Sweetwater August Burns

Sweetwater August Burns

Woodstock Music and Art Fair

There were (by my count) 167 performers at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. I have tried to do a short bio on each of them on their birthday. It seemed a way of noting their day, their contribution to that grand event, and a bit about them.

As broad and wide as this not-so-newfangled inter-web thingy is, some performers seem to have disappeared. Of course, if I were a true researcher I’d switch to shoe leather (are soles even leather anymore?) and give my fingertips a break. Alas, I’m sticking to fingers.

Sweetwater  August Burns

Wade Lawrence

Fortunately, there are some with far better connections than I have. Wade Lawrence, for example. Wade was the first head curator at the  The Museum at Bethel Woods. Beginning in January 2017 and continuing to the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival in August 2019, he posted the stories of the 32 musical acts that performed at Woodstock.

He covered them in the order they appeared and thus Sweetwater’s August Burns was within his second piece.

Sweetwater  August Burns


Sweetwater was supposed to open the festival, but traffic issues delayed their arrival. Richie Havens’s famous opening became history. Ironically, his closing impromptu composition, Freedom, included pieces of Motherless Child, Sweetwater’s opening song to their 8-song set (though their last “song” was a medley of three songs: Why Oh Why/Let the Sunshine In/Oh Happy Day). 

In addition to Burns who played cello, Sweetwater consisted of:

Other than Ravi Shankar’s performance (and he of course had the sitar), Sweetwater was the only band/performer at Woodstock that did not use a guitar–acoustic nor electric.

As you can see above, August Burns was the band’s cello player. That is a sentence that is rarely written about rock bands!

Sweetwater  August Burns


The Sweetwater site has this to say about August Burns: “An extremely unique individual, August, our well- loved cellist, had a warm smile, a mysteriously deep voice, and was interested, from an intellectual standpoint, in EVERYTHING. This very cool guy, who studied the classics at UCLA, added to our eclectic image by bringing us a touch of class. When he played his solo on “My Crystal Spider, “ during our concerts, the audience would go nuts. After Sweetwater, August went to Germany to study conducting. While there, he somehow fell out of a construction elevator, and in the hospital, contracted pneumonia and died.”

Sweetwater  August Burns

4 thoughts on “Sweetwater August Burns”

  1. Do you know if the remaining members of Sweetwater will perform at either of the 50th anniversary shows, Nansi, ALex and Fred are all still in the music biz. It would be pretty cool to have the “first band” that played the original woodstock perform and they were also in the lineup for the 94 woodstock. Thanks

    1. I don’t know about whether they’ll perform (as of now, no), but both Alex Del Zoppo and Fred Herrera attended the recent Bethel Woods season opening and were part of a panel discussing Woodstock. Was fortunate to meet both and both were friendly and talkative.

  2. Today, I was flipping through some Woodstock photos. I came across with vocalist Nancy Nevins and the cellist player,August Burns. Here it is 2919 and I thought I knew everything Woodstock.
    August and I were friends in jr. and sr. high school.
    I knew he was a wonderful Cello player, but I ought not be surprised that he played at Woodstock.
    I knew of his untimely death in Germany in 1979.

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