Why Did “Woodstock” Songwriter Joni Mitchell Skip Going to Woodstock?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: Joni Mitchell skipped Woodstock so that she could appear on The Dick Cavett Show on that Monday.

It is a pretty awesome piece of irony that probably the best song about the famous Woodstock music festival of 1969 was written by Joni Mitchell…who did not even attend the festival! The most popular version of the song was performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who DID attend the festival (one of the members of the band, Mitchell’s boyfriend at the time, Graham Nash, described the festival to her, which was her inspiration for writing the song).

So what’s the deal? Why did Mitchell skip the show? As it turned out, it was so she could appear on The Dick Cavett Show…an appearance she could have made even HAD she attended the show! Read on for the details!

Before Dick Cavett was given a chance to be one of the sacrificial lambs who appeared opposite Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show juggernaut, he had a couple of other shows. One was a daytime show and one was a primetime show that aired three times a week (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays) during the Summer of 1969. That primetime show transitioned into a late night show later in 1969. ABC kept Cavett on the air until 1975, never really competing with Carson, but hey, who could?

One of the ways Cavett tried to differentiate himself from other talk shows of the era was the way in which he embraced the counter-culture. He would have rock and roll acts that nobody else would book. Jimi Hendrix did his show on more than one occasions.

So the Woodstock Festival was a natural thing for him to celebrate, so on his Tuesday show following the festival, he planned to have a number of musical guests from the festival, including Jefferson Airplane and one half of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (Stephen Stills and David Crosby). Hendrix himself was going to be one of them, but he was one of the few acts to actually perform on the final day of the show and he was too tired to make it to New York City for the Tuesday afternoon taping.

That fear of missing the Dick Cavett Show is what actually led to Joni Mitchell canceling a scheduled appearance at Woodstock. Her manager David Geffen convinced her that it was more important for her career to do the Cavett Show than it was to appear at Woodstock (the money wasn’t exactly outstanding at Woodstock, after all. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young took home $5,000). The worry was twofold – 1. That she wouldn’t get back in time for the Tuesday taping and 2. That if she did make it back in time, she would be too tired to do a good performance.

Here she is on the show…

In any event, the finished show was an excellent piece of television, capturing the odd personalities of the various musicians beautifully.

Here’s a snippet of the show on YouTube…

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

One Reply to “Why Did “Woodstock” Songwriter Joni Mitchell Skip Going to Woodstock?”

  1. Even as a kid, i appreciated the intelligence that Cavett’s show had. I could tell it was different from Carson (who was on too late for me to watch very often except during summer vacation), and actually liked it better.

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