Woodstock Performers: Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young)

Updated on July 23, 2019
Kaili Bisson profile image

Rockin’ before she could walk, a vinyl hound who can’t remember a thing because the words to all songs from 1960-2018 are stuck in her head.

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Although they had all previously been members in successful bands, Crosby, Stills & Nash were just getting their start as a unit. Woodstock was only their second gig, and their first with Neil Young.

This series of articles—32 in all—covers each of the artists who performed at the original Woodstock festival August 15-18, 1969. Johnny Winter appeared before CSN&Y and was the first artist to appear onstage on what was now Day 4 of the festival. Paul Butterfield Blues Band would appear right after CSN&Y.

Crosby, Stills & Nash...and Young

David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young. All superbly talented musicians, singers and songwriters. Their coming together as one of the first supergroups set the music world abuzz.

Crosby had joined The Byrds in 1964, and was eventually fired from the band in October 1967 after a great run that saw him involved in The Byrds' hugely successful early projects, including the albums Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! Stephen Stills and Neil Young had met in Thunder Bay, Ontario in 1964 when both were struggling musicians. Through a couple of odd twists in the road, the two were reunited in Los Angeles in 1965, and formed a band called Buffalo Springfield. Graham Nash was no slouch either. In December 1962, he co-founded The Hollies, and was with them for six years, during which time they generated countless hits, including "Bus Stop," "On a Carousel," "Carrie Anne" and "Stop! Stop! Stop!"

Stills and Crosby were both at loose ends when, in July 1968, they were introduced to Nash at a party at Joni Mitchell's home in Los Angeles. When the three sang the Stills tune “You Don’t Have To Cry” together, their voices almost effortlessly fell into those beautiful harmonies they would become known for. They resolved then and there to start a band.

This is the second time we've ever played in front of people, man. We're scared sh**less.

— Stephen Stills to the crowd at Woodstock

CS&N Opening With "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"

Crosby, Stills and Nash's Woodstock

The video above of the guys performing "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" is from from the movie "Long Time Comin'" and unfortunately the end of the song is cut off. This is the song they opened with at Woodstock, which was fitting in that it was also song one on their debut album.

CS&N started their set at 3:30 a.m. Too bad for the folks who had left the festival site Sunday evening, as they missed out on some of the best music of the entire festival, Crosby, Stills and Nash's set included. Anyone who had heard the group's debut album was eager to hear these guys live, and they didn't disappoint. They began their acoustic segment of the set seated on stools, in the center of the stage. After Stills' "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," which the crowd connected with right away, came a lovely cover of the Beatles' "Blackbird," a song that suited their vocal harmonies perfectly.

They followed that up with another song penned by Stills. “Helplessly Hoping,” which was released as the B-side of the single "Marrakesh Express." Stills turned the mic over to Crosby and Nash at this point, for the beautiful and haunting “Guinnevere.” Nash’s “Marrakesh Express” was the next tune up, with Stills playing the maracas. The crowd roared their approval, familiar as they were with this catchy Top 30 tune. The first part of the show ended with Stills’ “4+20,” which would appear on their second album, Déjà Vu.

Nash then announced that they had something special in store—Stills and his former bandmate from Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, were reunited onstage. Young had literally just joined the group, and this was his very first appearance with them. The vast majority of the folks in the crowd were unaware of this latest development, and the reaction was wild! Stills and Young hammered the crowd with a version of Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul,” with Stills playing lead and Young covering rhythm. They followed that up with Young's “Wonderin’.” Neil actually recorded this tune for After the Goldrush, but it didn't appear on an LP until 1983's Everybody's Rockin'. Their acoustic set ended with Stills’ “You Don’t Have To Cry” from the CS&N debut LP, with the four of them singing in harmony.

CS&N Performing "Marrakesh Express" and "Blackbird" at Woodstock

Then came their electric set, and the foursome was joined onstage by Greg Reeves on bass and Dallas Taylor on drums. They started the set with Nash’s “Pre-Road Downs,” a song from the CS&N album. There was a lot of energy on that stage, especially considering the hour, and the guys were clearly having fun. They followed that with Crosby’s “Long Time Gone,” a studio version of which ended up in the 1970 Woodstock film. Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird” followed that, leading up to Young's “Sea Of Madness.” The electric set ended on a superbly high note, with a version of the Crosby/Stills/Paul Kantner tune “Wooden Ships.” This version blew the doors off the one performed by the Airplane the previous morning.

For their two encore numbers, they returned to their acoustic format with “Find The Cost Of Freedom,” which would ultimately appear on CSN&Y's third album So Far, and was released as the B-side of "Ohio" in 1970. As the clock ticked toward 5:00 a.m., they closed their set with “49 Bye-Byes” from the first album.

CSN&Y Performing "Long Time Gone" at Woodstock

Life After Woodstock

These guys were a huge hit at Woodstock. So why were these veterans so nervous about their appearance there? Because everyone in the business was gathered backstage to watch their set. Everyone wanted to see this new supergroup. "Everyone" included folks like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Janis Joplin, Paul Kantner, and Grace Slick, along with record execs and numerous hangers-on.

These guys had a great run after Woodstock. The debut album CS&N went on to win the Best New Artist Grammy in 1970. Their first album with Young, 1970's Deja Vu, peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 chart, generated three top-40 singles and has been certified 7X Platinum. Their second album as a foursome was a live effort called 4 Way Street. Released in April 1971, it also reached the #1 spot. CSN&Y followed that up with 1974's So Far, their first compilation album. That one achieved sales second only to their debut, and is now certified 6X Platinum.

Other albums released as solo efforts, as CS&N or as CSN&Y have all had varying degrees of commercial success. Neil Young's original agreement with CS&N in 1969 stated that he could continue to record as a solo artist. His 1970 release After the Goldrush reached the #8 spot on the US album chart and was certified 2X Platinum. This album includes the song "Southern Man," one of the two songs by Young that prompted Lynyrd Skynyrd to write the song "Sweet Home Alabama." The others also released solo efforts in 1970/71. Stephen Stills' self-titled debut solo album generated the hit "Love the One You're With." Crosby's solo debut "If I Could Only Remember My Name" featured a number of musical guests, including Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia, Grace Slick and Jorma Kaukonen. Graham Nash's "Songs For Beginners" included the song "Chicago," which reached the #35 spot on the Billboard singles chart.

Their tumultuous interpersonal relationships and the usual excesses of the times all contributed to CSN&Y breaking up and reforming in one configuration or another a few times over the years. All four of these wonderful musicians have continued to write, record and perform. Stephen Stills and his former lover Judy Collins (and the subject of the greatest breakup song ever, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes") recorded an album together in 2017 and toured extensively through 2017 and into 2018. Neil Young has numerous dates confirmed through the summer of 2019, including a date he co-headlines with Bob Dylan in London's Hyde Park. David Crosby likewise has numerous concerts confirmed through 2019. Graham Nash—who celebrated his 77th birthday on February 2, 2019—also has a number of appearances confirmed through 2019, including an October date at the Bethel Woods Center, site of the original Woodstock festival.

Five Musical Facts

  1. Stills had recorded solo demos of both "Helplessly Hoping" and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" in 1968. The demos were thought to have been lost, but were miraculously discovered by a studio employee in 2007. That employee sent the "lost" demos to a very thankful Stills, and the songs were later released as Just Roll Tape in 2007.
  2. Graham Nash wrote "Marrakesh Express" while he was still with The Hollies. The other guys turned the song down, claiming it wasn't commercial enough and was too far removed from their typical pop-sound. This was a common theme, and try as he might to take The Hollies in a different direction musically, Nash ended up leaving the group in 1968.
  3. Greg Reeves, the Motown bass whiz kid, was only 14 years old when he played with CSN&Y at Woodstock. He was ultimately fired in part because he liked to improvise too much. Young was not his biggest fan either.
  4. Crosby has said that he has very fond memories of being at Woodstock. He recalled the vibe, how everyone was helping everyone, sharing their food, sharing their water, no racial violence, none of the usual stuff that often comes with big crowds. He was on site for a couple of nights, sleeping in a tent one night, and was fortunate enough to land a motel room for another night. The mercurial Neil Young, on the other hand, has never recalled Woodstock fondly at all. He thought they played terribly and hated how everyone was playing for the cameras more than for the audience.
  5. So many great stories emerged from Woodstock. One involved Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix, who shared a chartered plane to get to the festival. Like other artists, a helicopter ride had been arranged for them to get to the site from the airport. Unfortunately, they had landed at the wrong airport, so there was no helicopter waiting. Depending on the source, it was either Melvin Belli, an attorney who was with them, or Neil himself, who took matters into their own hands and "borrowed" a pickup that was parked at the airport. Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix and their partner-in-crime Melvin drove to Woodstock in a hot-wired pickup truck.

© 2019 Kaili Bisson

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    • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

      Kaili Bisson 

      5 weeks ago from Canada

      Gosh Wesman, that's quite a story.

      Yes, Cosby was busted in Dallas in '82 for gun and drug possession. He apparently started carrying a gun after Lennon was shot

    • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

      Kaili Bisson 

      5 weeks ago from Canada

      Hi Flourish and thank you!

      I have such fun writing these...I end up going down rabbit holes a lot. The truck story is a funny one. One version says it was Neil who hotwired the truck after Jimi jumped into the passenger seat... :-) Wonder if the owner got his truck back?

    • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

      Kaili Bisson 

      5 weeks ago from Canada

      Hi Pamela,

      You are so welcome! And yes, no sad ending in this one. I love these guys, have a number of their group and solo LPs...it never gets tired.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      5 weeks ago from Kaufman, Texas

      I was born in the wrong generation. In the early 90s I was a space trippin' short hair'd hippie, and I'd do the whole deal, and spend all night listening to just this sort of hippie music.

      I can't sing at all. Can't carry a tune in a bucket. Never stops me from trying though. Love the harmony vocals, and I super duper love steel string acoustic guitar music.

      Early 30s and I'm in a detention center. Wasn't there for good behavior. Was in a cell with a guy who'd been in prison (probably most of his adult life) and said he was in a 50 something man prison 'tank' with David Crosby.

      He didn't have much nice to say about Cros, but then again, cramped quarters can magnify our shortcomings.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 weeks ago from USA

      I especially liked how you provided context such as songs they were known for individually and the behind the scenes Woodstock action. This is a well researched and very interesting article. I like the story of hot wiring that truck.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      5 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      I always thought they were a good group and I like all their songs. I enjoyed all the little trivia you included in this article, and there was no sad ending, which is always good. Thanks for another interesting article.

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