What if Elvis played Woodstock?

The original one. Like the time he crashed Nixon’s Whitehouse while armed, let’s say he decides on a whim to play at Woodstock. How would the crowd have received him? Ten Years After played a little Blue Suede Shoes in “I’m Going Home” to a great reception. Would the king have been welcomed?

Sha Na Na went over pretty well at Woodstock. I’ll bet the King would have knocked 'em dead.

Having been at Woodstock, I’m pretty sure the reception would have been enthusiastic. There were a very wide variety of groups represented.

After Elvis had palled around with Nixon, he might have received some heckling. But that was a year and a half in the future.

Especially after becoming an honorary narc during the same visit!

The pic of that ceremony is the **most requested **pic at the National Archives!

Elvis’ music wasn’t all that different from Sha Na Na’s, but culturally, there was a pretty big divide between the fanbases. His appearance alone would have stood out. Within a few years, Elvis’ records were debuting on country radio stations instead of rock stations. Sha Na Na and other ‘rock and roll revival’ acts were, in large measure, mocking the music they played. Elvis probably would have probably hated their guts.

Elvis would have been more politely received than, say, Hendrix or the Who would have at the Grand Ole Opry in 1969, but it would have had the crowd scratching their heads.

And on preview, I see someone has mentioned Elvis’ strong public anti-drug stance, probably to cover up his own problems with [del]drugs[/del] medications. Elvis did more dope than Hendrix and the Who put together, but he would have used that narc badge to bust their asses if they lit up.

The best caption I ever saw for that picture had Nixon thinking, “I gotta get Spiro involved in more of this crapola!”


I wasn’t there but my best guess is that it depends on how good he and his band were. Elvis had only just returned to playing live gigs about three weeks early as Colonel Parker had stopped those for several years, believing with changing music tastes, shoddy films was the only way to keep Elvis in the public eye. A lot of bands that you would expect to have done well there: Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, didn’t because of delays in getting on stage (up to 12 hours), electrical problems (The Grateful Dead complained they were getting electrical shocks from faulty grounding), following the Grateful Dead after they put people to sleep (John Fogerty’s complaint). Others such as the unknowns as Sha Na Na, Santana, and Joe Cocker did quite well. What we remember may also depend on whether he would have been in the movie or soundtrack album.

Armed with his “Memphis Sessions” band, he would have destroyed the audience. Elvis hated the hippie movement however, and he’d never have done the festival, nor would they have been able to pay him and the Colonel enough. Most of the band that sucked at Woodstock got too drunk or stoned and torpedoed their own sets.

One of my favourite Colonel Parker stories involves him scuttling a deal with a major Vegas hotel in which they offered $1,000,000 for Elvis to perform, to which Parker replied: “That’s plenty for me, but what about the boy?”

Credit to Carlos Santana, who apparently was stoned out of his mind on acid during his set apparently due in part to confusion about when they were supposed to go on. But he certainly managed to rise above it and perform well nonetheless.

As much as I hate to employ an annoying net cliché, this. From the perspective of 2012, it doesn’t seem like there should’ve been much of a difference between those artists who broke through during Rock n’ Roll’s First Wave (1955 to 1963) and those who did during the Second Wave (i.e., 1964 and afterward) and their respective fanbases since they were no more than ten years apart. However, there was actually a rather sharp divide. Elvis was only 34 in 1969 but to most of the Baby Boomer audience at Woodstock, he was already an old man. He was somebody who’d been in the Army, did cheeseball movies, and had been part of the entertainment Establishment for most of their lives. The years when Elvis shocked America and was regarded as an uninhibited menace to society were a foggy memory to these people who were more obsessed with Howdy Doody and Davy Crockett at the time. As for people in Elvis’ age group, many regarded the countercultural movement that was on display at Woodstock with deep fear, suspicion, and loathing. Others, while not hating Woodstock generation, were still considerably annoyed with their self-rightousness, know-it-all attitude, and apparent belief that the whole universe revolved around them. In any case, this difference was often reflected in the music the two age groups listened to. Thus, in 1969, there were only a few artists from rock’s First Wave who also had considerable non-nostalgic and non-ironic appeal to the Woodstock crowd. In fact, in terms of First Wave performers, I actually think Johnny Cash–who was collaborating with Dylan at the time–would’ve been a better fit for that audience than Elvis.

It’s been often said Colonel Parker was both the best thing and the worst thing that happened to Elvis. On one hand, he was responsible for making him a superstar and American cultural icon. But, on the other hand, he serious crippled his career by, for example, refusing to let Elvis tour internationally (because Parker had immigration problems that could’ve got him barred from re-entering the U.S.) and vetoing his casting opposite Barbra Streisand in the 1976 version of A Star is Born.

Choreographed by David Winters of WEST SIDE STORY fame, who apparently would’ve seen Elvis serenade Maria as Tony if not for – Colonel Parker.

Thanks to “creative booking” by Bill Graham in the mid-late sixties, Bay Area and NY audiences were getting used to what most would have called “oldies” acts, and an artist of Elvis’ stature would have bowled the crowd over both by virtue of his name and his stage presence, which was considerable.

If they could handle Otis Redding, Albert King, and put up with Sha Na Na, they would have had no problems accepting Elvis. Again, the reverse is not true.

The Who were also dosed and were noted as being one of the best bands at the gig. By the time Hendrix took the stage, the crowd was 10% the size of the night before.

A lot of hippies (and I was one at the time) looked askance at Elvis. His ca 1969 output was pretty dreadful, giving him a reputation as a has-been; and the fact that he never wrote his own material was really frowned upon. The popular radio stations seldom played his hits then, so most people my age knew him only by reputation, and regarded him as an antique.

Yeah, it gave me a chance to move down close to the stage for the first time. Most of the time I was about 2/3 of the way up the hill. But I was only a few dozen yards away from the stage for Hendrix’s set.

He would likely have been the best live performer there. Elvis was incredible live. As in studio good. However, as has been pointed out above (very well I may add) he would have been appreciated but not fit in.

Elvis benefited from Parker but by 1959 he should have been well rid of him. Had he dumped him, his career would have been a lot different and most likely a lot better.

Parker’s business deal with Presley was a disgrace.

Very interesting question indeed, and one which unfortunately will never be answered.

One one hand, as pointed out by Sam & Greekfreak, he would have been regarded as an irrelevant old school entertainer, a has-been who didn’t play any instruments and didn’t write his own material. To be fair though Elvis’ rhythm guitar skills were ‘passable’, and - unknown to the general public - he was actually a semi-decent piano player. There’s also the problem of countless bad movies and horrendous soundtracks, which destroyed much of his artistic credibility.

On the other hand, he had just returned to live performances in Las Vegas, and judging from the reviews at the time and the material that has survived to this day, he was incredibly dynamic on stage, and his voice seemed more powerful, versatile and guttural than ever. Voice wise at least, I doubt anybody at Woodstock would have upstaged Elvis. Whether that would have satisfied the Woodstock crowds enough to make up for the rest, is indeed a 10 point question.
It’s still hard to imagine people booing or throwing stuff at him though.
And I don’t see an issue with his age, since most performers were “only” 5-10 years younger than Elvis, and some (eg Ravi Shankar) were actually older than him.
His image and choice of songs might have been more of a problem. I can see him making an impact with “In the ghetto” and “If I can dream”, but the rest of his repertoire?

The audience would have been the problem. Elvis fans vs. the fans of the remainder of the Woodstock performers would have had major clashes and it probably would have shut down the festival. Things were a little “tense” in the United States at that time.