By David Ball
The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” was the No. 1 Billboard hit on August 13, 1966. Co-written by Steve Boone and Mark Sebastian (brother of John, the folk rock quartet’s lead singer), the track is the New York quartet’s only No. 1 single and one of their last kicks at the charts with original member, Zal Yanovsky. The talented Toronto-born guitarist left the band he co-founded with John Sebastian after a marijuana-related charge in 1967. Fearing deportation, Yanovsky cut a deal with police by providing his dealer’s name, thus becoming a pariah in the music community.
Who cares?! After leaving the music business in 1971, Yanovsky returned to Canada and became a successful restaurateur with second wife, the late Rose Richardson, in Kingston, Ontario. And for those that have had the pleasure of visiting Yanovsky’s landmarks, Chez Piggy and Pan Chencho, I’m sure you’ll all agree that rock’s loss equals our stomachs’ gain. The immensely popular restaurants in lovely downtown Kingston are tourist attractions and have been celebrated by foodies ever since opening in 1979 and 1994, respectively. Sadly, Yanovski died in 2002 of congestive heart failure. In a touching tribute, former band mate John Sebastian travelled to the Limestone City to perform at his funeral.
Scores of Canadians joined 500,000 fellow music fans that made the pilgrimage to Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York for the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which commenced on August 15, 1969. Thirty-two acts performed at the revolutionary three day festival, headlined by the likes of The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Sly & the Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and, to the chagrin of everyone in attendance, Sha Na Na (I bet smart festival goers used the latter’s set of excruciatingly dated fish-out-of-water ‘50s covers for a well-needed bathroom/beer-break – some may have even found solace in taking the infamous noxious brown acid).
Put this in the category: I guess you had to be there…
Although the Woodstock lineup was dominated by mostly big international acts, a handful of Canadians acquitted themselves quite well, even though two of our hottest exports at the time declined their invitations: Lighthouse and Joni Mitchell (the JUNO-winning folksinger skipped the fest because her manager wanted her to honour a prior commitment to appear on the Dick Cavett Show). At least the event inspired Mitchell to compose “Woodstock,” one of her most famous – and covered – songs. The tune went on to be a ginormous hit for Day Three (August 17) participants, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as the supergroup’s single was featured prominently in the 1970 “Woodstock” film and subsequent platinum-selling soundtrack.
Back to the above byline:
From all reports, Toronto-based purveyors of Americana, The Band, were one of the highlights of Day Three. Unfortunately, due to legal complications, none of the CMHF members’ killer 50-minute set was included in the original “Woodstock” documentary or album.
Also putting on a great Day Three set was Blood, Sweat & Tears, led by their raspy-voiced singer and CMHF inductee, David Clayton-Thomas. However, none of the jazz-rock icon’s hour-long performance made it on the original Woodstock doc and album either. Same can be said about the contributions of another Canuck star at the festival, Neil Young. The guitarist skipped most of CSNY’s Day Three acoustic set and refused to be filmed during the quartet’s electric portion; the CMHF inductee and multiple JUNO winner is also uncredited in the film.
Fortunately, there is one Canadian musician at Woodstock that can be seen and heard in the original doc and album: Stratford, Ontario’s John Till was hired to play guitar for Janis Joplin’s Kozmic Blues Band just a few weeks before their celebrated Woodstock gig.
In an August 1, 2009 Toronto Star feature, Till didn’t think his new band played particularly well: “We went on two hours after we were supposed to; I don’t think we had as much energy as we would’ve at the scheduled time. But it was a job. You just do the best you can.” But since it was also very late when they came on, Till didn’t blame his perceived subpar performance on being nervous since it was far too dark to see the oceans of people. They sounded pretty good to me!
The opening of Canada’s long-running Mariposa Folk Festival took place in Orillia, Ontario, at the town’s medieval-themed stage at Oval Park, on August 18, 1961. Over 2,000 fans attended the two-day event and enjoyed the folk stylings of some of the genre’s brightest talents including Ian & Sylvia, The Travellers , Bonnie Dobson, fiddler Al Cherny, Alan Mills and Jacques Labreque. The festival got its name after local broadcaster and town councillor, Pete McGarvey, suggested “Mariposa” in honour of Stephen Leacock’s fictional name for Orillia in his novella, “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.”
Get this: according to a story on Mariposa’s official website, proud Orillia-born folk sensation, Gordon Lightfoot, was deemed to be “not of high enough calibre” to take part at his festival. Gordo and then-partner, Terry Whelan, were told that they sounded “too much like the Everly Brothers”. Are you kidding me?! And even if that were true, why would it be considered a bad thing to sound like two of rock’s earliest and most important innovators?
Because of repeated fan violence, the festival moved to Toronto in 1964 and didn’t return to Orillia until the summer of 2000 (with Gordon Lightfoot as main headliner). Wait a second! Fan violence rocking a sleepy folk fest?! Coooooooool!!!! Anyway, for the past 12 years, Mariposa has flourished since its return to the Ontario city, located between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching.
Next week: The Mothers of Invention and Tom Cochrane
“Try” by Janice Joplin and Kozmic Blues Band, live at Woodstock, August 1969