Souljam, B-Flat, Aravind from Bengaluru, Dr John, Marie and Nandu Leo are some of the bands and musicians performing for the concert to be held in South Park on Sunday at 7 pm.

Kerala to celebrate 50 years of Woodstock with a concert in Thiruvananthapuram
news Music Sunday, August 25, 2019 - 17:59

It was summer and raining in August 1969 in southwest Woodstock, a New York county. Tens of thousands of people gathered around a hastily built stage on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm. By 5 in the evening, American singer-songwriter Richie Havens got on stage with his guitar to begin the first act of the Woodstock Festival, a landmark event that would be celebrated across the world in the days to come. Thirty-two music acts were performed over four days —  August 15 to 18 —  as 400,000 people came to attend the festival of peace and music.

Michael Lang, one of the four organisers of the original festival, has been making efforts since five years ago to celebrate the 50th anniversary this year. But on July 31 this year, it was announced that the plan was cancelled. Miles away in Kerala, however, music lovers who first welcomed rock and roll into their midst in the 1970s and 80s, decided to put together an event in Thiruvananthapuram, to be held on Sunday evening.

“We are a few music lovers who got together five years ago, to organise some concerts playing the old rock and roll. It came to be called Hard Day's Night. Every two months, we put together some musicians in Thiruvananthapuram for our love of rock music. We figured we could plan one to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Woodstock,” says Tommy Cherian, one of the organisers. With him are his mates Dr Anil Kurup and Baiju Ninan.

Rock music evolved in Kerala in the early 70s with the band Elite Aces, comprising the Isaacs brothers in Kochi. Rex Isaacs writes on Facebook about his brother Antony Isaacs: “Although we are brothers who had our initial exposure to music through liturgical music under the watchful eyes of our Dad, our concept and perception of music had undergone a great change as we crossed the teens. The fact that I sat through that film on Woodstock only once and that too with great difficulty, and that Antony watched it repeatedly all through the 12 days it played at Shenoy’s (Theatre) shows how our tastes in and thoughts about music differ.”

Then came the Highjackers, and then the 13 AD, all in Kochi. After that, rock bands popped up in different parts of Kerala – 23 Knights in Palakkad, Axe Wagon in Kozhikode, The Gypsies and IX Hours in Thiruvananthapuram.

Woodstock 50 in Thiruvananthapuram

Souljam, B-Flat, Aravind from Bengaluru, Dr John, Marie and Nandu Leo are some of the bands and musicians performing at the event, to be held in South Park, Thiruvananthapuram, on Sunday at 7 pm. It would begin with a little speech from the city MP Shashi Tharoor. 

In 1969 too there was a speech. Max Yasgur, the dairy farm owner in New York who lent his 15 acres of land for the fest, told the mostly-young crowd, “This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place. The important thing that you are proving to the world is that a half a million kids — and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are — get together and have three days of fun and music. And have nothing but fun and music.” It would seem as a reply in advance to all the negative reporting the media would give in the first days of the festival that highlighted the traffic trouble it caused, the ‘hippies mired in a sea of mud’ and so on. Towards the end of the festival, however, good stories came about the festival-goers, about the ‘counterculture generation’ (an anti-establishment phenomenon of the 1960s and 70s that grew with the Vietnam War).

Shashi Tharoor would narrate some of the history in his speech, reckons Tommy. “There’d be an hour of Woodstock music – when musicians would sing songs performed in the 1969 festival. Songs of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, someone will sing the anti-war song Hey Joe, there will be a rendition of Joe Cocker’s version of The Beatles song With A Little Help From My Friends and so on,” Tommy says.

Hey Joe was a song from Jimi Hendrix’s band The Experience, who was also the last performer of the 1969 concert on the morning of August 18.

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