Woodstock '99 Report #8: James Brown Opens Fest With Funk

Accompanied by 20-piece soul-funk revue, Godfather of Soul gets attendees dancing and shaking.

ROME, N.Y. — Soul legend James Brown has been a superstar for nearly twice as long as there's been a Woodstock nation.

But it was Brown and his 20-piece soul-funk revue that opened this weekend's 30th-anniversary edition of the festival with a high-energy, 70-minute set of greatest hits that had thousands of shirtless fans literally breaking out in a "Cold Sweat" in the relentless 90-plus-degree heat.

Despite the weather, 28-year-old Lou Greenwald of Boston ambled his way through the throng in a full-body cow suit, complete with four dangling udders and a cow's-head hood.

"Get your boogie on!" Greenwald shouted repeatedly, as passers-by stopped him, grabbed an udder and took pictures.

Brown, in midnight-blue pants with a silver stripe down each side, matching shirt and glittery silver vest, got Greenwald and thousands of other fans moving with his slightly inappropriate hit "Cold Sweat."

Shimmying, flinging his microphone stand to and fro and skittering across the stage, Brown, led his band with whipsaw chops of his hands, and segued into "Funky Good Time," then "Living in America." He was joined by two scantily clad hip-hop dancers in American-flag dresses.

Even if most of the young fans failed to respond when one of Brown's warm-up acts, singer Tammy Ray, sang a few lines from late Woodstock '69 singer Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz," they had no problem getting into the music once Brown got going.

Wendy Baker, 25, and her friend Jennifer Hollett, 23, who took an eight-hour bus ride from Toronto to attend, started an impromptu dance floor on the right side of the massive east stage.

"You can't get more energetic than the James Brown experience," Hollett said.

"Yeah, we've all had enough of Sugar Ray," Baker said with a laugh, referring to the California pop group who dropped off the first day's schedule because singer Mark McGrath had contracted a viral infection.

Brown introduced one of his guitarists, who drew raucous applause by evoking the closing artist of the first Woodstock with a searing rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady."

The tireless bandleader also asked the crowd to take a silent moment to honor another fallen star, John F. Kennedy Jr., whose plane went down off the coast of Massachusetts on Saturday. He also chanted "JFK Jr." to the throng of listeners.

The set ended with Brown pounding on a keyboard during "Soul Power" as his four-piece horn section played him off the stage.