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Shawnee News Star Web posted August 14, 2009

For Sha Na Na's John 'Jocko' Marcellino, Woodstock was the long wait


QUINCY, Mass. - For most people at Woodstock, the big worries were rain, mud and a shortage of food. But not for John "Jocko" Marcellino. The Sha Na Na drummer and co-founder spent most of the famous 1969 rock festival wondering whether his fifties revival band would ever get to perform.

"We were supposed to go onstage on Saturday (the second day), but the schedule went out the window early," Marcellino recalled in a telephone interview. "By Sunday we werenít sure we would even get on."

They finally did - just after daybreak on Monday, as the next to last act before guitarist Jimi Hendrix closed the festival. Their rave-up version of "At the Hop" turned out to be one of the highlights of the 1970 documentary film "Woodstock."

Sha Na Na was an unlikely act amid a counterculture extravaganza that featured the likes of Janis Joplin, Santana, Jefferson Airplane and The Who, but Marcellino didnít care. He says the appearance launched the bandís 40-year career.

"We wouldnít have made it outside the New York area if we hadnít played Woodstock," he said. "We got a record deal from it. We had success in other mediums. A lot of things we did were connected to Woodstock."

The group got there by the happenstance of a nightclub gig.

Marcellino and others had formed Sha Na Na in New York City in the spring of 1969. Marcellino, now one of only two original members still with the group, was a freshman at Columbia University then. Heíd grown up in Quincy and Milton, Mass., played in a couple of local bands, and graduated from Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree, Mass.

Sha Na Na had only played six small shows before Woodstock, but they were in the right place at the right time that summer - closing night at The Scene, a popular rock club in the Hellís Kitchen area of Manhattan.

Woodstock producers Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld were in the audience. After Sha Na Naís set, the duo approached the bandís manager about Woodstock, and they were booked on the spot for $350.

A few weeks later, Marcellino and his 11 bandmates made their way to a Holiday Inn near Bethel, N.Y., where other groups and singers also stayed. On Saturday, the second day of the festival, they took their U-Haul van and followed Sly and the Family Stoneís equipment truck to the backstage area.

"Then we were on our own," Marcellino said.

Like thousands of others there, they slept on the ground or in their van, wandered back and forth to hear the headliners, and took swims in a nearby pond. By Sunday, "we started to get concerned that we werenít going to get to rock," Marcellino said.

Early Monday morning, after a sunrise performance by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, they got the word they were on. They hurried out for a 30-minute set for a dwindling crowd in a trash-strewn, muddy field.

"It looked like a refugee camp," Marcellino recalls.

Marcellino broke down his drum kit while Hendrix played. The band was back in New York later that day.

Sha Na Na has toured ever since, with multiple changes of personnel. The group had a network TV show from 1977 to 1981 and was featured in the 1978 movie "Grease."

As it turned out, the band wound up earning nothing from Woodstock. Their check bounced. They got $1 for their subsequent appearance in the "Woodstock" film - 8 cents each for the 12-man ensemble. But no one complained. Compared to the worldwide exposure they got, "it was the greatest 8 cents we ever made," Marcellino said.

By Lane Lambert, GateHouse News Service


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