Passing on Woodstock: Who and Why?

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Performers & Bands That Missed Woodstock 1969

Some bands who passed on Woodstock simply did not think that a concert at a dairy farm was destined to be a huge deal, some had better things to do, some simply did not like hippies, and some hated being outdoors. Here is a list of some of the acts that kindly told Woodstock festival promoters to hit the road, jack.

The Beatles promoters contacted John Lennon to discuss a Beatles performance at Woodstock. Lennon said that the Beatles would not play unless there was also a spot at the festival for Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band. He was turned down.

A more likely story came out when Artie Kornfeld met John Lennon. Lennon expressed that he wanted to play Woodstock, but was in Canada and having a hard time getting back in the country at the hands of Richard Nixon.

Led Zeppelin was asked to perform, but manager Peter Grant decided that they would be just another band at the festival and launched a hugely successful summer tour. On the weekend of Woodstock, Zeppelin played the Asbury Park Convention Hall in New Jersey just south of the festival.

The Doors sat the Woodstock festival out with speculation pointing to Jim Morrison’s dislike of performing outdoors. Drummer John Densmore did appear at the festival, however. He can be seen on the side stage during Joe Cocker’s set.

Bob Dylan was in the middle of negotiations for the upcoming festival but backed out when his son fell ill. He was also quite unimpressed with the increasing number of hippies accumulating outside of his house near the originally planned site of the festival. Dylan went on to perform at the Isle of Wright Festival two weeks later.

Procol Harum were invited but declined because the festival was happening at the end of a long tour and the impending birth of band member Robin Trower’s child.

The Moody Blues were included on the original Wallkill poster as performers, but decided to back out after being booked in Paris the same weekend.


Jethro Tull passed on the event after Ian Anderson was quoted as saying that he “didn’t want to spend [his] weekend in a field of unwashed hippies”. Another theory is the belief that the large festival may have killed their career before it began.

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, according to the Class of the 20th Century U.S. television special, is quoted as saying “A lot of mud at Woodstock…We were invited to play there, we turned it down.’

Tommy James and the Shondells declined the invitation, Tommy James would later say “We could have just kicked ourselves. We were in Hawaii, and my secretary called and said, ‘Yeah, listen, there’s this pig farmer in upstate New York that wants you to play in his field.’ That’ s how it was put to me. So we passed.”. (Linear notes to “.Tommy James and the Shondells: Anthology”).

Arthur Lee and Love declined the invitation, but Mojo Magazine later described inner turmoil within the band which caused their absence at the Woodstock festival.

Free was asked to perform and declined.

Spirit declined and instead launched a promotional tour.

Mind Garage declined because they thought the festival would be no huge deal and they had a higher paying gig elsewhere.

Almost There…

Other bands missed the opportunity to miss the largest festival in music history due to declining the invitation, and the split between regret and no remorse is scaled toward most bands believing that they made the correct decision. The bands who really got the shaft are the ones who were scheduled to be part of history, and simply missed the bus so to speak when it came time for the Woodstock concert to begin.

The Jeff Beck Group were booked to perform at An Aquarian Exposition, but broke up a week before the festival.

Joni Mitchell was recommended by her agent to appear on the Dick Cavett show rather than at the Woodstock festival. It is also believed that Mitchell was discouraged from performing at another festival after a particularly nasty crowd at the Atlantic City Pop Festival who actually made her cry.

Iron Butterfly ended up stranded at the airport and were kindly told where to stick it when they demanded helicopters and other special arrangements to aid them in attending the concert.

Lighthouse the Canadian band was booked to play, but backed out for fear that Woodstock would be a bad scene.