Sunday, August 16, 2009

The 40th anniversary of Woodstock

This is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. 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 Lady Gaga 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 Friday night at the radio station. 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.


Anonymous said...

Wonder if the Beatles... Stones... Doors... or Elvis (well, okay, I can understand why not him, kind of a different era) ... ever wished they'd gone.

P.S. - I'm a little tired of the backlash against the Woodstock generation I've heard as of late from the generations that have come after them. Come on, it was a seminal event. And it is worth reexamining on big anniversaries like this one.

Rob said...

I was -2 when the festival happened, so I can safely say I was NOT there. I too have met a person I can safely say was there, Michael Wadleigh, the director of the film. I saw the film in college and some hippie looking guy came and sat down a few rows in front of me. When the film was over, he got up and walked to the front to introduce himself.

WV: Wifyto -- What you get when you accidentally kick your router.

I just finished Michael Lang's book on the festival, and if the music and experience were not the best, it was still an amazing achievement given all the obstacles thrown in their path. They actually planned for food, drink, port a potties, etc., but had no concept that they'd be so overwhelmed with crowds. The book's quite good.

To clear up a few items. The Grease Band was Cocker's back up group, and according to Lang, three people died that weekend. The Doors were invited but Jim was paranoid about something happening to him.

Anti-Woodstock said...

The Woodstock generation was the one who grew up to be the Gordon Gekko's of the eighties, right? So much for those shallow summer of lovers, they shoulda named themselves Prelude to Greed or the Fuck You, I Got Mine generation. All that promise wasted, what a shame. See what problems they've left the rest of us with? Thanks.

D. McEwan said...

I wish to make this clear. I was not at Woodstock. I know a lot of people my age (I'm the same age as Ken) CLAIM they weren't there, but I was actually not there. (Actually, given the strength of the LSD at Woodstock, many of the people who WERE there weren't there.)

Rob, being 2 is no excuse. There WERE 2 year olds there.

I did my own mini version of Woodstock. When the movie came out, four of my collge buds and I went to see it in a drive-in near Santa Monica, in a large station wagon. During the movie, we tried our best to smoke as much pot and hashish as we would have during the three days of the concert if we'd been wealthy enough to travel the 3000 miles to the concert. We did pretty well at the pot consumption. I have no memory of the movie, just the car and the drugs and the laughter.

But I became a huge Janis Joplin fan anyway. Still am. She was the best.

Hey Anti-Woodstock, in the spirit of reasoned discourse, fuck you! The Gordon Gekkos were the ones who didn't care about Woodstock, the Republican brats in ties. We were the hppies with the long hair and a genuine belief in peace.

And the illiterate generations that have followed are trashing the culture. We had Janis, The Beatles and The Stones. Now they have The Jonas Brothers, Mylie Cyrus, and texting and tweeting.

We put an end to the Vietnam War. Ended Iraq yet? We drove Nixon out just hours ahead of impeachment. You let Bush serve 8 a full years.

We believed in something, and we faught for it.

Anonymous said...

Get ready for December 6th, the 40th anniversary of Altamont. Now that's nostalgia.

The Milner Coupe said...

Hey D. McEwan, the press hounded Nixon out of office, not the masses. But it further illustrates your point of how f**ked up things are today. For all the talk of peace loving hippies back then (there weren't that many actually), the biggest difference is that people had balls back then to stick up for what was right, not just what was politically correct. And there is a huge difference between the goonish WTO rallies and the anti-war rallys of the late sixties.
I second the anti-salute to Anti-Woodstock. Whiner. Try doing something to make a difference.

bilge said...

For the uninformed Anti-Woodstock-

Some of the hippies had the courage and the conviction of the day, while others just went with it as the style of the day.

Woodstock was special for it's size! There were similar festivals going on all around the country that summer that were like minded.

The epiphany was that it was to be a cultural revolution, not a political one.

Ref said...

Hey, Milner! Do you know how much mass action it took to get the press and the power structure to notice what a corrupt prick Dick Nixon was? I didn't think so.

Matt Patton said...

Actually, by the summer of '69, I'm not sure The Beatles were actually TALKING to each other unless contractually obligated to.

Personally, I was seven when Woodstock was going on--I was in fact in NY state at the time--Chautauqua, NY (there were hippies there too, but also better toilet facilities). I only heard about Woodstock because of pictures that showed up in LIFE magazine a few weeks later. The pic-snappers from LIFE seem to have spent a LOT of time looking for pretty, topless girls . . .

mcp said...

From D. McEwan - "And the illiterate generations that have followed are trashing the culture. We had Janis, The Beatles and The Stones. Now they have The Jonas Brothers, Mylie Cyrus, and texting and tweeting."

Actually, my first post boomer generation also had the Rolling Stones. And, the generation after that had the Rolling Stones. In fact, considering that Keith Richards is proof of life after death the generation that finally gets jet packs will have the Rolling Stones.

Now, I may be risking calls of blaspheme but Brian Epstein built a Jonas Brothers style Beatles. George Martin thought the only half-way recordable song on the first album was "She Loves You." The Beatles were mostly a cover band that wrote songs so they wouldn't be performing the same songs as the other bands covering American Rock and Roll. It was only later that the Beatles could kick the Jonas Brothers butt creatively.

And as much as I hate Twitter, it did keep the recent Iranian protests alive. It was one of the few means the protesters had to commuicate with the outside world. The State Department even asked Twitter to postpone maintence during the protests. Some have even called for Twitter to win the Nobel Peace Prize. After all, if Henry Kissinger can win Twitter should have a shot.

D. McEwan said...

"Matt Patton said...
Actually, by the summer of '69, I'm not sure The Beatles were actually TALKING to each other unless contractually obligated to."

I believe the break up of The Beatles actually occurred about a month before Woodstock. It was a 40th anniversary last month that we were less inclined to celebrate.

"mcp said...
Actually, my first post boomer generation also had the Rolling Stones. And, the generation after that had the Rolling Stones."

Point well taken. Do you think the next three generations will still have The Jonas Brothers? Well, they will still be brothers.

Mike Bell said...

Ahh, what great summer that was. I bought my first real six string. As I recall, I bought it at the five and dime. I played it until my fingers bled...but I digress.

Mate Famber said...

My dad says he was there (I tend to believe him) and he said it was absolutely miserable. He left a day early.

Tom Quigley said...

As someone who had a Woodstock-related screenplay passed on by a production company several years ago -- part of their rationale being that it wouldn't be marketable to today's audiences, so it'll be interesting to see how TAKING WOODSTOCK does -- I imagine that most of the "nostalgia" will be only be for hype, to influence the amount of revenue the books, CDs, DVDs and special events can generate, rather than on the spirit of the 60's that the concert personnified. Since I only live a few hours away from Bethel, NY, I may take a trip down there in the next couple of weeks just to see how quickly I can max out my VISA...

Emily Blake said...

How do you get run over by a tractor?

bella said...

Here's a realistic account of two guys who semi/sort of hitchhiked from southeastern VA to Woodstock.

check out how long they stayed:,0,1276742.story

Anonymous said...

"We put an end to the Vietnam War."

No, you didn't. The draft and 50,000 dead Americans did that.


gwangung said...

No, you didn't. The draft and 50,000 dead Americans did that.

Cognitive disconnect alert!

blogward said...

Never mind Vietnam or Nixon. Woodstock marked the beginning of the commercialization of counterculture and its dissipation into 'what we have today'; the 'Monkeysphere', where nobody is able to conceive of any more than 150 other people as human beings. LSD shook that paradigm for a while.

William W. Williams said...

The guy who got killed by a tractor at Woodstock was apparently asleep - his sleeping bag was covered with mud, and the person driving the tractor (which was being used to haul something around the site) just didn't see him.

Paul said...

I would have rather gone to the Monterey Pop Festival.

Bob Claster said...

I actually was at Woodstock. Believe me or not, I don't care. For me, it was the summer between High School and College. I hadn't started smoking pot yet, and didn't start there. I was there for the music. Some bands I cared about, and others I didn't. One thing that I don't see mentioned in the many accounts is the fact that when an act took the stage that you really did care about, you could go down to the front, and people would make room for you and welcome you.

Some bands had sets that were among their very best (The Who, The Airplane, Janis), and others just didn't have their A game (The Dead, The Band). And yeah, there were a few less-than-stellar attractions, but you must admit, they were the exceptions rather than the rule.

I get a big kick out of the pieces, such as the one in this week's Newsweek, that try to puncture the balloon by emphasizing such things as the lousy toilets. Talk about missing the point! When was the last time someone celebrated the 40th anniversary of visiting a really clean restroom?

Roger Owen Green said...

well, I wasn't there, but according to an ABC News story I saw this weekend, who did and did not show up in the movie and on the soundtracks depended as much on licensing and permissions as talent. Certain artists such as the late Bert Sommer are only coming to general promise due to the expanded Woodstiock products.

Kirk said...

I think that little yellow bird was an excellent addition to the Peanuts cast.

That's what you're all talking about, right?

D. McEwan said...

"Anonymous said...
No, you didn't. The draft and 50,000 dead Americans did that.

We put an end to the draft too. We were the ones trying to keep it from being 100,000 dead Americans. The factors you mention were what kept it going. If we'd ALL refused to go, they couldn't ahve had their damn war.

Protecting American business interests in Southeast Asia was not worth even ONE American life. The only reason we were there was to keep dictators friendly to American business interests in power instead of dictators unsympathetic to American business interests. Freedom for the Vietnamese was never in the cards, win or lose, and whether it was or not, was none of our concern.

The idea that if Vietnam "fell," (ie. united) the "Commies" would be landing on the beaches of California was a Cheney-Rumsfeld-worthy lie from the start. The war was lost 34 years ago, and they haven't landed yet.

"Emily Blake said...
How do you get run over by a tractor?"

Really slowly.

"Bob Claster said...
When was the last time someone celebrated the 40th anniversary of visiting a really clean restroom?"

Okay, that made me laugh.

And I visited a really clean restroom only two weeks ago.

WV: dismo:

1. This homosexual, not that one.

2. Really dismal disco. (Is there any other kind?
Hey, when is the disco Woodstock?)

Kris said...

Had a buddy of mine who races SCCA AS cars over the weekend tell us about being part of the film crew for the movie.

Wow, I was way to young then to get there.

Kris Mandt, Des Moines IA

John said...

Forty years later, the biggest summer gathering in the Woodstock Festival area is now lunch buffet time for the seniors playing the slots at Monticello Raceway. Probably some of the same people, too.

Brian Phillips said...

My older brother had permission to go, but didn't. How cool am I?

Bert Sommer deserved better; I remember him as one of the members of Kaptain Kool and the Kongs from the Krofft Supershow. He had a nice voice.

I suppose that I shouldn't hold my breath for the Watkins Glen festival, should I?

Someone posted about illiterate susequent generations. Couldn't make heads or tails of the rest.

Mike from Atlanta said...

I was 11 at the time but I do remember my dad saying at the time that the biggest medical problem they were having was women with sunburned breasts.

The Ancient Hippie said...

wow man, where'd everybody, is the concert over already?

Anonymous said...

I was 11 at the time, too, and I don't remember anything but pictures in Newsweek and Time magazine afterwards. Even so, it was certainly one of the most seminal moments for my generation, and I dare say it's right up there with landing on the moon.

Those who aren't Boomers cannot possibly understand just how revolutionary the music was, and just how much of the changes in society came from the music. It was the first, and perhaps the last time that music literally united an entire generation. Anyone who was young and alive then was tuned in and on the same page. There was none of your narrow niche interests that we experience today.

This is the generation that gave us Civil Rights, Women's Lib, and Gay Pride. Speaking as a woman growing up in those years, I should point out that in 1969 there were virtually no sports that young women could participate in, apart from tennis. Women were banned from running in the Boston Marathon. Ten years later, Title IX had been passed, and every high school now offered a plethora of team sports for women, and women competed in the Boston Marathon. This is all stuff we take for granted now. And that's only the most visible effects of the Women's Liberation movement.

When I was in high school the movie was re-released, so I went to see it. I thought it was some fantastic footage of great music, and the scenes where they begin building the stage plus the crowd scenes really let the viewer see what it must have been like there. VH1 Classic has been airing the movie fairly regularly since last summer, which gave me an opportunity to watch it again. I was once again blown away by how awesome the music was.

Like Ken, I figure I'm pretty glad I wasn't there, but I'm glad someone bothered to film it. The story I heard is that Warner Bros. reluctantly gave the director $100,000 to go film the concert, and the money came so late that he almost didn't have time to get a crew together and arrive in time. (At the time, no one in any entertainment industry had any idea of how much money could be made on a "hippie rock concert", so Warner Bros was perhaps understandably reluctant to fork over some cash.)

There's a very interesting interview with Pete Townshend on David Letterman, where he recounts his experiences at Woodstock with The Who.
Part 1
Part 2

Rob said...

In my defense, I said I was NEGATIVE 2 when Woodstock went on. It is quite possible I was actually the guy who got run over by a tractor in a previous life and was put back on earth because of my stupidity.

WV -- gynone -- The nationwide authority in women's private parts since 1982.

Michael Zand said...

When I see those pictures I think Darfur only with Hippies and music.