Martin Scorsese edited the Grateful Dead out of


Martin Scorsese on editing the Grateful Dead out of the ‘Woodstock’ film

(Credits: Far Out / Netflix)


The Woodstock Music and Arts Festival introduced plenty of legendary figures to the general public at large. Artists like Joe Cocker and Santana were largely unknown to most American music fans before making their names at the iconic 1969 gathering. But it wasn’t just musicians who kickstarted their careers at Woodstock. Out in the crowd, a young Martin Scorsese was helming a camera, trying to capture footage of the chaotic rain-soaked festivities.

Roger Ebert had taken notice of Scorsese after he released his first feature film, 1967’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door. After Woodstock became the cultural moment of 1969, Ebert profiled Scorsese, along with film director Michael Wadleigh and editors Thelma Schoonmaker and Walter Murch, about the process of reassembling the three-day festival into a coherent documentary film throughout early 1970. Ebert was especially keen on why one of the festival’s biggest draws, the Grateful Dead, wound up on the cutting room floor.

“Wadleigh hates the Dead,” Scorsese explained in the piece. But that wasn’t the only reason why the Dead wound up getting the shaft. The band themselves had a notoriously negative view of their performance, and in Ebert’s piece, an unnamed assistant editor identified only as a “serious-faced Japanese kid” was sorting through their footage to see if anything was salvageable.

“This is tougher than hell to cut,” the assistant said. “Tougher than hell. What we have here is Pigpen singing ‘Let your love light shine, let your love light shine on me, shine on me, shine on me.’ And singing that over and over. Singing the same goddam thing for an hour. And you put it on the Keller, you’re trying to synch three different pieces of film, and cut the hour down to maybe five minutes. And you’re trying to do it with film that was shot when it was so dark you could hardly see Pigpen, who in any event is holding the mike right in front of his face. So how you going to sync this goddam thing? You can’t even see his mouth.”

“We had 14 to 18 cameras at Woodstock, counting wild cameras,” Scorsese added of the massive undertaking that was editing the footage that became Woodstock. “And when those three days were over, we came back with 50 miles of film. One hundred and twenty hours of film. It took us more than two weeks just to look at the rushes.”

Eventually, Woodstock came out to a running time of just over three hours in the original theatrical version. None of that featured the Grateful Dead, with the exception of a brief glimpse of Jerry Garcia showing off a freshly-rolled joint. As they battled sound problems and the elements, the Dead played just five songs: ‘St. Stephen’, ‘Mama Tried’, a truncated ‘Dark Star’, ‘High Time’, and a 40-minute ‘Turn On Your Lovelight’. Even when Wadleigh assembled a four-hour director’s cut in 1994, the Dead were still omitted. It was only for the 40th-anniversary edition of the film that the Dead’s performance of ‘Lovelight’ was featured.

Check out footage of the Grateful Dead at Woodstock down below.

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