Woodstock: August 1969

Woodstock: August 1969 

Let’s finally set the record straight on this one-hit wonder.

Woodstock is a small town in New York located little more than the halfway between where my parents lived in North White Plains, and the state Capitol, Albany. In August of 1969 it was a sleepy, nondescript little village holding some notoriety as an artist’s colony; where at some point, a promoter conceived the idea of having a marathon Rock and Roll extravaganza at this unknown locale.

My brother and my cousin Byron got wind of the fact that this spectacular music festival was going to take place on a rented farm field near the village, as had a litany of other people in the flower-power movement. The word on this spread faster through the hippie underground than a California wildfire, even at a time when the internet was still a vague pipedream in the minds of a few geniuses at MIT. Larry and Byron had gone as far as buying tickets, which cost about 18 dollars apiece, and before the purchase asked me if I wanted to go with them. Byron was so gung-ho he was making a special trip from Richmond, Virginia. intending to use our house as his way station.

There were four reasons why I politely declined.

First, I had a summer job, and anticipating needing money for medical school, I simply could not afford to take the time off.

Secondly, I thought that a long ride up the New York Throughway in a hot car with no air conditioning held very little appeal.

Third, I did not want to sleep on the ground for three days in a bag while also rooting around for basic amenities or be required to wipe my ass with cattle straw or Oak leaves.

Then finally, would be the far less appealing thought of having to stand for hours at a time, mashing elbows together like canned Sardines with a few thousand other people, roasting in a hot sun, or wallowing in a wet rain without half the Bands I was interested in even listed on the agenda.

  • You’re not going? Are you kidding? You’ll miss Jimmie Hendrix.
  • No. I’ll miss a paycheck, and besides, Hendrix sucks. He’s a psychedelic noise box.

I was not the only one to underestimate the size of the crowd. The concert turned into an uncontrolled melee. Needing a ticket became moot when 500,000 people showed up; swarming a place that had did not even have the infrastructure to support one-tenth that number.

  • Hey. Where’s your ticket?
  • I pay with peace and love, brother

Ironically, even though most people who had pre-paid were outraged about the ones who did not, many of these people were the same socialists who were protesting concentrated capitalistic wealth and who believed that the Federal government should regularly rob from the rich and give to the poor. I suppose then that the abstract idea of redistributing wealth is much easier to support when the money does not have to come out of your own pocket. Personally speaking, it would be great if I could pay my taxes, or even a highway toll with peace and love. My karmic savings bank would be full of it.

Of course, years later we have been made to suffer the romantically glorified nostalgia of this so-called watershed event as being the audio-visual revolution that legitimized the philosophy of: hippie-get-high-dance-free-drop-out-fuck the establishment-end the war-and our parents are boorishly stupid unenlightened Capitalist Pigs

Larry and Byron had a different take on the subject. Four days after embarking on their venture, two scruffy, mud caked, un-bathed, smelly; sleep deprived, red-eyed boys appeared on the front lawn with a sad, disappointed tale of horror to tell. If my mother had access to a fire hose, she would have turned it on them before she let them back in the house.

Of course, when they got there, their tickets were worthless, except possibly to serve later as toilet paper and by the time they had arrived, they then had to park and walk about ten miles to get to the concert site. There were no places to stand anywhere near the stage and the acoustics were not set up to allow easy listening anywhere on the outskirts of the teeming masses. Rain had made the field into a mud swamp. There were not enough food and drink concessions along with so few bathroom facilities that people were relieving themselves wherever and whenever it may have been convenient like elephants in the circus parade. Attempting to sleep on the grounds was equivalent to risk being trampled to death, while someone in a sleeping bag was run over and killed by a truck.

In fact, nobody slept very much as there was all night music accompanied by the din, clatter or clank of various and sundry people getting drunk or high on anything they could get their hands on; accompanied by its subsequent predictably unpredictable behavioral aberrations. Worse yet, were the self-appointed meandering minstrel musicians caterwauling with their own guitars, tambourines, and cowbells in blissfully obnoxious auditions that interfered with the professional music.

Drug dealers made out like bandits, especially the Electric Kool Aid LSD vendors. The police were not remotely interested in enforcing drug laws but rather diverted their attention only to a general attempt at controlling order; meaning keeping all the animals marginally corralled, peaceable, and hopefully just at bay. At least here they were smart enough to avoid personally biased behaviors that would incite a riot. Smart, because they were outnumbered to the point that it would have taken a small army to control any riotous outburst.

Unlike newsreels or personal retrospectives that speak to the power and the glory of the event, my brother and cousin only spoke of its horrors. Like hardened combat veterans, they hardly ever brought it up again for the rest of their lives, once they were debriefed, then deloused out on our front yard.  It was a Post-Concert Traumatic Stress Syndrome that rivaled the worst of military combat experiences.

I never regretted missing Woodstock such that any encounter later with anyone who admitted having been there, made me skeptical about the microscopic appearance of his grey matter if he ever said:

  • It was really great. Kool, man. Really kool.

An electron microscopic analysis of his brain biopsy would probably find a few residual LSD particles buried in the frontal cortex as being responsible for the happily reverberating rainbow-colored nostalgic flashbacks.

Neither did Bob Dylan think it was too great or too cool. Even though at that time he was living right around the corner, he decided to stay safely at home, refused an invitation to perform and was peeved about the mass of hippies camped out around his house. After all, he moved to Woodstock to seek anonymity and to escape civilization.

Ironically then, if not at all anonymous, at least per my brother, the so-called free-spirited liberating melee and financially free musical festival at Woodstock was in fact, quite a bit more than just uncivilized.  He summarized it by saying that it was just one gigantic non-Capitalist musical pig slough.




 Really kool, man!



Woodstock © Henry Diltz
Woodstock Website 1996 Barnes Ltd.
Some factual information on Woodstock from Wikipedia

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