Sunday, August 18, 2013

The 44th anniversary of Woodstock

What's more monumental than a 44th anniversary?  This is Woodstock's. 500,000 long-haired stoned members of my generation attended this three-day open air music festival. I was not one of them. But at least I admit it. For every person who attended there was another thousand who said they attended but really spent that weekend doing chores for mom. And while half a million rain soaked, bathroom deprived, hippies grooved on three days of love and understanding, I was in LA bombarded by news updates on the Charles Manson murders.

I did see the movie WOODSTOCK that came out the next year. Jesus, did that scene look crowded! And uncomfortable! Yeah, Hendrix and Janis were great, but good God, I’d have to go three days without a toilet! I always thought the tagline for the film should have been, “Great Music! Stereophonic Sound! Clean Rest Rooms!”

But like I said, anyone who was east of the Mississippi in the summer of 69 says they attended Woodstock. In fairness, some who didn’t were probably so loaded they thought they were there. When their favorite Woodstock act was Katy Perry that’s a clue.

But one friend of mine claimed he was there and I believe him. Why? Because this is what he said, “Most of the time the music was really bad.” Everyone remembers the headliners – Crosby, Stills, & Nash, the Who, Joe Cocker – but there were a lot of no-name bands that screeched through endless sets. Again, I wasn’t there so I didn’t hear for myself, but there’s probably a reason the movie didn’t include Quill (doing a 40 minute set consisting of four songs), the Keef Hartley Band, the Grease Band, and six or seven other headliners that died on the editing room floor. He said at times it was also hard to hear and impossible to see. There’d be hippies staggering around completely lost. Babies screaming, people talking through the music.

Another person I know was there was Grace Slick, lead singer of Jefferson Airplane. As luck would have it I met her and talked about it. What a cool lady. She said the groups were housed at a nearby motel and airlifted by helicopter to a field behind the stage. So for most of the festival she watched bored musicians shoot pool.

She and the "plane" arrived on the scene at 9 pm, but the program was running just a tad long. They didn't get on stage until 6 am. Not the best time I would imagine to perform rock n' roll. But she thought it was an incredible experience and seeing 500,000 people from the air was a sight she'll never forget.

Amazingly, there were only two deaths. One from an overdose (duh!) and the other was run-over by a tractor. But considering the number of people, in such close quarters, with precious little food and shelter, the fact that there weren’t riots and chaos, and new Scientology chapters says a lot about my ge-ge-generation.

Woodstock was a statement of peace (I think it was made just before the Sha-na-na set). And a declaration of unity. Whether we were there or not I’m sure we’d all like to go there now – to recapture those old feelings, to feel a sense of shared purpose, to buy a summer home we could escape to on the weekends.

For more on the '60s I recommend my book -- THE ME GENERATION... BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60s).  It chronicles all the many epic events of the decade I didn't personally attend.  But the Kindle version is very cheap.   And it's the perfect Labor Day gift.  Here's where you go to get yours!

22 comments:

Jake Mabe said...

I've never gotten the obsession. Granted, I'm of the next generation, but while I love virtually everything about the Boomers' Golden Era, so to speak, Woodstock isn't one of them. I watched that movie and wanted to be stoned myself -- to forget what I just watched.

Mike said...

The Grease Band are in the film, backing Joe Cocker.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Always admired the National Lampoon's follow-up satire to Woodstock, "Lemmings."

I was there...

Hollywoodaholic said...

R.I.P. Richie Havens. Amazing performer.

Mike Barer said...

Great post! I remember seeing pictures of the throngs of people in Look and Life Magazines. Anyone remember them?

estiv said...

@Mike Barer, Life even put out a special issue on Woodstock. I still have my copy somewhere, which I should dig up and sell on eBay. It would about pay for a meal at Chili's. While I'm eating that meal, I can ponder the ironies of fate.

Eric J said...

The closest I got was picking up a young couple who were hitchhiking to Woodstock. I was 27 with a job so I didn't even know what it was until days later. So I got within maybe 50 miles. Close enough to have a story without having to be there.

Roger Owen Green said...

I actually asked my parents if I could go (I lived in Binghamton, NY and was 16). They said NO, I didn't go. So some of us will admit not being there. But I saw the movie twice in a row, when you could do that without paying for it twice, and that transformed me. t

Wendy M. Grossman said...

One of my friends from college went to Woodstock. When the movie hit its 40th anniversary and played Roger Ebert's film festival to celebrate (it really was a technical feat at the time, since they didn't have any of those digital production things that would have made it easier), I asked him: "Was it like the movie?"

He said: "More boring. You have to remember, the movie was highlights. No one was prepared, there wasn't anything to eat, and it rained for three days."

wg

Jake Mabe said...

Yes, I guess what I said was a bit unfair. The movie by its definition would be more boring, although like you say it was a technical feat at the time and paved the way for some GREAT rock documentaries in the '70s.

Bob Claster said...

Well, I actually did go. For me, it was the summer between High School and College. I was too old, and too independent to be told I couldn't go, and all I told my parents, anyway, was "it's a music festival upstate." They said, "Yeah, okay, sure," and that was the end of it. I was there primarily for the music. (I had tried weed, but only once or twice, and although it was certainly present there, it wasn't the main focus of things.) It was a blast. It felt like the beginning of something rather than the end of something. We felt a responsibility to make it work, despite all odds. The whole world was watching, as they say.

We had an encampment about a third of the way up the hill, but whenever an act came on that I really wanted to see, people were friendly and would let you move closer to the stage. Yeah, there was mud, and overpriced cokes and hot dogs, and not the most cushy toilet facilities, but everyone was in a good mood, and it all worked.

I used to talk about it more than I do now. For a long time, people would say, "Wow, you were there! That's so cool!" Now, they say, "Wow, you were there! You're so old!"

Mac said...

Some amazing music but an awful lot of filler. Waking up to Jimi Hendrix doing the Star-Spangled Banner must have been amazing, but sleeping in a wet sleeping bag in the first place? But then they also had free love and nekkid boobs everywhere, so I dunno...?

Barry in Portland said...

During Woodstock, I was 30 miles away, at a Zionist youth camp. We read about it in the NY Times, then went back to dancing the hora and making out.

D. McEwan said...

When I saw the movie Woodstock back in college, my friends wanted to be able to smoke dope during the film (OK, so did I), so we saw it at a drive-in. All that music through one of these metal grill car-window speakers, well, stereo, it wasn't; hi-fi, it wasn't. But man, we were stoned.

Flotsom said...

My dad was there (I believe him. He has pictures)and said the same thing. Bad sound. Shitty facilities. Crazies everywhere. And my Dad was no choir boy.
I think he said he left after the first day or midway through the second and drove to New York City.

John said...

I'd guess by now, anyone of the age to have been there would be more likely to be found in the area browsing the lunch buffet among the senior citizens at Monticello Raceway. It's actually worth a side trip to go to the crossing where Woodstock was held, if for no other reason than to just marvel at how they got 500,000 people into such a small space.

Wayne said...

I concur that Jack Benny Lost Episodes is great.

Natalie is on one episode.

RW is on two.

Jeffro said...

“Most of the time the music was really bad.”

Same can be said for Live Aid. I was there in Philly. Adding insult to injury is having Phil Collins perform first at Wembley, then flying over on the Concorde so he can whine-out "Take a Look at Me Now" at JFK Stadium.

bill said...

The Grease Band was Joe Cocker's backing band. I saw them 3 weeks after woodstock at the 3rd Quaker City Rock Festival which was the first concert i ever went to. Janis Joplin, B.B. King and Santana were also on the bill).

The Grease Band was a great band.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes read how bad the experience was for some. That kind of bothers me at time- no, it actually bothers me. A certain percentage showed up without much preparation or common sense. I can only image they thought "hey, it's on a farm and the Hog commune is there- we can live off the land." The deal is- you bring water if you plan on camping- you bring food if you're there for two days and in August- it's going to rain upstate NY. The thing is- it wasn't all hippies- there were jocks, straight (when straight meant non-stoners in those days) and simply people who liked music. I assume you or someone may recall in 1968-69- not every body wore flowers in their hair. My boyscout skills had me pack a flashlight, tent, sleeping bags, hatchet, knife and matches... (although I didn't need them). Every Generation has a % of whiners and we certainly had our share-Over the years, I've met bands that played there (as well as the author) and when I told members of the bands I met I was there- I got hugs and only fine words exchange- never met Grace though but she had a bit of a drinking issue... Some band members set up a camp where we did initially but nobody stayed there. Yes, it was crowded but I never felt such a large sense of community ever and probably never will again...Everybody who left the concert either felt "it" or was convinced when they read about it later. Those in the area that didn't go regret it now when they probably had their reasons then...I suppose I should finish reading the article but I can tell you from an honest attendee of the event- so far he's dead wrong.
about a minute ago · Like

Joseph Angier said...

Fortunately, when I say I was there, I have a Boston Globe photo to back that up. And - since you mentioned Grace Slick - it's a picture of me struggling to stay awake as the Jefferson Airplane hit the stage at six a.m. And yes, the whole thing was a muddy mess, but that 15 year old had a damn good time.

Matt Richter said...

If Woodstock happened today, there would be a million shitty phone pictures and videos that on Facebook tomorrow, since the kids spend the first two songs holding their cameras up instead of enjoying this experience they just paid Ticketmaster to go to.