John Fogerty, now 74, has told his story of fronting Creedence Clearwater Revival at Woodstock fifty summers ago countless times — verbatim, in recent years. "The Grateful Dead had put half a million people to sleep," Fogerty says, "and the only thing we could hear was snoring." Creedence infamously went on around 2 a.m. following the Dead's debacle of a set, and both bands played so unremarkably that they had their performances cut from the official Woodstock album and movie.
Last night, however, Fogerty — whose crew was shooting a concert film — preceded his set at Red Rocks with a ten-minute video tribute to Woodstock, mostly showing footage of the legendary not-sleeping Woodstock crowd during the day. He even launched into the first number of his set — “Born On the Bayou” — by blasting the first verse from video of Creedence’s performance at Woodstock and then leading his current band seamlessly into the rest of the song.
It was a Woodstock- and late-’60s-themed evening. “This is the guitar I played at Woooooooooooodstooooock!” Fogerty exclaimed, holding up his legendary ’68 Rickenbacker before “Who’ll Stop the Rain.” For the most part, Fogerty’s bandmates looked more like members of the Jefferson Airplane or Sly and the Family Stone than the shaggy-haired, flannel-wearing grunge forefathers in Creedence — as though they had walked into a costume shop and said, “Give me the Woodstock.”
Throughout Creedence’s five-year run of success in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Fogerty — the band’s lead guitarist and chief singer-songwriter — was what some artists call an “outrider.” The pride of suburban El Cerrito, north of Berkeley, Fogerty was more of a workingman's rock star, not really a part of the psychedelic movement or the counterculture, with politics more libertarian than liberal. However, many of the songs he wrote and recorded with Creedence were keystones of the ’60s cultural revolution, the soundtrack for many American soldiers while they served in Vietnam, and also chart-topping hits.
From the first notes of their set at Red Rocks, Fogerty and his band — notably including the widely respected drummer Kenny Aronoff (who has also played with John Mellencamp and Smashing Pumpkins) and Fogerty’s 28-year-old son, Shane, on second guitar — did an excellent job of re-creating the swampy electric blues of Creedence that’s sold millions of records and directly influenced groups like the White Stripes and Black Keys.
Fogerty, with a mop of brown hair, was clad in a customary blue flannel shirt, with a bandana wrapped around his neck. Four songs (“Bayou,” “Green River,” “Looking Out My Back Door” and “Suzy Q”) into his set, it was already obvious that — like everyone from American soldiers in Vietnam to Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski — if you’re a fan of American music, you’re a fan of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The sheer power, authenticity and grittiness of Fogerty’s songwriting, singing and underrated guitar playing can only be described as timeless. “Suzy Q” was particularly gritty, with a sky-scraping, distorted outro that would’ve made Neil Young and Crazy Horse proud.
Fogerty’s post-Creedence hit “The Old Man Down the Road” was also beautifully down and dirty and included the musical highlight of the night: a Les Paul duel between Fogerty and his son, both of them beaming through call-and-response solos. The family element (another Fogerty son, Tyler, also emerged to sing the Who’s “My Generation”) was a nice touch, especially considering that Creedence (which included Fogerty's brother, Tom) hasn't had a reunion since the band's acrimonious 1972 breakup.
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The question of whether Fogerty, and his legacy, would be better served by sticking to his own songs and stylistic leanings loomed through the night. Celebrating fifty years since Woodstock — even sporting a celebratory psychedelic fifty-year logo on Aronoff’s bass drum, which was flanked by giant lava lamps — Fogerty and company took long detours into cover-band territory, paying tribute to the Beatles, Hendrix and more. At one point, Fogerty even performed a two-song Sly and the Family Stone tribute, with members of his band — including a trumpet player wearing a suit that blinked with psychedelic colored lights — dancing into the audience.
Fogerty preceded his detour into ’60s covers with a treatise on how he comes from a time when songs “meant something,” but in the end he may have been better off letting the brash rocker “Fortunate Son,” by far his most meaningful song, speak for itself. It’s not an exaggeration to call “Fortunate Son” as punk rock as the Sex Pistols' “God Save the Queen,” and Fogerty nailed it last night under a swirling overcast sky and the threat of war with Iran.
The cheese factor was rampant during much of the set, but if the band and audience are enjoying themselves, perhaps all is well. Fogerty’s amazingly strong singing on the forever tearjerker “Long as I Can See the Light” was an unforgettable Red Rocks moment, along with his downright badass harmonica soloing on “Run Through the Jungle,” a song backed by footage of the Vietnam War. On those iconic hits, Fogerty was in his element — or in heaven, as he described playing the world’s most beautiful concert venue surrounded by family.
“My kids were all little the last time I played here,” Fogerty quipped early in the nearly two-hour set, before launching into “Green River.” “Now they’re in the band.”