Musician says Woodstock changed music - not the world

The music world has changed a lot since Woodstock, said guitarist Leslie West, frontman for the blues/rock group Mountain and veteran of the landmark event.

“I can’t say exactly how,” he said, “but something happened to music. It’s like, you know it when you see it.”

For example, said the Englewood resident, whose band was new when it was booked to play at Woodstock – in fact, he said, it was only their fourth performance – where once rock was only on AM radio, “now there was FM, playing 20-minute tracks. It wasn’t just blasting voices.”

Live music performances changed as well, he said. Before Woodstock, people went to music clubs where they heard only one or two groups. But after the event, “festivals sprang up all over the world with different groups playing at the same time and thousands” in attendance.

Still, he said, while music changed, the world didn’t.

“People thought the world was going to change,” he said, adding that he is “not into politics.” But while the world of music expanded, “people who gave you a peace sign would later go and steal the tires off your car.”

West said he arrived at Woodstock on a rented helicopter. With traffic to the venue so heavy, he noted, he wouldn’t have made it otherwise. Coming from a gig in San Francisco, his group, sharing an agent with the legendary Jimi Hendrix, went on after the Grateful Dead and before Creedence Clearwater, he recalls. He remembers also that while Friday was rainy and muddy, Saturday was beautiful, and he enjoyed watching the other acts perform.

West described the scene as peaceful, noting that “while state troopers were there, they didn’t bother anyone at the festival.”

While the musician has been back to Woodstock over the past 40 years, his next appearance, as part of the Heroes of Woodstock concert in Bethel on Saturday night, will be special.

“I’m going back there to play,” he said. “But right after that, I’m getting married.”

The musician said that while some people “go to Paris or elsewhere” for this romantic event, he and his fiancée Jennie decided that Woodstock/Bethel – replete with a beautiful setting and fond memories – “would be a great place to get married.”

He pointed out that the rebuilt venue is “magnificent, with a monument built next to the actual stage, right next to the original moorings.”

“They spent $30 million on it,” he said.

West, born Weinstein, said his father, who grew up in Borough Park, told stories about wanting to be a cantor.

“I was thrown out of Hebrew school myself,” joked the musician, who grew up in Queens. He noted, however, that he calls his fiancée a “shayna punim,” or pretty face, a Yiddish term of endearment. He was also featured recently in this newspaper as a participant in a concert to benefit a new camp for burn victims in Israel. After learning that burn camps offer children with major burn scars the opportunity to use adaptive musical instruments, he persuaded Dean Guitars – which manufactures his signature guitar – to donate guitars and drums.

For more information about West and his band, visit www.mountainrockband.com

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