Carlos Santana’s Woodstock Experience: Recalling Being ‘Higher Than an Astronaut’s Butt’ Thanks to Jerry Garcia

Carlos Santana

The Fateful Festival That Made Carlos Santana a Star

Carlos Santana’s journey to stardom took a significant turn at Woodstock, the iconic festival of 1969. In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, the legendary guitarist reminisces about his experience at the festival that launched his career. Santana and his band, still on the rise at the time, were granted a spot on the Woodstock bill by promoter Bill Graham, even before releasing their debut album. Little did they know that their performance would become a defining moment in music history.

Battling Through a Substance-Induced Haze

Woodstock was a whirlwind of emotions and unexpected encounters for Carlos Santana. Moments before taking the stage, Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia offered Santana some hallucinogens, which he suspects to be peyote, mescaline, ayahuasca, or mushrooms. Santana candidly reveals the challenges he faced, stating, “It was a real test… You are higher than an astronaut’s butt right now with whatever Jerry Garcia shared with me.” Overwhelmed by the psychedelic effects, Santana wondered if he would be able to perform. Yet, he found solace in a higher power and managed to deliver a mesmerizing set that captivated the crowd.

Carlos Santana (R) and David Brown (L). VICTOR ENGLEBERT/PHOTO RESEARCHERS HISTORY/GETTY

From Woodstock to International Success

Carlos Santana’s performance at Woodstock was a turning point in his career. Despite being third in the lineup, behind Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, Santana’s band left an indelible mark on the festival. Reflecting on that momentous day, Santana reminisces, “When I look at the video, and even though I was there, it was Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix and Santana, and then there was everybody else.” Their eight-song set propelled them to international stardom. Santana admits to being unprepared for the fame that followed, recalling the words of warning from Bill Graham. Nevertheless, he embraced the newfound success and fulfilled a promise to his mother, using his first royalty check to provide for his family’s needs.

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