Kurt Huget’s guitar workshop for San Quentin inmates did it again—this time bringing the music of Woodstock to the SQ Cath- olic Chapel for a mostly acoustic ensemble perfor- mance.
No one remembered ex- actly whose idea it was to celebrate the iconic con- cert’s 50 year anniver- sary—but they all agreed it was a perfect theme for their June 23 showcase.
“Woodstock means a lot to the older generation,” said incarcerated guitar stu- dent Thomas Washington, age 74–a trained jazz saxo- phonist who has learned to play guitar over only the last year. “I was there in Greenwich Village back in that era. We had a formula for world peace back then, but the media threw a whole monkey wrench in it.”
Lisa Starbird, coordina- tor for the volunteer mu- sic organization Bread and Roses, booked the chapel for the performance, and the guitar guys took it from there.
Huget spoke briefly be- tween songs to give the event a little historic per- spective. “We’re keeping it real,” he said. “Why not pay homage to the greatest con- cert in rock history?
“Even though you make mistakes in life, you always have a chance to make re- demption. That was sort of the underlying message be- tween Woodstock and the war.”
The set list included a wide range of songs written or performed by the legend- ary artists who made the August 23, 1969, concert
so ground breaking—Joan Baez; Creedence Clearwa- ter Revival, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Jimi Hen- drix; Mountain, The Band, et al.
“Every one of these groups has written songs I’ve played here before,” said Huget.
“Even though you make mistakes in life, you always have a chance to make redemption”
Joining Huget on the cha- pel stage, his students Louis Calvin, Billy Dooley, Doug- las Ingram and Washington plucked and strummed on their acoustic guitars. Kev- in D. Sawyer contributed the sound of an electric gui- tar to round out the night’s full harmony.
Sawyer’s guitar notes stood out on songs like Santana’s “Black Magic Woman,” where Washing- ton provided lead vocals and harmonica player Gary Harrell came out of the au- dience to join in.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” said Dooley after- ward. “I just love playing together with all of them.”
Incarcerated chapel tech- nician Dwight Krizman ended up being the percus- sion man on a spur-of-the- moment invitation. He sat hitting bass drum notes on a cajon—or wooden box—during most of the performance, also playing an assortment of handheld rhythmic devices, sort of
like tambourines and bon- gos, that he called an “af- uche, cabasa and djembe.”
Ingram sang lead on “Me and Bobby McGee.”
“I’m not singing it like Janis (Joplin) did, trust me,” he said after Huget intro- ducedhim.
“This is the last song she ever recorded,” added Huget.
“I had a blast,” Ingram told SQNews later. “We’ve been working hard—Billy, Louie and me. It’s been a real challenge for me.
“Some songs were out- side what I normally play. These guys helped me over the rough spots, and it paid off.”
At multiple times over the last couple of months, vari- ous configurations of the ensemble members could be seen practicing together in nooks and crannies all over the facility—wherever they could gather for a little while to hammer out their song list.
“It helps strengthen my memory—all the practic- ing,” said Washington. “Playing all these different tunes does a lot for your music comprehension. For me, it’s great to be able to add another instrument to my repertoire.”
Hypercritical Sawyer no- ticeably flubbed his “Star Spangled Banner” licks, and was none too happy about that. It’s a song he’s played and performed
many times in the past.
“I should have kept my eyes on the sheet music, but I tried looking away from it,” he said. “I’ll have to try that again.”
The set ended with Joe Cocker’s version of the Traffic song, “Feeling Al- right.”
“Come on everybody— sing along, stomp your feet, whatever you want to do,” urged Huget.
All the guys on stage mo- tioned for Starbird to finish the concert by getting on
a mic. She reluctantly— but with a constantly wide smile—joined the men in song.
“Being able to bring music into your lives, whenever we can, means everything to us,”
Starbird said when the music ended, and all the gear start- ed to get removed from the stage. “We took a trip down memory lane with these guys.
“Goodnight—we see you and appreciate you.”