At one time, B-52 planes landed at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New
York to refuel and rearm. But on Thursday night, George Clinton and his
Parliament/Funkadelic accomplices refueled themselves and landed “the
Mothership” there as part of the kickoff to Woodstock ’99.
Even though the music festival wasn’t scheduled to officially start until
Friday (with a special opening set from Godfather of Soul James Brown), that
didn’t stop Clinton and his merry brand of Afro-nauts from delivering a
cosmic slice of intergalactic funk for a teeming crowd of those arriving
early to the site of this, the third edition of the Woodstock franchise.
Clinton — who was also using the occasion to celebrate his 59th birthday —
let some of his friends and bandmates get the special concert started, as
longtime P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell was the first to take the stage,
which was set up at one of the massive hangars remaining at the
decommissioned air force base.
Worrell led his band through a crowd-warming pair of opening tunes, including
a funky reading of the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.” A
heavily-improv’d version of Parliament’s “Bop Gun” followed, served up by a
contingent of Parliament/Funkadelic’s present day roster (minus the notable
absence of bassist Bootsy Collins, who recently rejoined Clinton and Worrell
in the studio for a new group project.
By the time the birthday boy joined the party going on onstage, the band had
locked into such a boisterous groove that Clinton quickly fell on all fours
during “We Want the Funk,” then hiked up a hind leg in gleeful response to
Guest violinist Lili Hayden reeled off a surprisingly rocking solo during an
extended take on “Up for the Down Stroke,” which dovetailed into an equally
scorching rendition of Funkadelic’s ’70s political diatribe “Free Your Mind.”
Bootsy Collins finally appeared to lend some throbbing bass lines to
“Mothership Connection,” which ended with a scaled-down version of the
legendary setpiece landing at the front of the stage, and with Clinton
emerging from the vessel in a costume that seemed tailored from a stylized
United Nations flag.
Illustrator Peter Max, who also designed the proscenium artwork that graces
Woodstock’s main stage, then appeared to present Clinton with an original
painting that appeared to cast him as an interplanetary “Cat in the Hat.”
With the clock striking way past midnight, Collins, Clinton, and Worrell then
unleashed a thrashing version of Clinton’s 1982 solo hit, “Atomic Dog,” a
move that seemed to suggest that the recent rap-rock success of Limp Bizkit
has not been lost on Parliament/Funkadelic.
Winding down the near three-hour show with a series of “Atomic Dog”-inspired
solos and jams, Clinton and the rest of the P-Funk gang proved that they
still know how to throw a party –especially a birthday one.