Canned Heat drummer embraces Woodstock spirit en route to Marion festival


The lineup has changed since Canned Heat's Woodstock performance, but the hits have rolled on. The
CANNED HEAT PHOTO The lineup has changed since Canned Heat’s Woodstock performance, but the hits have rolled on. The band will headline Sunday’s Marion Music & Art Festival, in the spirit of peace, love and rock ‘n’ roll. Members are (from left) John “JP” Paulus, Dale Spalding, Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra and Rick Reed. Its name refers to the Prohibition-era song and practice of wringing alcohol out of Sterno used to keep food warm.

As the saying goes, if you remember Woodstock, you weren’t there.

However, Canned Heat drummer Aldolfo “Fito” de la Parra, now 73, remembers every little thing about the gig that raised the profile on the already-popular band.

“I remember everything — I have a great memory,” de la Parra said by phone from his home in Ventura County, north of Los Angeles. “I wrote a book called ‘Living the Blues.’ One of reasons why I wrote the book was because I wanted to stop answering questions about Woodstock.”

He chronicles that day in the first chapter, from the moment he was roused from his sleep until he and his bandmates collapsed, exhausted, at the end of the day.

With this week’s 50th anniversary of the seminal festival, held Aug. 15 to 18, 1969, he’s talking about Woodstock again.

Most of the band’s summer gigs have had a “Woodstock” nostalgia theme, including Sunday’s (8/18) Marion Music & Art Festival at Lowe Park, 4500 N. 10th St. The event in the Klopfenstein Amphitheater will feature six bands, plus art, food and drink. Admission is $20 in advance, $25 at the gate or $50 for VIP tickets with reserved seating and a meet-and-greet with Canned Heat’s band members.

While de la Parra doesn’t specifically remember playing at Marion’s Armar Ballroom not long after Woodstock, he’s happy to be returning to Iowa.

“It’s not a place we’ve played too often — only once or twice in our 50-year-career,” he said. “It’s great to be back there.”


The set will include the blues and boogie rock band’s biggest hits, “Going Up the Country,” “Let’s Work Together” and “On the Road Again,” as well as other known songs that didn’t reach the Top 10, like “Amphetamine Annie” and “Refried Boogie.”

“I’m looking forward to giving you all kind of an experience of the Woodstock festival, with our music and our presence there,” he said. “Bring back that spirit of peace and love and tolerance ... part of our generation’s message to the world about what’s happening. I think it is more pertinent and important now than ever.”

That’s what he loved about Woodstock, but the festival, itself, proved bittersweet.

He and his bandmates were running on empty Aug. 16, 1969, after playing back-to-back concerts on both coasts, so they were exhausted. And while “Going Up the Country” became an unofficial festival theme song, thanks to the subsequent documentary, several acts — including Canned Heat, Janis Joplin and Paul Butterfield — were left out of the movie.

He blames that on “bad politics” among the record companies, eliminating the musicians who weren’t associated with the film’s producers. That footage, however, was restored in the director’s cut. The “constant fight” for royalties and rights has further tainted the experience for him.

The band already was established and popular, he noted, but the festival raised its profile even higher.

“In Europe, they always identify us as a Woodstock band, but we refuse to become a nostalgia band that plays hit records all the time,” he said. “We like to play some of our hit records, but we also like to educate a little bit. So in many ways, Woodstock was beneficial to our popularity, but in many other ways, Woodstock was not as beneficial and it was a source of anger and frustration from us.”

Woodstock lured more than 400,000 people to a massive field at Max Yasgur’s farm near Bethel, N.Y., northwest of New York City, but it wasn’t the first of the massive rock festivals. It followed in the footsteps of California’s three-day Monterey Pop Festival staged in June 1967, during the “Summer of Love.”

After Woodstock came the counterculture Altamont Speedway Free Festival in December 1969, which drew 300,000 people but was marred by violence, including the stabbing death of a gun-wielding teen and three accidental deaths. That signaled the death of rock festivals, said Steve Horowitz, 64, of Iowa City. An adjunct assistant professor at the University of Iowa, he teaches two online classes examining rock music history.


Rock festivals had been growing in size, he said, fueled by word-of-mouth and hype from artists’ managers. Monterey Pop sold 12,000 tickets, but more than 50,000 people showed up. By the time the masses descended on Woodstock in 1969, it became, in essence, a free event.

He called that “a pivotal year.”

“It was the end of the dream of the ’60s, but it also was the ultimate ’60s celebration of values,” Horowitz said. “Woodstock became shorthand for hippie values of love, peace and things of that nature. It showed the sheer size of the counterculture.”

For all the romanticizing of Woodstock, in reality, the site’s sanitary conditions were bad, townspeople had to supply food, and with the rain, the field became a muddy mess, he noted.

“Because of the documentary about it and the soundtrack album, it became celebrated as somehow, a very great festival,” Horowitz said. “The music certainly holds up, but the conditions of the festival certainly didn’t.”

In recent years, rock festivals have re-emerged and gained new popularity and new audiences — from Lollapalooza in Chicago and Bonnaroo in Tennessee to the ever-expanding South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

“Rock festivals now are more important than they’ve been in decades,” he said, preserving the Woodstock tradition of gathering many bands of varying genres in one location.

“The ideal of the rock festival still exists,” he said, even though attempts to revive Woodstock have failed.

“Woodstock is more important as a myth than it is as a reality,” Horowitz said. “Myths are important. It’s nice to have heroes and legends.”


WHAT: Marion Music & Art Festival

WHERE: Klopfenstein Amphitheater for the Performing Arts, Lowe Park, 4500 N. 10th St., Marion

WHEN: 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday (8/18)


BANDS: Winterland, the Beaker Brothers, Moving Target, Ron LaFleur and the Boy Scout Hippies, the Zoot Newt Band and headliner Canned Heat

TICKETS: $20 advance at Eventbrite.com/e/marion-music-art-festival-tickets-64581641428 ALSO: $25 gate; for $50 VIP reserved seating and Canned Heat meet-and-greet email artisansanctuary@gmail.com

HEADLINER’S WEBSITE: Cannedheatmusic.com/index.htm

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