Photo by Jeff Meshel
Twenty-eighteen’s rendition of Coachella, arguably the most well-known music festival of our time, topped off this weekend with buzzed-about performances from Eminem, Cardi B, The Weeknd, and Beyonce. The festival, which began back in 1999, spans the course of two weekends in California’s dusty Coachella Valley. And though it feels like Coachella bogarts the entire month of April, giving ample time to partake in the festivities, there will always be those left out in the desert cold, unable to attend, withering away in their Fear of Missing Out.
With the help of modern technology, the worst FOMO angst can be subdued with constant, up-to-date live streaming that can all but make you feel like you’re in the middle of the action (and without all the stank!). Did anyone else enjoy streaming Beyonce’s entire performance from the clean comfort of bed? Sure digital exposure isn’t exactly the real deal but isn’t it better than nothing? Some might argue that seeing videos and photos of what you missed might actually be more torturous than good.
Deprivation of the lived experience of a festival like Coachella is the exact premise of a song born from one singer-songwriter’s own music fest FOMO which occurred so long ago, Coachella’s founders were just a gleam in their parents’ eyes.
It was forty-eight years ago this month when folk falsetto-ist Joni Mitchell released her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon, a collection of songs which included “For Free,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” and “Woodstock.” The latter was a tune that encapsulated Joni’s own Woodstock FOMO which she experienced after missing the event’s inauguration the preceding summer.
Joni intended to be at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair with her pals in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young but got stranded in New York City due to challenges getting transportation to the festival area and her own tight schedule which had her filming a TV appearance the next night. Joni stayed behind while the band eventually made it to Yasgur’s farm upstate.
Being left out of such a wild and massive experience didn’t feel good for Joni, but she channeled her curiosity of the event into a song that she would offer CSNY to record as a way to commemorate their experience. That harmonic version of the song, released the same year, is likely more familiar to your ears than Joni’s original.
“Woodstock” was crafted in reflection of the experiences of others, namely musician Graham Nash (the Nash in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) who Joni was dating at the time. Fun Fact: The song “Our House,” another CSNY staple of 1970, is about the couple’s very, very, very, fine house with two cats in the yard in Laurel Canyon.
Joni marveled at how such large crowds could spend 3 primitive days in general harmony, being good to one another and sharing an experience that could never be replicated. Watching clips on TV, seeing photos in newspapers, and hearing first-hand accounts, Joni allowed herself to enter an imaginal Woodstock in which she could see and feel everything she missed while still aching for her loss. “I really, really felt sorry for myself, because it’ll never happen again, of course. They’ll try and recapture it, you know, and it’ll just get worse and worse and worse. Well, maybe that’s a pessimistic way to look at it, but, I don’t know.”
The sadness of missing such an iconic event can be relatable. Joni was not just an artist but a great fan of music herself. She was praised by Woodstock-goers for her musical representation of the festival, and listeners were amazed by how well she could capture the spirit and essence of an experience she never personally had. She saw Woodstock as evidence of human decency, connectedness, and peace; a celebration of the pure freedom her peers embodied. She knew that her generation had created something that would revolutionize all generations to follow and yet her song’s minor chords indicate longing as much as they do pride.
Nowadays, music festivals aren’t as rare and awe-striking as they once were. Festivals occur all over the world at various times throughout the year; to witness the marvel of humanity might not be one’s goal of attending. And yet there’s something to be said about being a part of such a large community and doing so in a way that is collaborative, with shared interests, rallying for something together. Missing that can be quite deserting.