The 40th anniversary of Woodstock this weekend also marks the career-curtailing failure of San Diego’s Iron Butterfly to play the historic festival as scheduled.
How did things fall apart for the Butterfly in August of 1969?
Though sources remain in conflict, one certainty is how huge they were: their second album, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, was at number four on the Billboard 200. (Released in July of 1968 and the first certified platinum album, Vida charted for 140 weeks, half in the top ten.)
The routine shorthand answer about how the band missed Woodstock is that they got “stuck at the airport” and couldn’t travel the traffic-choked 100 miles of highway from New York City to Upstate New York in time. The longstanding consensus on the rest of the story, however, is supported by festival co-creator Michael Lang in his just-released book The Road to Woodstock:
“Iron Butterfly was booked for Sunday afternoon, but John Morris [production coordinator and stage MC] told me that their agent had called with a last-minute demand for a helicopter to pick them up.… Apparently the agent had a real attitude, and we were up to our eyeballs in problems. So I told John to tell him to forget it; we had more important things to deal with.”
In Pete Fornatale’s Back to the Garden, released this June, John Morris explained that his telegram was only a conclusive response to the Butterfly people: “They sent me a telegram saying, ‘We will fly to LaGuardia. You will have helicopters pick us up. We will fly straight to the show. We will perform immediately, and then we will be flown out.’ And I picked up the phone…got a cooperative lady at Western Union…and said:
‘F or reasons I can’t go into
U ntil you are here
C larifying your situation
K nowing you are having problems
Y ou will have to find
O ther transportation
U nless you plan not to come.’ ”