It is the year 1969. Imagine being a young 20-year-old drummer on tour for the first time playing to large audiences that were not familiar with your band, as the record had not come out yet. A lot of excitement was in the air, people were very open to new music and you and your band, Santana was on fire as you just came off a string of shows booked across the country leading up to this moment. This string of shows would culminate with this performance at a festival known as Woodstock on August 16, 1969. The event was unorganized as thousands upon thousands of young people came in droves to hear three days of music and participate in what would become the largest and most popular music festival ever. Your band is moved up to an earlier time slot than expected and instead of a night performance, you end up playing in the afternoon. All the pieces of the puzzle fit just right as the festival was filmed and as fate would have it, the song that included your drum solo spot was put into the final cut of the movie known as Woodstock; 3 days of peace love and music.
Filmed in the daylight just before the rain came, the set displays a band at the top of their game with 19 year old Michael Shrieve playing an incredible solo and in my opinion, well beyond his years. All the pieces had come together to make this a magic moment in time for Michael and drumming in general. The problem? It was a piece of Michael’s long and amazing career that had become a defining moment at nineteen! While most of us could only imagine what a moment like this must have been like, more than likely Michael hears about it on a daily basis. I have heard interviews with him where he says people come up to him all the time to tell him how their uncle’s best friend’s mother was there or how they were stuck in traffic for days to get there and Michael just politely listens until he mentions that he has to get going. I can only dream what the experience must have been like and I would like to offer my perspective as I wasn’t even alive when Woodstock took place. My experience with Michael’s playing happened when I saw the movie in high school over twenty years after Woodstock.
I had actually heard of Michael before I saw the Woodstock film as I have been a Modern Drummer subscriber since 1983 and I read a story on him. I am also a Sammy Hagar fan and Michael played on the HSAS album that was released in 1985. It was not until I saw the movie while at a friend’s house one day that made me take notice. Right away, I noticed his total control over the single stroke roll as he was playing the snare with the snares off. He seemed to buzz around the set with grace and there was not a hint of nervousness in the way he looked or played. I also thought (and still do think) that it was a courageous move to bring down the dynamics to add in effect. I read that after watching the movie, Michael said he cringed while seeing the quiet parts as he thought they took away from the energy. I actually think it was great to bring down the dynamics in front of a crowd that large as it gave the solo a real surge when it came back at full force. It was a show highlight for sure and if Michael were to read this, I would want him to realize how inspiring this solo was. It is a video that I could watch thousands of times and still feel inspired and in awe. If I am ever feeling down or need some inspiration, it always makes me feel better after watching it.
Michael was using the 1967 pink champagne sparkle Ludwig super classic set he purchased just out of high school. He would use this set for several more years including the famous 1969 Altamont concert. I love the super classic configuration and I use those sizes on almost every gig. I love the color champagne and my gigging set of classic maples is champagne sparkle as in some way it pays a little homage to Michael. Now that the 50th anniversary of Woodstock has passed us, hopefully Michael will understand how impactful this moment was to a young drummer like me. It has also led me to check other things he has done. So if you are listening Michael, Happy Anniversary from a big fan.