This song is about the famous music festival in 1969. Mitchell was scheduled to perform at the festival, but backed out on the advice of her manager David Geffen, who was concerned that she would miss a scheduled appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young did appear, playing an acoustic set followed by an electric set. They took the stage around 3 a.m. Monday morning - the festival was scheduled to end at midnight, but it ran long, culminating with a legendary Jimi Hendrix set that most people didn't stay to see.
That Tuesday, Mitchell, David Crosby and Stephen Stills all appeared on The Dick Cavett Show. Crosby has said that he and Stills were talking about the festival, and Mitchell wrote the song based on their experience there. Mitchell, however, claimed that she wrote the song before the band returned.
Joni Mitchell watched coverage of the Woodstock festival from a New York City hotel room. She had given up religion long ago, but found herself going through a "born-again Christian trip" when she wrote this song. Said Mitchell: "Suddenly, as performers, we were in the position of having so many people look to us for leadership, and for some unknown reason, I took it seriously and decided I needed a guide and leaned on God. So I was a little 'God mad' at the time, for lack of a better term, and I had been saying to myself, 'Where are the modern miracles?' Woodstock, for some reason, impressed me as being a modern miracle, like a modern-day fishes-and-loaves story. For a herd of people that large to cooperate so well, it was pretty remarkable and there was tremendous optimism. So I wrote the song 'Woodstock' out of these feelings."
Joni Mitchell released this the same year on Ladies of the Canyon. It was also the B-side to her song "Big Yellow Taxi." Her version is much more basic than the CSN&Y release.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's performance at Woodstock was only their second show together. Before forming the band, Crosby had been a member of The Byrds, Nash was with The Hollies, Stills and Young were members of Buffalo Springfield. Neil Young played with the group for only part of the set.
It may seem odd that the most famous song about Woodstock came from someone who wasn't there, but Mitchell had a different perspective. "I was one of the many who were thwarted," she said on the CBC program The National. "That was the place every kid wanted to be. I got to the airport with CSN and our agent, David Geffen, and our manager, Elliott, on a Sunday night. It was a catastrophe. I had to do The Dick Cavett Show the following day, and it was Geffen who decided we can't get Joni out in time. So he took me back to his suite where he lived, and we watched it on TV. I was the deprived kid who couldn't go, so I wrote it from the point of view of a kid going. If I had been there in the back room with all the egomaniacal crap that goes on backstage, I would not have had that perspective."
Without Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash returned to play Woodstock '94. Other acts that played both festivals include Joe Cocker, The Band, and Santana.
Neil Young is not seen in the Woodstock movie even though he was there for part of the set. He strongly disagreed with the idea of the movie, so he declined to appear in it. If he were to play any songs in the movie, he'd have to be cropped out of frame.
Jeff - Kendall Park, NJ
The opening lyrics are a reference to the book of Matthew in which it says, "Blessed are those who try to make peace for they will be called children of God."
Mike - New London, NH
In the UK the best known version is the more country-rock flavored recording by Matthews' Southern Comfort, which topped the British singles and peaked at #23 in the US. Ian Matthews had been the lead singer with Fairport Convention, leaving in 1969 to form Matthews' Southern Comfort. He recalled in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner & Spencer Leigh: "I had bought Joni Mitchell's album and we had to do four songs on a BBC lunchtime show. We worked up an arrangement for 'Woodstock' and the response was so good that we put it out as a single. Crosby, Stills & Nash's record had just come out and so we waited to see what happened to that first." In 1978 Matthews had a #13 hit in the US as a solo artist with "Shake It."
Joni Mitchell's no-show at Woodstock was sometimes reported as being caused by "transportation problems." A persistent rumor was that James Taylor was supposed to give her a lift up the New York Thruway from her hotel in New York City, but Taylor was in a bad motorcycle accident on Martha's Vineyard, breaking both arms and keeping him out from behind the wheel and away from the guitar for months. That was it for Joni's trip to Woodstock.
Joel - Toms River, NJ
In September 1969, Stephen Stills was invited to a Jimi Hendrix session at the Record Plant in New York. Stills burst into the session with a song Joni Mitchell had recently composed, titled "Woodstock." Joined by Hendrix and Buddy Miles, the trio laid down the tune months before Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released their popular rendition. The Hendrix, Stills and Miles version can be heard on Both Sides of the Sky, a 2018 compilation of previously unheard Hendrix material.
"Woodstock" is included on the 1974 CSN&Y compilation album So Far, which sold over 6 million copies. The cover art is a painting by... you guessed it, Joni Mitchell.