For decades Woodstock, New York has been something of a safe haven for many musicians. Famous residents have included Jimi Hendrix, Theonius Monk, and David Bowie, Bob Dylan, and The Band. It’s a secluded area, yet only a two-hour drive to the city.
Away from the busy lifestyle the city breeds, creativity was reaching new heights. The sounds coming out of Woodstock reflected the easy-going lifestyle. Bob Dylan and The Band’s home-recordings were loose and fun. The Band became equally inspired, and their debut became one of the cornerstones of what would later be called Alt-Country. New life was breathed into American music through this small town and the nature surrounding it.
For these musicians, work and domesticity were one and the same in Woodstock. No one knew this better than Van Morrison who retreated there in the early 1970s.
He was recently married, and enjoying his new bride and young daughter. The songs he wrote during his time reflected a happiness not normally found in Morrison’s works. It was a time of joy and inspiration.
Like his contemporaries in this upstate hamlet, Morrison looked to the past for musical inspiration. His mix of soul and Irish mysticism has been dubbed “Celtic Soul.” His lyrics may state closer to his Irish roots, but his voice was more like a white Sam Cooke. At Woodstock, Morrison adopted country and folk to his already wide ranges of influences. His original idea was to record an album full of country and western songs that was eventually scrapped.
As a result, Tupelo Honey ends up being one of Morrison’s most relaxed affairs. Gone are the sonic Impressionistic styles of Astral Weeks. Gone are the grand statements like “Into the Mystic” found on Moondance. Instead, Tupelo Honey is the soundtrack to happiness in the simple life, with touches of country, jazz and soul.
“Old Old Woodstock” is the song that best exemplifies the sounds of upstate New York and Morrison’s carefree attitude with its gentle piano and jazzy rhythms. It starts off slow and unassuming – just like Woodstock itself. Yet the song pulls you in with its cymbal washes and light snare by Connie Kay. “Feel the breeze blowing through your coat,” Morrison croons. His voice opens up like trail leading into the forest.
It’s Morrison’s voice that truly makes the song. His voice is powerful, but restrained. It’s full of joy, but never lazy. He whispers through the verses, slowly building in the chorus when he announces that he will “give my child a squeeze”. His voice is full of love and simplicity. Nothing else matters in that moment, except this embrace, and the natural surrounding. He’s found a new beginning both creatively and personally. “Going down to old, old Woodstock,” Morrison sings in the chorus. “Feel the cool night breeze.” The musical past of America is conjured up as the bridge opens up to a lengthy jazz-inspired piano break. Halfway through Morrison lets out an exuberant shout. His “Hey!” is off the cuff, but is commanding. If you haven’t listened earlier, you should. “Listen,” He sings at the beginning of the next verse, which is a repeat of the first verse reinforcing his love for his child.
“Old Old Woodstock” can easily be overlooked as a small ditty. But like Woodstock itself, the song captures a lifestyle at ease. Work isn’t a chore when inspiration is right outside your doorstep.