Certain Songs #259: Crosby, Stills & Nash: “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Live at Woodstock)”

Woodstock_-_Music_From_The_Original_Soundtrack_And_More Album: Woodstock – Music From The Original Soundtrack
Year: 1969

We never really described it as such, but during the late 70s and early 80s Tim & I were on a quest to see every rock n roll performance that had ever been captured on film. It was secondary to our quests to see every concert and buy every record, but it was still definitely a thing.

In practical sense, this usually meant going to the midnite movies at the Tower Theater, where we’d saw everything from Jimi Plays Berkeley to D.O.A., but it also meant seeing a double bill of Rust Never Sleeps and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School at the Moon-glo Drive-in and renting a VHS of Blow-Up just to fast-forward to the part where Jimmy Page & Jeff Beck were playing together.

And one time — gonna guess it was either 1979 or 1980, the tenth anniversaries of the festival and the film, respectively — we went to the Country Squire Theatre at First and Ashlan to see Woodstock. I don’t remember much about the Country Squire, except that it wasn’t a place I went to very often. It wasn’t close to where I lived, and it didn’t have a lot of choices on which films you could see, like the UA theaters did.

But they were showing a revival of Woodstock for cheap, and that meant that we could see those legendary performances by The Who, Sly & The Family Stone & Jimi Hendrix we’d been reading about our entire lives.

Of course, those performances were awesome. But it was “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by motherfucking Crosby, Stills & Nash (Neil Young was nowhere to be found on this song) that blew me away. And I didn’t even like “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes!” As far as I was concerned, the first CSN album was an overproduced folkie wankfest, and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” was a reason to see if maybe another radio station was playing something better.

But, at Woodstock, where Steven Stills famously said they were “scared shitless,” they were stripped from all of the studio gloss and overdubs, and — augmented by some clever lighting and that infamous split-screen — what was left was three dudes with guitars singing for their lives.

Sure, the harmonies were rough, but they were still beautiful. In fact, they were more beautiful because they were imperfect, as David Crosby and Graham Nash slid in and out of the exact notes they wanted to hit, all the while watching Stephen Stills, hoping that he’d hold it together for all of them.

Which he was. Stephen Still is a wonder here: using his guitar as the glue while challenging Crosby & Nash on every turn with an absolutely inspired lead vocal performance, sliding in just a bit early at some points and holding back at others. Sure, they were singing to 500,000 people or whatever, but it had the feel of something they were just making up on the spot.

You know: musicians making music for the sheer pleasure of it and because it’s the only thing they they’ve got.

Naturally, this is only partially conveyed in the only YouTube clip out there. For whatever reason, the audio & video aren’t quite synced up, so it’s a little off-putting.

“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” performed live at Woodstock, 1969

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