Why Frank Zappa Decided Not To Play At Woodstock

In the decades since it was staged, Woodstock has become cultural shorthand for the long-haired Age of Aquarius. Everyone, it seemed, was either a hippie in the summer of ’69, or claims to have been. It was, as the kids used to say, a scene.

Despite its staggering cultural influence, though, Woodstock was not exclusively a stacked show brimming with future legends. Yes, you had your Creedence Clearwater Revival, your Grateful Dead, your Jimi Hendrix. But you also had … Sha Na Na? The doo-wop group performed hits that would have been much more attuned to the spirit of 1959 than its own decade, with near-anachronistic performances of “At the Hop” and “Teenager in Love.”

And some of the biggest acts of the time were no-shows for various reasons. Led Zeppelin was off headlining their own shows that weekend. The Doors thought the show was going to be a lame follow-up to the much bigger Monterey Festival and said no, thanks. Even Bob Dylan, living less than an hour away, turned down the gig due to enigmatic, Bob Dylan-type reasons.

The most surprising turn-down of a slot of the world’s biggest bill, though, may have been counterculture icon, Frank Zappa.

Frank Zappa to Woodstock: No, thanks

Hippies, drugs, peace, love, and mud. What’s not to love? Well, according to Frank Zappa … all of that. Zappa and his band, Mothers of Invention, may have looked at home among the hordes of longhairs, but it really wasn’t his bag.

According to John Corcelli in his book, “Frank Zappa FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Father of Invention,” Zappa told Circus Raves in 1975 that by the time Woodstock came around, “[A]ll the hippies were so impressed with themselves that they didn’t know which end was up” — which, fair. There were enough drugs around the scene that many who’d actually been at the festival probably don’t remember much. And Zappa was also famously anti-drug, which might come as a surprise to some more casual fans. According to his brother Bob, Frank couldn’t tolerate the counterculture’s love affair with mind-altering substances (per The Fix).

Finally, as anyone who has checked the weather report before a camping trip can tell you, the prospect of mucking around on the ground after a rainstorm is less than appealing. According to RockPasta, Zappa looked to the heavens, read the signs, and said … nah. “A lot of mud at Woodstock”, said Zappa. “We were invited to play there, we turned it down.’

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