“By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half-a-million strong.” Woodstock, music and lyrics by Joni Mitchell, recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.


The countdown has begun, with less than a year until Woodstock turns 50. Like Watergate a few years later, Woodstock occupies that rarefied world of one-word names that conjure up not just a place or an event, but a cultural watershed. Although Woodstock was not the first music festival of the Summer of Love era, it’s the one that dominates the collective memories of an entire generation, many of whom claim to have wallowed in the mud with the 500,000 souls who actually slogged their way to Yasgur’s farm to hear some of the leading rock, folk, soul, and blues acts of the day. Hendrix electrified with his searing “Star Spangled Banner,” Richie Havens strummed fervently for “Freedom,” Canned Heat celebrated the simple pleasure of “Going Up the Country,” while Country Joe and his Fish echoed the nation’s  angst with their sardonic “Fixin’ to Die Rag” (“And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for?) All this and more was immortalized in an Oscar® winning documentary that cemented Woodstock as the defining music festival for generations of concert goers.

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“Well I came upon a child of God; he was walking along the road.” Woodstock by Joni Mitchell

USA Today reports that three-day passes to Coachella, the mega music festival taking place this weekend and next in a California valley, are commanding nearly $3,000 on the secondary market—more than $2,500 over face value. There’s a reason music fans and other revelers snapped up tickets for both weekends in a matter of hours when they went on sale in January. Coachella is more than just a parade of bands and singers. And indeed, tickets go on sale—and then are gone—before the festival lineups even are announced. So while the prospect of seeing today’s “it” band mingling with yesterday’s legacy acts no doubt fuels the ticket frenzy, it’s the event itself—symbolized by the name, that’s the main attraction for Coachella, its east coast counterpart Bonnaroo, and the scores of other festivals that will dot the concert landscape from April to October. These festivals and others have become brands, and the branding of music festivals is becoming big business transforming the face of the music business itself. Going or gone are the days when most artists tour to promote a new record; today, more often than not, artists put out new records to be in the running for a coveted spot on the festival touring circuit. Playing in front of captive audiences in the tens of thousands sure beats playing in front of a few hundred fans at a smaller club or listening room. This seismic shift has as much to do with festivals like Coachella becoming recognized brands as it does with the quality of the actual performances that grace the multiple stages that are the hallmarks of these mega-festivals. Each of the major summer festivals is immediately identifiable through a distinctive logo, and each nurtures its own unique brand identity. Coachella has its “chill” California desert Spring vibe, while Bonnaroo, set in a dusty field south of Nashville, is known for its grungy, gritty, tent-city terrain and whimsical stage names—“This Stage, That Stage, What Stage, and Which Stage.” And they each have their own visual image to go with their distinctive vibes, as shown above with the Coachella logo.

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“Gonna play that shady grove, play that shady grove.” Steve Earle, “Warren Hellman’s Banjo.”

As regular, or even irregular, readers of this blog know, music plays a big part in my life. From my roots in Trenton NJ, listening to The Beatles on a cheap transistor radio, to wearing out the grooves in CSNY’s Carry On at the Jersey Shore, to catching emerging artists like Joe Pug at DC’s wonderful Hamilton, music has brought me some of life’s happiest moments. And no musical moments have been happier than the San Francisco mornings and afternoons I’ve spent with my son, his friend Greg D. and Greg’s Dad Spiros at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (HSB as regulars call it).

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“Lately I’ve been thinking / What would the world do without the news / You wouldn’t know when wars were started / Or when they ended, win or lose.” Newspapers by Stan Ridgway

Yesterday’s IP blogosphere brought news of another battle of the bands involving trademark rights. Christian rockers the Newsboys did not turn the other cheek when they discovered a rap duo performing as New Boyz. They sued. And they lost. Bigtime. Oh, the Newsboys got their day in court all right, but it lasted just about one day, with the judge tossing the complaint as legally deficient. The Newsboys claimed that the rappers’ name New Boyz would confuse and confound the music buying audience. They railed that the New Boyz songs were sexually charged. They pointed to their own 1991 album title “Boys will be Boyz” as evidence that the groups’ names were too close for comfort. And the band that had honed its reputation in the realm of Christian Rock insisted that their music was not just for the religious set; they claimed “cross-over” appeal to the same “demographic” that listens to and downloads New Boyz allegedly salacious songs.

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“You and I travel  to the beat of a different drum.”  Different Drum, by Michael Nesmith

In a week dominated by devastation in the Nation’s tornado alley, it was easy to miss the news that Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for the Doors, had died.  While Jim Morrison defined the Doors’ image with his flamboyant stage presence and apocalyptic lyrics, Manzarek defined the band’s sound, lending baroque classical flourishes to the definitive Doors song Light My Fire and propulsive jazz inflected stylings to many other of the band’s hits.

While Manzarek is best remembered for his music, his obituary also contains a Softrights-worthy footnote about a long simmering, and sometimes roiling,  trademark dispute over rights in the Doors name,  As reported in Billboard back in 2008, the four members of the Doors, Morrison, Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore, signed a pact in 1970 that gave each of them veto power over any business deal.  According to Billboard, the four Doors inked that agreement after a nasty battle about whether to let Buick use “Light My Fire” in a television commercial.

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