But I Swear They Were There!

By Madison McAllister

In August of 1969, half a million people gathered in Bethel, New York for a music festival that would go down in history – Woodstock. On a 600-acre dairy farm, legendary artists flocked to make an appearance…but not these legendary artists:

BOB DYLAN – Why did Bob Dylan turn down performing at one of the most iconic music festivals in history? One popular rumor surrounding his “no” is that one of his kids got sick. Another, that he became annoyed with the gathering hippies around his home near the town of Woodstock.

THE DOORS could have played Woodstock, but apparently said no. In 1996, keyboardist Ray Manzerek explained, “We never played at Woodstock because we were stupid and turned it down. We thought it would be a second class repeat of Monterey Pop Festival.”

LED ZEPPLIN was invited, of course. But manager Peter Grant apparently decided that headlining their own concert was preferable. Instead, the band headed off to the Ashbury Park Convention Hall in New Jersey, just south of Woodstock, for two of the festival’s four days. “I said no because at Woodstock, we’d have just been another band on the bill,” said Grant.

THE BEATLES hadn’t played a show together since 1966. Perhaps fueled by their surprise rooftop concert in 1969 in London, rumors of the Beatles’ appearance at Woodstock were everywhere. Reasons as to why they ultimately did not play are just as rampant. One theory has John Lennon insisting that Yoko Ono of Yoko’s Plastic Ono Band appear on stage. Another cited immigration problems for Lennon. Still another, that the group simply couldn’t get together at that late stage.


THE ROLLING STONES declined because Mick Jagger was in Australia that summer, filming a forgotten movie called Ned Kellya poorly received 1970 Tony Richardson-directed biopic of a 19th-century Australian bushranger. Also, Keith Richards‘ girlfriend Anita Pallenburg had just given birth to son Marlon that week in London.


JONI MITCHELL reportedly wanted to play Woodstock, but was dissuaded from making the trip by manager David Geffen because he wanted her fresh for an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. She’d later write “Woodstock,” one of her better-known songs, based on boyfriend Graham Nash’s account of the event she never got to experience first-hand.

Many of these music legends are featured in FST’s Cabaret Light My Fire, which plays in the Court Cabaret starting February 5. For tickets and more information, click here.