CSN at 40

celebrating two anniversaries: david crosby, stephen stills and graham nash. photo by elde stewart.

celebrating two anniversaries: david crosby, stephen stills, graham nash. photo by elde stewart.

It’s one of those fabled remarks, seemingly intended as an aside at the time it was made, that later became an artistic moment of record.

It arrived in the midst of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s post-midnight set at Woodstock. That’s when Stephen Stills remarked exactly how scared the trio was when faced with a crowd that had swelled to 500,000.

We would love to quote Stills’ words directly for you here. But it wasn’t exactly a G-rated comment. Considering, as well, that Woodstock was only CSN’s second public performance as a group, you can imagine the sense of stage fright.

That the trio performs in Cincinnati tonight just two weeks ahead of Woodstock’s 40th anniversary is somewhat serendipitous timing. But another anniversary eclipses even that of the mighty festival this summer – that of CSN itself.

Born from the splinters and, in some cases, wreckage of three landmark ‘60s bands, David Crosby (from The Byrds), Stills (from the self-destructed Buffalo Springfield) and Graham Nash (from The Hollies), CSN released its debut album, titled simply Crosby, Stills and Nash, in May 1969. It became an instant hit with sterling hippie harmonies and equal measures of activism, pop romanticism and psychedelia.

The popularity of CSN would ebb and flow throughout the ‘70s with almost as much frequency as the trio’s various breakups and reformations. Sometimes Neil Young, Stills’ former bandmate in Buffalo Springfield, would join in. He played with CSN for roughly half of its Woodstock set and a subsequent tour before helping cut the debut CSNY album, 1970’s Déjà Vu. The recording yielded a hit electric reworking of Joni Mitchell’s account of the previous summer’s gathering, the aptly titled Woodstock.

Though CSNY remained popular enough during a high profile 1974 tour to play stadiums, its artistic fortunes dwindled as the ‘80s and ‘90s set in.

The quartet reunited in 2006 to play primarily new music from Young’s heavily political Living with War album (the tour was chronicled on the documentary film CSNY/Déjà Vu). But this summer belongs to Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Though tonight’s Cincinnati performance will undoubtedly go heavy on CSN staples that were new when they were played in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning at Woodstock (Suite: Judy Blues Eyes, Guinnevere, Wooden Ships and more), the trio is also devoting time to tunes (The Grateful Dead’s Uncle John’s Band, The Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday) from an all-covers album currently being recorded with all-star producer/pop career resuscitator Rick Rubin.

Those fascinated by the CSN/Woodstock connection should also note that Wooden Ships, originally from the Crosby, Stills & Nash album, is featured on the soundtrack to the new comedy film Taking Woodstock by Oscar winner Ang Lee. Plus, on Aug. 18, Rhino Records, which has already issued excellent box set collections highlighting the careers of Crosby (Voyage)and Nash (Reflections), will release Woodstock: 40 Years On, a 6-CD set of performances from the festival, including a half-dozen songs by CSN. And maybe Y.

Crosby, Stills and Nash performs at 8 p.m. Friday at PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati. Tickets are $39, $56, $76. Call (800) 745-3000.

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