Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
On August 16th of 1969, the Latin rock band Santana, formed by lead guitarist Carlos Santana, delivered one of the most celebrated sets of the iconic Woodstock Music & Arts festival, earning them widespread exposure and cementing the band’s status in the history of rock and roll. On June 13th, the band’s current line-up returned to the festival site (now home to the not-for-profit amphitheater Bethel Woods Center for the Arts) for another magical performance in Upstate New York.
Nestled in a lush green grass gully in the Catskills, Bethel Woods opened in 2006, quickly becoming a go-to destination to catch some of the biggest names in music. It has also bolstered tourism in Sullivan County, which in effect has helped the region’s struggling economy due to closure of several of the Borscht Belt resorts. In 2008, an award-winning museum opened at the venue that tells the story of the Woodstock Music and Arts festival through interactive audio/visual experiences, information displays and artifacts. Several of the surviving musicians who were part of the legendary event have performed at the venue, including CSNY, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead and John Fogerty of CCR.
This show was actually Santana’s second return to the location, with their first homecoming in 2010 as part of a tour to promote Guitar Heaven, an album of rock covers. The band had another album to support this time around, Corazon. While the band did play a couple of tracks from the new release, the set relied heavily on material from the band’s first three albums that made Carlos Santana a classic rock icon, and the Latin pop material that led to the band’s commercial resurgence in the late nineties.
The band honored their history with the site right from the start, opening with the show with “Soul Sacrifice.” Those who caught his set on day two of Woodstock (or have seen video footage of the legendary performance) will remember a mescaline-fueled performance by an up-and-coming guitarist who played with intense and youthful physicality. Today, Carlos Santana is less animated, playing with a cool and calm composure of a Zen master, but if one were to close their eyes and simply listen, one might think they were having an LSD flashback to that Saturday afternoon back in 1969.
The six-string wizardry of Carlos Santana was as enchanting and masterful as ever. His heavenly playing and distinctive tone produced a sound that shrieked, snarled, soared and slithered. It could hypnotize hips and make jaws drop. Erotic jubilation could be heard in every note.
The band delivered three consecutive cuts from Santana III early on in the evening. It was one head-trip after another, starting with the face-melting instrumental “Batuka,” which was followed by an intoxicating “No One to Depend On” and finally the euphoric rave-up, “Everybody’s Everything.” Segments like this, that represented different moments in Santana’s career, would reoccur throughout the night.
The two monster covers from Abraxas, “Black Magic Woman” (Fleetwood Mac) and “Oye Como Va” (Tito Puente) came next. The former took that dark, mystical expedition into the band’s original, epic coda “Gypsy Queen.” The latter then mellowed things out with groovy organ and laidback guitar solos. Throughout that buildup from chilled-out jamming to blissful climax and back down again, these two setlist staples inspired more air guitar and doobie sparking than any other songs during the set.
The band would return to classics from their early years later on, revisiting Abraxas with “Samba Pa Ti” and “Hope Your Feeling Better,” as well as “Jingo” from their self-titled debut, but for the most part, the remainder of the night would focus on cuts from Supernatural and beyond.
The tremendous success of Supernatural at the turn of the century catapulted Santana back into the spotlight. In terms of commercial success, the album took the band to greater heights than ever before, holding the number one spot on the Billboard 200 charts for twelve weeks, eventually selling over fifteen million copies in the United States and thirty million copies globally. The album had two chart-topping hits with “Maria Maria” and “Smooth,” both making it into the Bethel Woods setlist. The album was also represented with “Corazon Espinado” and “(De Le) Yaleo.” In terms of sound, these Supernatural tracks (and the other songs that have been released in recent years that were played) lack the heavy rock edge and psychedelic venturing of the band’s early work, but what remains is the Latin flavor and heavy percussion that makes any Santana show a dance party.
One could say that Santana elevated Woodstock, and Woodstock elevated Santana. Following the band’s encore with the Corazon cut “Sadiera,” it was safe to say that almost 45 years later, the symbiotic relationship between performer and location resulted in magic once again. The music was still divine and while there was no Hog Farm to assist those in need, the hospitality of Bethel Woods and its staff was second to none. Carlos Santana, in the role of elder statesman, reminded the audience of the noble attributes of the peace and love movement and how those qualities are still vital to building a better future. Many of those attributes were addressed in song and put into action by attendees and employees of the venue.
The aura of the sixties dream reunited with the rural calm of the location, and this time around, even the weather cooperated; no rain or mud to put a damper on things. Skies were sunny and the weather was warm on this late spring evening at the former site of Max Yasgur’s diary farm.
1. Soul Sacrifice
2. You Know (Like I Know) / Spoonful
3. La Flaca
4. Batuka / No One to Depend On (with “Saga” intro)
5. Everybody’s Everything
6. Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen
7. Oye Como Va
8. Maria Maria
9. Foo Foo
10. Corazon Espinado (with bass solo (“Imagine”) / drum solo)
11. Samba Pa Ti
12. Hope You’re Feeling Better
13. (De Le) Yaleo
14. The River
15. Smooth / Dame Tu Amor
16. Peace / Jingo
17. Saideira (with snippet of “Roxanne”)