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Book review: 'Small Town Talk' details the history of Woodstock, N.Y., its influence on popular culture

Posted October 18

"SMALL TOWN TALK: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock," by Barney Hoskyns, Da Capo Press, $15.99, 346 pages (nf)

It might seem logical to assume the famous Woodstock music festival of 1969 actually happened in Woodstock, New York, but it didn't.

The actual festival occurred some 60 miles from Woodstock in a small Catskill area town. The town had been an area for art, music and creative endeavors for most of its existence, and it became the epicenter of the folk and rock explosions in the 1960s.

“Small Town Talk” by Barney Hoskyns is a history of the town, its residents and what happened when Bob Dylan decided he wanted somewhere to escape to. The result was the town of Woodstock played a role in the development of the music produced by musicians and groups such as Dylan, The Band, Janis Joplin, Van Morrison and Peter, Paul and Mary, as well as many other lesser-known music artists of the 1960s and 1970s.

The book, while obviously well researched and with many firsthand interviews, ends up being more of a laundry list of names of people involved or living in Woodstock during this time period. While many of the people interviewed are names many readers will likely recognize, the vast majority are basically unknowns. The author often names people and gives no exposition as to who they are or how they figure into the puzzle of what went on here.

A prominent name is that of Albert Grossman, manager of first Peter, Paul and Mary and then Dylan, as well as many more performers. The book not only suggests Grossman may arguably be responsible for the success for both of these acts but it also emphasizes that it was his home in the Woodstock area that provided Dylan’s first reason to be in the area.

While the book has many interesting anecdotes, the reader will have to wade through far too many stories about unknown names to get to them. This is a book that only an avid fan of the artists who worked in the area would be interested in. A casual fan is only going to be confused with the references to so many unknown individuals.

The book contains several references to sex and drug use and uses objectionable language throughout many of the interviews.

Scott Butters has over 35 years of experience in business and finance. He is a graduate of the University of Utah and bleeds red. He can be contacted at scotta.butters@gmail.com.

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