It's not unusual to see a finely dressed crowd strolling through 54 Below. With a variety of Broadway stars performing any night of the week, cocktail dresses and finely cut suits can often be spotted in the audience of the midtown performing space.
August 15, however, found a different style adorning the audience and the stage in the nightclub located underneath the original Studio 54 at "One Night of Peace & Music: A Tribute to Woodstock." Produced by Lauren Fox, the concert presented an array of performers offering an authentic and heartfelt trip back in time to Aug. 15, 1969; instead of well-cut suits and dresses - headbands, hoop earrings and fringed shirts adorned the performers and audience members.
Presented on the 44th anniversary of the legendary concert in White Lake, NY, the event featured a variety of singers and musicians offering a tribute to the three-day concert that was billed as "An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music." The songs were interspersed with a narration read by Haley Fox, recounting of performers' memories of the event. All of them were affectionate and many of them were highly entertaining.
The singers were accompanied by Kelley Barnett on flute, Rex Benincasa on percussion, Peter Calo on guitar, Adam Fisher on cello, Ritt Henn on bass, Ted Stafford on guitar/mandolin and musical director Jon Weber on piano.
The evening began with a heartfelt rendition of Richie Havens' "Freedom" by the AudioBodies, followed by Marissa Mulder giving a joyous performance of "Two Worlds" by Nansi Nevins. Norbert Leo Butz gave a haunting performance of Tim Hardin's "Reason To Believe," accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, while Fox sang Melanie Safka's "Close To It All." Joan Baez's "Sweet Sir Galahad" was given a melodic rendition by KT Sullivan, and the audience happily sang and clapped along to Calo's performance of "Gimme an F/Feel Like I'm Fixin to Die Rag" by Country Joe McDonald. The room rang with the chorus of, "One, two, three — What are we fighting for?" The recorded memories included performers recalling Janis Joplin arriving at the concert in a helicopter and the statement, "Woodstock was probably the single greatest show in history. Townsend didn't like it because he was an idiot."
Chris and Rachel Sullivan harmonized beautifully on John Sebastian's "How Have You Been?" and Clarence "Sonny" Henry's "Evil Ways" was given a sulty rendition by Stacy Sullivan in the style of Carlos Santana. The audience clapped and fist-pumped along to Stafford's performance of John Fogerty's "Proud Mary" and Carole J. Bufford gave a leisurely take on George Gershwin's "Summertime." Natalie Douglas sang, "Everyday People" by Sylvester "Sly Stone" Stewart, while Weber, Stafford and Calo sang Pete Townsend's "Pinball Wizard."
The pleasure the audience felt at hearing songs from their history was apparent; they grew very enthusiastic when Heather MacRae sang Grace Slick's "White Rabbit," and when Henn gave an impassioned performance of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "With a Little Help From My Friends," accompanied by MacRae, Douglas and Fox, he asked some of the front row audience members if any of them would be his friend. They seemed happy to oblige. Robbie Robertson's "The Weight" was performed by Stafford, Chris Sullivan, Benincasa and Scott Coulter, and Coulter also gave a joyous rendition of Berry Gordy's "You've Made Me So Very Happy." Stacy Sullivan, Marissa Mulder and Fox gave a lovely performance of Stephen Still's "Helplessly Hoping" and the evening ended with Calo playing "The Star Spangled Banner" as performed by Jimi Hendrix.
While one of the audio memories of Woodstock included Stephen Stills confessing to being "scared shi*tless" when performing, none of the singers or musicians at 54 Below appeared anything other than excited to revisit the songs of that historic weekend. Their enthusiasm was obvious and contagious; it certainly was an evening of peace and music.
54 Below is located at 254 W. 54th Street. For more information and tickets, visit 54Below.com.