Joni Mitchell’s song “Woodstock” commemorated the 1969 music festival, when about 500,000 attendees descended upon Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y., for three days of peace, love and music. Fifty miles from Woodstock, N.Y., the event’s young promoters unwittingly created an unforgettable and once-in-a-lifetime celebration of youthful counterculture and resistance on 600 acres of farmland. Despite the rainy weather, crowds and shortages of supplies, this massive community gathering left its mark on rock ‘n’ roll and set the bar high for future festivals.
“By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong, and everywhere there was song and celebration,” sang Mitchell, who never actually made it to the festival, instead watching televised accounts of the day from her New York hotel room.
If you also missed the legendary event for some reason — if you were too young to pack up your VW for the long trip on the New York State Thruway, for instance, or were not even born yet — you will have a chance to experience some of its celebrated tunes at The Guitar Bar All-Stars’ seventh annual free play-along show at Frank Sinatra Park in Hoboken, July 25. The event will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock with songs that were performed at the event; organizers hope to beat the world record for the largest band.
Led by guitarist James Mastro, the owner of the Hoboken music store Guitar Bar, the band will feature teachers from Guitar Bar and its two sister stores. All attendees are invited to join in with a guitar or a different stringed instrument.
The Guitar Bar posts songs with chords on its Facebook page, for those who want to practice. Event leaders will hold up posters with the names and fingerings of the chords, so even novices can participate.
The group must have more than 953 players to surpass the current record, set by the Beijing Contemporary Music Academy in Tianjin, China, in 2016. Past events in the Hoboken series have usually attracted about 350 to 400.
You will have a chance to play on selections from some of Woodstock’s legendary performers, including Joan Baez’s version of the Rolling Stones song, “No Expectations”; The Who’s version of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”; Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”; Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising”; Canned Heat’s “Going Up the Country”; and Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”
Also, said Mastro, “We’ll be giving out some prizes for the best dressed hippies, so dig out your old bell bottoms and love beads.” He encourages people to join the spectacle because “after this year’s event, we’re going to give it a rest for a year or two.”
In 2013, Mastro planned the first play-along. It took place, coincidentally, the day before Bob Dylan performed in Hoboken.
“We were planning the Dylan tribute night, and it just seemed selfish for us to have all the fun,” he said. “His songs — though lyrically deep — are some of the simplest songs to play.
“So we encouraged people to bring their guitars, and we held up chord charts for them to follow along. One big band, one big party — seeing that many people smiling, singing and playing along, strumming together, not worrying about anything except the next chord change — is what has kept us doing this, the past seven years.”
Creating community through music, Guitar Bar teachers and its owner offer a welcome respite from the current scary news cycle. There’s a benefit to coming together to sing about peace and love and to reconnect with our inner hippie who believes in the power of music to change the world.
The event starts at 7 p.m., though organizers encourage participants to arrive early to register and secure a good seat.
For information, visit facebook.com/guitarbarnj or hobokennj.gov/resources/cultural-affairs.
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