Think "Woodstock" and the mind turns to the seminal 1969 festival that crowned a seismic decade of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. But the town of Woodstock, New York, the original planned venue of the concert, is located over 60 miles from the site to which the fabled half a million flocked. Long before the landmark music festival usurped the name, Woodstock-the tiny Catskills town where Bob Dylan holed up after his infamous 1966 motorcycle accident-was already a key location in the '60s rock landscape.
In Small Town Talk, Barney Hoskyns re-creates Woodstock's community of brilliant dysfunctional musicians, scheming dealers, and opportunistic hippie capitalists drawn to the area by Dylan and his sidekicks from the Band. Central to the book's narrative is the broodingly powerful presence of Albert Grossman, manager of Dylan, the Band, Janis Joplin, Paul Butterfield, and Todd Rundgren-and the Big Daddy of a personal fiefdom in Bearsville that encompassed studios, restaurants, and his own record label. Intertwined in the story are the Woodstock experiences and associations of artists as diverse as Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Tim Hardin, Karen Dalton, and Bobby Charles (whose immortal song-portrait of Woodstock gives the book its title).
Drawing on numerous first-hand interviews with the remaining key players in the scene-and on the period when he lived there himself in the 1990s-Hoskyns has produced an East Coast companion to his bestselling L.A. canyon classic Hotel California. This is a richly absorbing study of a vital music scene in a revolutionary time and place.
Historian Hoskyns (Across the Great Divide) offers readers an absorbing glimpse into events that shaped Woodstock, N.Y., into a haven for musicians. He takes the title from a song by Bobby Charles, who arrived from Tennessee, and who recorded with Maria Muldaur and Rock Danko of the Band; their collaboration is just one facet of what Hoskyns calls the "quintessential Woodstock of the early '70s." Drawing on interviews with many of the artists, their friends, and the inhabitants of the town, Hoskyns paints a brilliant portrait of the colorful characters that turned this little patch of woods in upstate New York into a hotbed for much of the music that changed America. He chronicles the history of Woodstock from its earliest days as an artist colony in the late 19th century, through its heyday in the late 1960s, and right up to the death of Band drummer Levon Helm in 2012. Along the way, Hoskyns shares the tales of Albert Grossman, who managed Bob Dylan (at the beginning of Dylan's career) and Janis Joplin, and who inspired the character of the megalomaniac manager Bob Grossman in the movie Inside Llewlyn Davis; the rise and fall of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band; and the infighting among the Band, perhaps the group most associated with the town in popular imagination. In the end, Hoskyns's stunning book highlights some of the most memorable music in American history.