At the time of the performance, Chadda was a 22-year-old post-grad student living in the U.S. She had received a telephone call after Shankar’s original Tamboura player had fallen ill, and she was set to be his last minute replacement. Chadda joined Shankar and his Tabla player onstage. The trio played through the night, even as torrents of rain began to fall. Chadda currently lives in the U.S and works as a professor at William Patterson University in New Jersey. She still amuses her students with stories from Woodstock.

A NEW FACE

The rain continued on through the Woodstock festival’s first night. 22-year-old Melanie Safka approached the stage with just her acoustic guitar for accompaniment, one of only three artists at the festival to do so. She was relatively unknown in the U.S, having a few hit singles in Europe at the time. Her unscheduled performance was the result of a deal between the co-founder of her record label and festival organizer Artie Kornfeld. The immense crowd of Woodstock was a huge change from the small Greenwich Village folk clubs she’d grown used to performing in. Her performance was characterized by simple, heartfelt lyrics and a sweet, childlike vibrato. By the end of her performance, the crowd definitely knew her name. Her performance would serve as inspiration for her 1970 breakthrough hit “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)", recounting the energy she felt from the crowd and the sea of candlelight she saw from the hill. In 1989, she won an Emmy for composing the theme song lyrics for the CBS series Beauty and the Beast. Safka has continued to perform at clubs and major festivals across Europe.

A FITTING END TO THE FIRST NIGHT

The Woodstock festival’s first day was coming to an end. Announcer John Morris called “the fabulous lady” Joan Baez to the stage. She had come a long way from her performance Newport Folk Festival when she was 18, establishing herself as folk royalty. She played a variety of popular folk songs, like the traditional hymn “Oh Happy Day” and Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” Later, she decided to try one of her originals on the crowd. It was one of the first songs she wrote. It concerned the courtship between her sister Mimi Fariña and Milan Melvin. “It’s the only song that I’ve ever written that I’d sing anywhere outside of the bathtub. ‘Cause I’m just smart enough to know that my writing is very mediocre,” she told the crowd bashfully. There was nothing mediocre about what followed. Baez sung straight from the heart and wove a beautiful story of young love before the audience at Woodstock. It has since become one of her most popular compositions. Joan Baez has continued to perform and has been a constant activist and promoter of peace. In 2013, she performed at Bethel Woods. She was accompanied by her son, Gabe who she was pregnant with during her Woodstock performance. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.
 

FROM MUSICIAN TO MAYORESS

Rose Simpson joined the Incredible String Band in 1968 as a vocalist, percussionist, violinist, and bass guitarist. Simpson, along with her group, performed on Saturday evening at Woodstock between The Keef Hartley Band and Canned Heat. Their 40-minute set combined Old World mysticism, mellow vocals, and a hippie flair. Their closing song, “When You Find Out Who You Are,” resonated with the young people in attendance. Simpson left the Incredible String Band in 1971, never returning to music professionally. However, she wasn’t totally out of the public eye. In 1994, she married Bob Griffin, Mayor of the town of Aberystwyth, Wales. This gave her the honorary title of “Lady Mayoress.” She holds a PhD in German Literature from the University of Aberystwyth. In 2020, she published a book detailing her time spent with the Incredible String Band, Muse, Odalisque, Handmaiden.

A PEARL IN THE ROUGH

Pearls only have a 1 in 10,000 chance of occurring naturally. Much like the object of her nickname, Janis Joplin was exceedingly rare. Born and raised in southeast Texas, Joplin was the ultimate outsider.  “There was nobody like me. It was lonely, those feelings welling up and nobody to talk to. I was just ‘silly crazy Janis.’” After traveling between her home state and the California Bay Area in the early '60s, Joplin was called back to San Francisco to front Big Brother & the Holding Company. They released two albums, with 1968’s Cheap Thrills establishing Joplin and her bandmates as major stars. She would later part ways with them, making her way as a solo artist. Joplin had been one of the most anticipated acts at Woodstock. At 2 AM, she finally made it to the stage after a nearly 10-hour wait. Joplin gave it her all, performing covers and yet-to-be released material from her upcoming album. She frequently engaged with the crowd, shouting out, "How are you out there? You staying stoned? You got enough water and you got a place to sleep and everything?” She concluded her performance with a cover of Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain.” Over a year later, Joplin’s turbulent and promising career ended as the result of an accidental heroin overdose. In her will, Joplin specified that $2,500 (more than $18,000 today) be set aside to throw a party in her honor. Her final album, Pearl, was released posthumously in 1971. Joplin has gone on to inspire a variety of artists, including Florence Welch of Florence & the Machine, Stevie Nicks, Alanis Morissette, and Pink.

A FAMILY AFFAIR

Sly & The Family Stone’s first number one single was “Everyday People,” a song that served as a plea for equality and peace between people of all backgrounds. This is exactly what the group embodied. They were one of the first bands to include a racially-integrated male and female lineup. The group featured keyboardist and vocalist Rose Stone, and trumpeter and founding member Cynthia Robinson. Robinson didn’t start playing the trumpet until she was in high school. Originally, she played the flute, but there weren’t any available at her school. She overheard a classmate playing the trumpet and decided to give the instrument a try. “Everything I blew was off-key, but I knew could sound good if you worked at it, and that’s what I wanted to do,” she said in an interview with Rookie Magazine. She continued to play alongside Sly even after the group’s disbandment in 1975. Sly’s sister Rose was one of the last members to join the group. Before that, she belonged to a gospel group with her siblings called “The Stewart Four.” Both women were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside their bandmates. Rose Stone has since collaborated with artists such as Michael Jackson, Phish, Elton John, and Ringo Starr. Cynthia Robinson performed with The Family Stone until her death in 2015.

SOARING WITH AIRPLANES AND STARSHIPS

Grace Slick was no stranger to the San Francisco Psychedelic Rock Scene. In 1965, she fronted a group called The Great Society. A year later, she boarded Jefferson Airplane as their new lead singer. Slick and her bandmates enjoyed great success with the release of Surrealistic Pillow in 1967, which included two of their biggest hits “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” The group gave the audience at Woodstock an unforgettable wakeup call as the sun rose on Sunday morning. “My friends, you have seen the heavy groups now you will see ‘morning maniac music,’’ announced Slick. Slick would go on to form the group Jefferson Starship after the breakup of Jefferson Airplane. Later, she would be a part of the band Starship, which produced pop-oriented hits like “We Built This City” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” Slick retired from the music business in 1989. In 1998, she released a memoir entitled Somebody to Love? A Rock-and-Roll Memoir. Slick has since turned to creating visual art. Her creations range from portraits of '60s rock icons to Psychedelic Alice in Wonderland-inspired paintings.