Between the mud and the music, the sun and the drugs and the bodies, something happened in Max Yasgur's cow pasture 10 years ago today. Here are six reflections on that long-ago, faraway place called Woodstock.
Robert Goldstein was a student in 1969 when he hitchhiked to Woodstock. He was a music fan, and his face wound up as one of the few hundred on posters for the Woodstock film. Today Goldstein is a performer, lead guitarist of the Urban Verbs, who record for Warner Brothers.
The mud had been over my knees, but I had trudged from the foot of the stage through the thousands of bodies to the top of the hill overlooking the festival site. After nearly 12 cramped hours of squatting near center stage with only alcohol and various illegal substances for nourishment, I had volunteered for the dangerous mission to reach the distant vendors and provide food for my small circle of new-found friends.
A laborious, numbing trek of some 30 minutes found me, much like a refugee, in a long line to buy hot dogs of questionable taste, suspicious origin and outrageous price. What else would be served at a typical American gathering of 400,000?
Buying as many of these delicacies as could be crammed into a cardboard take-out tray, I attempted the perilous return trip and miraculously found my way back to my friends. Greeted with drugged cries of exultation (I wondered how many thought I was a hallucination), I numbly, but with the glow of a successful martyr, watched thp tray weave and bob through a gauntlet of plunging, eager hands. The gray emptiness of the tray, punctuated by a solitary blob of ketchup, reminded me that in my enthusiasm to provide for my friends I had not thought about food for myself; my friends of course assumed the food was entirely for them.
I think I can isolate that boggling moment in the late afternoon sun in a crowd of a half-million weekend refugees, staring at the red smear of ketchup, as my personal rite of passage and initiation into the Me Decade of the '70s which would soon follow Woodstock.
Ten years later, Woodstock does seem to reveal itself as an appropriate finale to the '60s and an ushering-in of the complacent '70s -- a turning point that forever altered the established role of rock music and its fans. What had been perceived as superfluous teen-age fun became canonized as the rock culture, to be analyzed, proselytized and merchandised by its members, its adherents and even its previous detractors. It was the kind of legitimacy that only the lure of economic gain can confer.
With few exceptions, such as The Who and Santana, the music and performances at Woodstock were unremarkable, being at turns either too human, too intimate, too boring or too tired to fit the scale of such surroundings. Inevitably the music was overwhelmed by the nearly unimaginable enormity of the crowd, and in turn by the crowd's awareness that it, not the music, was the spectacle.
Some 400,000 American teen-agers embarked on the pilgrimage to Woodstock armed with the naive faith that they would be taken care of by their neighbor. What resulted was 400,000 neighbors looking to be taken care of. But Woodstock showed how to extract the excitement of the '60s processing it into the veneer so characteristic of the '70s.
By Sunday afternoon, the sea of faces had evaporated into a debris-strewn landscape of gray, radioactive looking mud populated by stray bands of survivors of some drug-induced sonic disaster. In that setting, nothing seems as powerfully ironic as remembering the implicit terror and the mad cacophony of Jimi Hendrix playing the National Anthem.
Soon afterwards, I was tramping through wasted, soggy farmland to the state road where I hoped to hitch to the New York Thruway, and from there somehow home. The memory of those three days of awesome, swirling noise and humanity was already receding and being replaced by the shock of reentry into outside civilization, so quickly set aside during the previous days.
As I leaped to the flatbed truck that had stopped, I felt some of my belongings slip from under my arm. With a roar of diesel, the truck pulled away and I looked back to see my brand-new, sparkling-white, never-worn sneakers which are probably still neatly sitting there on the side of the road. -- R. G. All Was Possible
Melissa Cort didn't go to Woodstock, but encountered its effects everywhere.
Where you were, in mind and place, determined what Woodstock was to you. A friend just out of a midwest college, ROTC and in the military on his way to Vietnam: "A gathering of hypocrites, a cop-out." An 18-year-old rock guitarist: "A zenith musically." And I -- Gropius, the man who taught me that multicolor was his favorite color had just passed away -- I was on my way to Europe to travel and study architecture, a time to be mobile when all was possible.
The social climate of the Woodstock generation 1969 was post - Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and pre-Last Whole Earth Catalog; the moon and the giant leap for mankind; Yale was accepting women students; culturally: "Midnight Cowboy" and "Easy Rider," "The Peter Principle," "Hair" and "Oh Calcutta," Pop Art gave way to Op Art; Kennedy-Kopechne; bell-bottoms, jeans and Frye boots; street drugs and Thalidomide; hand signs and new language; war and Green Berets on trial; panhandlers and poets; candles and beads; love and peace; the press and the underground press; natural fibers and natural foods; Buckley-Vidal; and more. Maybe all was coo-coo-berry soup, all was possible. And there was Music.
Rock music, the underground newspaper of the air. Rock music, prophetically criticizing society's moral failures and standing up for the hopes and dreams of youth. And I returned for a time and owned a "counter culture boutique," became a ticket outlet for rock concerts promoted by friends, until there were profits and Ticketron found us.
Technology was at Woodstock in electric instruments, and protests for allowing amplified sound faced city park systems -- who today are sponsoring rock music events and even looking with pride to numbers gathered. Long hair, beards or businessmen wearing necklaces or bracelets are no longer uncommon. Frye-style boots are everywhere and jeans are in -- at an average price of $35 a pair. -- M. C. Slow Terror
Chipmonch was a stage manager at the festival and was asked on the first morning to also act as emcee.His between-acts patter helped hold the crowd together, unlike the scene backstage, recalled here in stream-of-consciousness form.
It's 5:30 a.m. on Friday. Hanley is on stage right, two rolls of zipcord sidecutters in hand and he's bent over this amazing once-upon-a- time rack of McIntosh power amplifiers. What else would he be doing on the day of the show? He's soldering. Hanley's always soldering. He doesn't believe in connectors.
I'm not in any too great shape myself, trying to get the stage ready. This has been three weeks of slow constant terror, bordering on panic.
Approximately 12,000 feet of aircraft cable, none smaller than 5/8ths-inch has to be rigged to hold up bar joists and then 35 individual pieces of canvas must be laced in place, a sort of fish-scale type roof after a Japanese gentleman's design of a horticultural pavilion at the Sacramento Fairgrounds, rather Fri Otto in concept.
We were far ahead of our time, now far behind in schedule.
Now I'm soldering, too. This intercom is the bane of my existence. Oh, here comes Michael, You know, the curly headed kid -- what now?
After a basic idiot check we now both determine that we have: 1. No roof; 2. No lightshow (can't hang the screen but we do have the pleasure of Josh's company); 3. No lights (nothing to hand on. We do have 13 follow spots, thank God); 4. The turntable has collapsed under the weight of the first band's equipment (should have made it out of steel, I guess); 5. We'll not go into fences, concessions, water and toilets, shall we?; 6. And I'm now the MC, Holy Christ.
Soon the rain, then the mud. Gee, it's the tenth anniversary of Woodstock. Why not do it again. It was such fun. Music, love and flowers. -- C. Counterculture Ocean
Country Joe and the Fish were one of the surprise hits of the festival with their Haight-Ashbury brand of political commentary. Joe McDonald is still performing, still singing for causes.
Nothing could have prepared me for the shock of Woodstock. The audience was a wonderful countercultural ocean of people cooperating, enjoying each other and the music, showing the world that rock 'n' roll and its audience were something very, very special -- not just a bunch of crazy weirdos. It meant to me that all the work of the '60s -- to build a new life style and to do something together that had never been done before -- was at last really happening. This was our celebration for ourselves; we deserved it and were going to have a good time.
During my set I remember staring down into the crowd and seeing two guys start to get into a fight. The people around them formed a circle to protect anyone else from getting hurt, and then started offering the guys joints and wine and, in 10 seconds, the whole thing cooled out. It summarized the spirit of cooperation.
I was not scheduled to perform by myself at Woodstock. We were hired to play as a band. But on the second day I was asked to fill in just to keep the show moving. And of course in the cooperative spirit of the festival I was glad to do so. I had no idea that my solo set was being filmed or for that matter that anything was to be filmed and recorded. But of course it was. Weeks later I saw myself singing "I Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag" on a big movie screen and I was stunned.
The realization that my performance was wanted as an important part of the show, the movie and the record was proof to me that my efforts to stop the war in Vietnam and to create a better way of living in America were appreciated. And of course it meant that, in the long run, I had a real place in the history of rock 'n' roll.
I'm still performing now, and somehow ever since, that Woodstock audience has been the standard of what it's all about. -- J.M. No Hard Feelings
Today Penny Stallings writes books; then she was part of a staff of hundreds trying to organize and then run the festival.
I remember the summer of 1969 like it was yesterday, spent in upstate New York as a paid employee preparing for the onslaught that would come to be known as the Woodstock Festival.
What I was actually doing was trying desperately to remain calm while standing in the eye of a cultural hurricane. To appear grown up and knowledgeable. To make it seem to those around me that I did things like discuss the hourly sewage capacities of the individual Port-o-san unit every day. You see, I was 22 years old at the time and fresh out of a soft southern college.
I remember how I spent that summer. I remember being chased from one bucolic township to another by outraged locals terrified at the prospect of 50,000 (the projected figure) of their and others' children camping out in the community backyard. I remember the staff -- middle class kids playing hippie in a "communal" living set-up (read "dorm") -- complaining when the chow didn't taste like Mama's. I remember practically every culture hero of the era (with the exception of Ken Kesey, unfortunately) stopping in at the festival offices at one time or another and, oh yes . . . I remember the Hog Farm, a self-proclaimed counterculture commune composed mostly of ex-record company execs, actors and such who'd bombed out in the L.A. showbiz scene.
Their leader Wavy Gravy (ne Hugh Romney) had convinced the festival execs to fly his entire circus to the White Lake site from their New Mexico home to act as a sort of comic police force (custard pies and seltzer bottles instead of billy clubs and Mace). Part of my duties included housing and feeding these folks. They demanded -- and got -- fresh goat's milk daily and would eat nothing but brown rice and organically grown vegetables. Oddly enough, most of them were ill with dysentery. Even the children. And their teeth were downright horrifying.
The dysentery ended up staying for the summer; practically everyone on the staff caught it at one time or another. The tooth problem, however, was eliminated by a local dentist. The entire Hog Farm had its collective teeth repaired and cosmetized courtesy of the festival charge account.
Then there was the time I brazenly opted to overrule one of the festival bosses on the second day of the festival by converting what was then the staff dining hall into a hospital. (We were serenaded by Joan Baez's blood-curdling soprano as we worked). And there was the night before the opening day of the festival when we were forced to extinguish a fire in the basement of the ancient hotel in which we were ensconced since the fire trucks couldn't get to us. Although it was just a few minutes past midnight, the roads were already clogged with cars all the way back to New York more than 75 miles away.
Yes, I could go on and on. And I did. For practically a year afterward all I did was rehash the events of that summer over and over again. That Had a couple of members of the stage crew sleeping on the floor of my New York apartment for several months afterward and that I'd chosen to continue working at the festival's city offices did nothing to push the memories into the past. What I did during that entire time, in fact, was attempt to figure out a way to make it all happen again.
But all fairy tales must come to an end. This one was ended unceremoniously by John Roberts (heir to the Polident fortune and source of the seemingly endless supply of festival funding) and the Roberts clan. It seems that the family had been more than a little appalled by the Woodstock festival and downright scandalized by their boy's involvement in it. They eventually ended up agreeing to bail him out of his multimillion-dollar debts so long as he promised to lay the Woodstock name permanently to rest. (This included all but a minuscule participation in the phenomenally successful film, too.)
But believe me, there are no hard feelings on my part. Anything but. In fact I'd like to take this opportunity on the 10th anniversary of the festival to thank those unsung heroes of Woodstock, John Roberts and the millions of toothless Americans who toted the note for that historic weekend and bought me the best summer vacation any girl ever had. -- P.S. The Birthplace
Joel Brugalieres and Pierre Lanore live in France.
Since the beginning of the year, even in Bordeaux, we have been hearing rumors that there might be a Woodstock II. We were 10 years old at the time of the first Woodstock but in the decade since it had become for us un veritable monument to liberated youth.
Then one night early last month, we decided we wanted to go to Woodstock. Why not? we told each other, wild fantasy though it might seem, in another 10 years we would be 30 and too old for Woodstock III.
For us, that immense gathering that was Woodstock had come to symbolize living what you like in the way you like, its music freeing you from the social classes that imprison all too often. For us, Woodstock meant letting people express their feelings through dance, laughter, song -- without restrictions.
During that first Woodstock, the reactions of the small communities where we grew up in southwest France had captured our attention, despite our young age. Our "elders" -- the 20-year-olds -- had been so excited, following assiduously first the preparations, then the happening itself and finally the consequences. They seemed to miss nothing about it on television or radio or in the newspapers.
At the other extreme, reaction of French adults had been much less positive.For them, Woodstock's participants -- its audience and performers -- were nothing short of degeneres. Showing their authority to 10-year-olds, at least, they switched off television coverage showing youths taking drugs, swimming nude and worshiping the likes of Jimi Hendrix.
We bought tickets chez Laker arriving the New York ville folle where after a week we caught the train to Washington.
And in Baltimore who should board our train but the complete antithesis of what we had expected to find on our Woodstock adventure, the President of the United States and Mrs. Carter. In Washington where we saw them on the platform, they smiled at us. Then in a coterie of security officers and journalists, they were gone, taking their bright commercial smiles with them.
From the capital of this nation, we came up to the birthplace of the counterculture.
We are there today, listening. J. B. and P. L.