For those who like to take note of such things, this week marks the 10th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, that celebrated Upstate New York outdoor peace-and-love rock fest better known simply as Woodstock. Celebrations were few, though in these parts, anyone itching to experience a couple of days of music under the skies needed go no further than Comiskey Park, site of Saturday and Sunday's ill-fated rockathons. And though the shows were in now way heralded as any sort of Midwest "Woodstock" (they were, in fact, billed as Chicago Jams I and II), the two events did have a few things in common. These included: (1) Sha Na Na, who first propounded their gospel of '50s jingoism in 1969 at Woodstock and strutted their nostalgic stuff Saturday morning, leading off a lineup that also included Pure Prairie League, Blondie, and the Beach Boys (Atlanta Rhythm Section cancelled their appearance at the last moment); (2) dreadful weather; (3) mud (4) ever-larger quantities of mud; and (5) a certain determination on the part of the crowd to enjoy themselves in spite of it all.
Actually, the term *crowd* is something of a misnomer when it comes to describing the turnout for both the Saturday show and Sunday's, which featured Rush, Foghat, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Roadmaster, and the Tubes. Saturday, in particular, was a promoter's bad dream, the dreary actualization of the question "what if they gave a concert and nobody came?" Comiskey Park as rock site can accommodate approximately 70,000 with a little crowding -- and did, as a matter of fact, a couple of weeks back for a Journey-Santana show there. Saturday, a measly 8,000 folks showed up, spreading their blankets and plastic trash bags on the muddy outfield area in front of the stage and making a pathetically small audience in Comiskey's cavernous confines. Playing to such a humiliatingly small house must have been a humbling experience, indeed, for all acts concerned; even the most gargantuan rock star ego surely would find it a bit demoralizing facing almost entirely empty grandstands and a half-empty field.
Nevertheless, the show must go on and all that, and Saturday's crew performed like troupers. For the audience, while the contagious enthusiasm often generated by a large crowd was missing, the situation had its advantages - the music was for the most part entertaining, there was plenty of room to spread out, and getting up close to the stage was no problem at all.
Blondie's rocking lead vocalist, Deborah Harry, in '60s style mini-dress, was the obvious choice for most colorful performance, but it was the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" that moved the crowd most, though their performance was far from overwhelming. Mike Love's vocals often seemed uncharacteristically harsh and the famous Beach Boys harmonies frequently failed to mesh, but their spirit of "Fun, Fun, Fun" triumphed over it all.
Between acts, an illusionist trotted out on stage to perform such tricks as changing a woman into an exhausted-looking cougar and, another time, making a woman appear in a supposedly previously empty box. Apparently his talents did not include the far more pragmatic trick of making about 60,000 more rock fans appear and the mud disappear. For some inexplicable reason, the outfield was resodded right before the show, and the wet weather meant that simply walking tended to dislodge clumps of turf. Saturday the situation was bad enough, but by Sunday, things were a spongy, soggy mess.
Sunday's show fared better in turnout, drawing about four times as many folks as Saturday's disaster, though still leaving the park at least half empty. The 10 a.m. leadoff spot went to the Tubes, a highly theatrical band that can be quite effective in the right setting. A ball park isn't it. Most of the theatrics got lost, and the band omitted the one song that never fails as a crowd-pleaser, "White Punks on Dope." Roadmaster, a Midwestern rock 'n' roll band, churned out a set of serviceable if hardly spectacular songs, followed by an effective dose of soulful rock sounds from South Side Johnny and the Jukes, for my money the best band on the bill. Few, however, had come for the Jukes brand of rock with horns; the day belonged to headliner Rush and blues-rock band Foghat, both of whom performed with a great deal of energy if little subtlety and, in the case of the alternately droning and shrill Rush, even less discernible talent.