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WOODSTOCK 2019

An old hippie goes home.

And finds the true meaning of Woodstock.

                                                                                                                                   

For most of us, home is where you hang your hat. This is where home is physically. But if you are a child of the ‘60’s, home mentally is at the sacred grounds of the Woodstock Festival site. This is where, a half century ago, the mother of all Festivals took place. Nothing previously had ever happened like this before. With modern technology, planning and hindsight, laws limiting attendees, nothing like this will happen ever again. They began planning for a festival of 50,000. With all of the publicity going into the final week before it began, they realized they could have 200,000 show up. They were not ready for this number and had to chose between updating the stages or the fencing. They ignored the fencing and declared the festival free the night before. Almost 500,000 were able to get to the festival. It is estimated that around 1,000,000 (yes, that's a million) showed up, with the other half million simply not able to get in due to traffic jams for miles. The performers had to be brought in by helicopter, instead of bused because of the road clogs.

I knew nothing of Woodstock before it happened. Was only 12 and really music was only something playing in the background. As information filtered through in the coming weeks and months, I began appreciating music, knowing what artists did what……and what the songs were about. That Christmas, I asked for a good radio to listen to music. Later after getting a job, my first major purchase was a good stereo….and began putting together a massive record collection. A brief fling with bellbottoms were replaced with blue jeans. And the hair began getting longer.....and longer. But, as a child of the 60’s, there was always something missing out of my life, not being there. It always loomed over me I was one of only a few of my generation that did not attend. In 1970, they released a theater documentary of the festival. They did this just to kick dirt in my face and remind me that I wasn't there. Well, it was successful, and finally made money for the promoters, who had lost money on the original event.

I decided to make this a business trip and research aspects of the festival. The biggest question that needed answering is, Why did so many come? It was one of the great mysteries of the 20th century....second only to who was behind the Kennedy assasination. It is a question that has never been answered, and has baffled historians for decades. Yes there was the mantra of Peace and Love. But that was generally the theme of rock festivals for that last few years and the theme of the ‘60’s in general. Peace.....Love.....there had to be something more to it. There had to be.....a third element. I set that as a mission while there…. What was that third element?

The festival was held then and now in the vicinity of a nice little town of Bethel, NY (Population: 3,900). Frankly, before the events of 1969, nobody really heard of the place. Well, on second thought, I vaguely remember a nice little Christmas carol I used to sing as a kid about the town. (O, Little Town of Bethel). Apparently J.C. was born there or something, a lot of years ago. Not sure, I need to brush up on that story another time. The people were quiet, never bothered anyone, like nice purring cats. But with the festival horning in on the area, the cats turned into roaring lions. Other communities in the area (Woodstock, Saugerties, Wallkill) turned them down, even passing bylaws against it, and by god they would do the same. Reminds me of a whole town full of Grinch's.

The festival divided the town of Bethel, with most against it. It seemed it wouldn't happen here either. Then, a crack appeared in the unified opposition to the event. Farmer Max Yasgur had a large field on his property. He was quite progressive for an older guy in those hectic times. He offered his field to them. He also later provided the concert goers with food, free or at cost. You see, Farmer Max was a principled guy. He wanted to bridge the gap between the older generation and what they saw as just a bunch of drugged, troublesome anti-war hippies. Farmer Max paid a price, tho. His popularity definitely tanked. He would be banned from the General Store for life. Wow, that was harsh. But Woodstock finally had a home. There would be "Three Days of Peace and Music".

After getting the tickets we had to look at accommodations for the night. Well, to get the full Woodstock experience we needed to sleep under the stars, at the concert in the crowd in front of the stage. That was a no-go with GF, so after going through several motels that were all booked or overpriced we found a nice B&B on the water front. The B&B was owned my Mr./Mrs. Lothian. She had come to the area that weekend in August 1969, but not to see the festival. They were too busy and not interested. They were moving to the area and were there looking for a house. In the festival’s aftermath they answered the call to help with the massive cleanup. I asked if they got in the film near the end where it showed people picking up garbage and cleaning up, but they didn't make the film. I think they were glad at that. Farmer Max’s field was completely destroyed. The entire B & B was filled with people going to the festival. We sat around in the morning continental breakfast talking about the previous night, festival in general, etc. It was great!!!! Much better then staying at a Holiday Inn.

The time had come to head out. As I packed the car, I felt as if I was climbing into a time machine…..and going back a half century. Coming through the gates, I fully expected Farmer Max to be at the gate greeting everyone coming in. He did so much to make the first festival happen. Where the hell is Max? Why wouldn’t he be here at such an historic event. A quick check on Wikipedia on my iPhone (They did not have iPhones’s or Wikipedia in 1969!!) told me that Max was no longer with us. In fact, had he lived he would have been 100 years old this year.

As I walked into the festival I looked out at the large crowd. I thought, where are all the scruffy hippies…rolling in the mud. Where are all the.’long haired freaky people’ …. bathing nude in the ponds. All I could observe is a sea of old grey haired people sitting in lawn chairs. Obviously I landed at the wrong place. I got out the maps and gps (Note: they did not have gps in 1969.) Did some calculations…..we were in the right place.

1ST DAY The first night was suppose to give us Arlo Guthrie, who originally played in 1969 and was on the ticket when we purchased. He refused to participate unless he could play for people free as the original festival. They relented and moved him to the free Thursday night that was only suppose to show the movie, no performers. Guthrie was replaced on the ticket by Blood, Sweat and Tears. This group played the original Woodstock. Funny tho that no one in the group remembered playing!!!! Next up was Edgar Winter, another original that played with his brother Johnny in 1969. He had a killer set with all of his well known songs.....and Tobacco Road that he sang back then. The highlight of course was a long version of Frankenstein. At one point I was coming back in the area with hands full of brewskies. Holly crap, they were checking for tickets. I didn't have my ticket as GF had it. Seeing I had my hands full, she waved me on. I then realized that I was in the more expensive area. Once in I stayed for 3 songs or so, then went out and up as didn't want to leave GF alone for rest of the show. Ringo Starr and his All Star Band were the main act. Ringo did not perform at the original festival, but there are 3 connections. 1) original Woodstock performer Gregg Rolie and original lead singer for Santana was part of the band, singing songs he originally did in 1969 2) One of his signature songs 'With A little Help From My Friends' was one of the two most iconic performances, done by Joe Cocker in a completely different style, 3) The Beatles were asked to attend the original. Unfortunately, they were breaking up, having been in the studio with all four the last time just days before. Ringo did all the songs he was famous for and others in the band from Toto, Men at Work and Average White Band did around 3 song each of theirs. Great ending to the first night. The 1969 original festival on day ibe, along with Guthrie, also featured Joan Baez, Melanie, Tim Hardin and Richie Havens along with others.

2ND DAY The second day opened with The Doobie Brothers. They had no connection to the original festival, having hit the lime light about 3 years after. We got the early line up of the group, which was great as this was the best incarnation. The main act was Santana featuring Carlos Santana. As mentioned above, their original lead singer appeared last night with Ringo's band. Carlos is the star and only consistent member of the band, with others joining years after. They played a long set with his Latin flavored rock. Part way in, he brought out Johnson and Simmins from the Doobies who played a few songs with them. On drums, was Cindy Blackman Santana, Carlo's wife. Wow, she really smoked on the drums with a long drum solo. She also sang John Lennon's Imagine, a much rockier version. They actually played on day 2 at the original festival. Other artists from day 2 in 1969 were Mountain, Sly & The Family Stone, Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Who and Janis Joplin.

3RD DAY STORM This next part is unbelievable. When we arrived on the third day, the weather actually looked great. Got our chairs and found a great spot. Only a half hour in, we noticed black clouds. Then over the loudspeakers, they said a lightning storm is coming in. "Everyone go to your cars until it's over and we will let you know over Twitter when to come back." Who the hell from this generation uses Twitter? A lot of people were upset. For me this was fantastic. Yeah.....let it thunder and rain like it never has before......bring it on!!!! You see, it was Sunday afternoon. But on Sunday afternoon, 1969, right after Joe Cocker's legendary performance, you had a torrential rainstorm that shut down the festival for a while, while everyone stayed and took it. So with the couple we were with, we said we were going to stay put and ride out the storm. They announced again, then sent someone through and told us to get out. Nooo.....don't deny me by chance to slide in the mud like the originals. This is why I'm here. But they did. So we finally got up and slowly headed out. The cars were a long way away. We found an employee workshed, so we ducked in there for a while, until they came and kicked us out of there. So we walked slowly until the storm started and then ducked under cover of the eves of a building selling products (as others had). It worked, by that time they couldn't send us out into the lightning storm. This is where we rode out the storm. I do believe that Joe, who is no longer with us, knocked on the door of the great weather god's and said.....'Hey guys, Woodstock is back....they are going to need a wicked storm Sunday afternoon. Having happened at almost precisely the same day and time as in 1969, I christened this the Joe Cocker storm of 2019.

3RD DAY Because of starting late, Grace Potter's set was cut down to only 4 songs. They were followed by the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Both of the first acts were newer artists and were good. John Fogerty finished off the festival. The former lead singer of Creedence Clearwater Revival, that band performed at 3AM in 1969. Fogerty had stories about performing back then. When they went onstage, looking out at the thousands of people all sleeping, they were contemplating not playing any more after a couple of songs. Then….. they say a faint light flickering…..a man way off in the distance flicking his bic, yelling, you can go ahead John, I’m listening. Well they began then began playing their set……for one guy flicking his bic!!!!!! Fogerty of course stuck for the most part with his many hits. But in the middle of the performance, he did a few songs from other performers that played in 1969, ending with Jimi Hendrix's famous rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. The third and final day of the 1969 festival included, among others, Joe Cocker, The Band, Blood Sweat And Tears, Johnny Winter, Crosby, Stills, & Nash and finished with the legendary performance of Jimi Hendrix, who ended with a guitar version of The Star-Spangled Banner. Day 3 actually spilled over into early Monday morning.

One of the best parts of the festival was meeting and talking to people that were there in 1969. When I came I hoped I would meet one, but I met several. While I was walking around the original hill and stage area on my own, GF sat under a tent canopy at the top of the hill. When I got back, she said the couple beside us appeared on the cover of the Woodstock album. Really? I went over and talked to them. I thought maybe they were just in the background. No, they were the couple front and center on the album cover. They said that they did not know they were going to be on the cover, or even that the photo was taken. They didn't pursue anything financial from it as they said they felt they didn't take the picture and it wasn't there work. I asked for a photo. They were actually there to put together an original festival alumni, and were giving a link to originals to send in there stories to preserve the history of the festival.

While at the monument I got my photo taken by a volunteer. Later when he was free, I went over and asked him if he was at the original festival. He said yes, he was an anti-war activist at the time, from Rhode Island, where he still lives. He was one of the few that came fully prepared, bringing a tent, utensils and food. He actually went into the field across from the festival and set up camp. He even had his original ticket to show me (preserved in plastic) and had a lot to say about the event and volunteers three weeks every year. Another couple I talked to, he wasn't going to the festival, just driving down the road heading to a job. People began jumping on his car for a ride, and he hit a point where he could go no further because he was blocked in from other cars, with cars blocking him from behind. Not able to get out, he decided, well, he would just go the festival. It was fuzzy as to when he left, believing he stayed for most of it but left before it was over, as he didn't remember Jimi Hendrix performing. His wife, at the time was 14. She had tickets for one day, the Saturday. When her parents saw what a disorganized mess it was, with so many people and chaos, she wouldn't let her go. There were others with their stories. Only once during the whole festival did one of the performers ask who was here in 1969. A lot of hands went up, indicating a lot of originals came back for the anniversary. I was sitting with my kindred brothers and sisters.

Walking around the festival grounds, there was a lot to see and do. A lot of stands with tables of products to sell. T-shirts, souvenirs. A lot of tents selling alcohol, food, etc. Walking by one of them, I saw on a table at the side that had a board with rows of powder. Really.....wow. I couldn't believe it. They really do want us to have the full Woodstock experience. I reached for a straw and started to bend over. Then I heard the baker yell at me....'Hey, get the hell away from there, I need those for the cinnamon rolls'.

The modern festival site is at the top of the hill, where original attendee's had their tents/campsites staked out. The actual original hill and stage area are preserved as an historical site. In fact it was declared a historic site just recently in 2016 on the National Register of Historic Places. The spot where the stage was is marked out. There are rocks in front of it. The Woodstock monument is to the right of the stage. Coming to the hill and stage area, where all of those people sat and artists played, was way more important and satisfying then seeing any of the current artists. It didn't matter who was playing, I was here to experience the atmosphere of 1969. Equally true for meeting and talking to the several people who attended the original. There is a peace sign cut in the grass in the middle of the hill. Hard to see in these photos. I spent a good hour walking around the hill, stage area and monument. I stood on the stage area about the same spot as the performers would have been playing to the crowds so many years ago.

             

As part of my research on the festival, I wanted to see how the effects of time a half century had on people. First I grabbed one of the musicians, at random. I chose Edgar Winter, who had played guitar with his brother Johnny in 1969. Comparing pictures of the two era's, I was horrified. How could he age 70 years in 50? It's a damn shame what that much time can do to a good man. At least he can still pick up his instrument. Then, I selected, totally at random, a Woodstock fan attending the current festival, who just happened to have a photo on him from that era. Still looks young...vibrant. Mmmm....looks great! You would hardly think he aged no more then 20 years. Why would time be so much more harsh on the musicians, then the fans? Aprilwine's Myles Goodwyn did advise us that 'Rock'n'Roll is a Vicious Game'. I will need to leave that to science to figure out.

It was the end of the trip. Spending all of this time here, I was no more informed of what it was all about then when I came. I wanted to crack the mystery of Woodstock and why so many came to this particular festival. Maybe the Stones were right. You can’t always get what you want. The mission was a complete failure. I was a broken and defeated man. Why the hell did I even come here anyway?

Frustrated, I went for a dip in the Delaware River, where we were staying. There are no longer ponds at the festival site. For what happened next, some have said I must have been hallucinating....but I wasn't. To check off one more Woodstock experience, I took off my shorts. At that point, the sunlight seemed to shine on the water making it pink. Looking closer, the pink seemed to take on shapes of people. Could they be the spirits of people from the original festival who have passed on? I think most were attendees, but I could clearly pick the three J's (Joe, Janis, Jimi) out of the crowd. When the shorts came off, they knew I was one of them....and I was there to get there story out to the world. 'Talk to me' I yelled. I heard not even a murmur. 'For God's sake, give me some kind of a sign'. Just as those words came out of my mouth, I began feeling their vibes. Lying back, floating, naked in the water, it has a calming effect. It gives you a feeling of freedom. I felt….totally a free man. Then….a light came on in my mind. That’s it. The townfolk of Bethel were determined that the festival would not go on in their back yard. The festival goers were equally determined that it would. The battle lines were drawn. Everyone was ready for a struggle not seen on American soil since the likes of Gettysburg. Then they came….and came and came. Almost a half million of them. Why? Because they could. They were a free people, and they were going to fight for that freedom. However, they did not bring guns...... they did not bring bullets. The spectators brought flowers and beads…..and the musicians brought guitars and songs of peace & love. There would be no blood spilled on this battlefield.

And that was the third element……freedom. Peace, Love.....and Freedom. The baby boomer generation knew they had the right to assemble. And by god, they were going to exercise that right. NO ONE was going to stop them. They lived in the land of the free. Farmer Max’s field, for three days, turned into a large city. And in this city there was no police force. A recipe for disaster. There were baby’s conceived and born. There were no murders, only two accidental deaths. There was no violence as the Bethel townfolk so feared. Everyone got along and spent the time in peace and harmony. For those three days, they showed us how a large city can function, with everyone of all creed, races, religions working together for a better society.

With that discovery, I came running out of the water. Did I have on my shorts back on ? Well officially I will have to say yes. Public nudity is illegal in New York state. If you really need to know, a photo was shot by a bystander of me running out of the pond. I posted it at the bottom of the page. I was now content. It was time to pack up and get into my time machine and return to the present. Mission accomplished. ..... And with a discovery of this magnitude, you can generally expect a Nobel prize nomination. Now, I am not that naive. Christ, I wasn't born yesterday. But, just the same, it wouldn't hurt to take a peek at the nominations come September next year.

Heading out the day after the festival, we hit more shops dealing with related merchandise (no shortage of them). Went by the monument again and searched out Yasger's farmhouse. The owners there held a festival of their own with local bands, held for strangely dressed hippie party animals who never left the '60's. Took some quick pictures and left. Last stop on the trip was in the town Liberty, a half hour north of Bethel. Had found out that the original Holiday Inn, where most of the musicians stayed in 1969 still stood, and is now a Day's Inn.

Coming home, I found myself slapping my face. You see, the most famous phrase from Woodstock is”If you remember Woodstock, you were never really there.” The trouble is, I remember every minute of the trip. Was I really there, or was it all just a dream? Thinking back to days gone by, I attended concerts where the next day I had little memory of. I had to totally rely on eyewitness accounts on what went on. Sort of the Woodstock experience in another setting. (thank god iphones with camera’s weren’t around then) Perhaps….memory gets better with age. That will also have to be left for science to figure out.

And what happened to the townfolk of Bethel? Well, with their plans overblown, the food ran out the first day. In the hours after the festival started, and the area facing a half million of starving people, they formed assembly lines putting together sandwiches for the crowds. They opened their pantrys and sent any canned goods they could spare. (The U.S. Army had to help also, flying in by helicopter food and medical supplies) They did not want all of these crazy hippies coming. On the other hand, they were not going to let a disaster unfold on their watch. After all, these were other people's kids. In the years since they mellowed. Maybe....just maybe....Woodstock was a good thing. In 1984, on the 15th anniversary, they erected a plaque in the spot where the festival took place. Then in 2006, they erected a full festival area where Rock concerts can take place every weekend from spring until fall. They erected a Museum housing artifacts of that great event. Why, just like the Grinch, there hearts grew three sizes.

LEGAL NOTICE: The above photo has been redacted by the Attorney General. The redaction will be removed and the photo released
to the public once the Mueller investigation into the matter has concluded and any witnesses subpoenaed by Congreass have testified.

Now that we have that behind us, I now have to figure out how to re-create that other huge event of summer 1969.....the moon landing. That will be a bigger challenge!

Old hippies never die.......they just fade away.


(Click the arrow to go to the main website, where you will find the story's behind rock's greatest trax, under Spotlight and Archives)