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This Week with The Chicowitz:

Remembering Woodstock

last week: “That Dirty Dancing

There is no way you could have had a sound system for an audience of 400,000. But it was probably just as well. To be honest, the music was often... terrible. For a while, during the rain, the sound system failed completely. But nobody cared. The music was secondary... it was the event that mattered.... just being there.

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The Woodstock Art and Music Fair: “Three days of Peace and Music.” August 15, 16, and 17, 1969.
Woodstock

It was planned as a 3-day outdoor festival of “peace and music” featuring a few of the new, hard rock bands. The four organizers wanted it to be the largest rock concert in history. (Prior to Woodstock, the largest was about 20,000.) By early August, 1969, the organizers knew that more than 200,000 would likely show up. Publicly, they claimed there would be only about 100,000. They didn’t want to scare anybody.

The Stage

 HMC then Each week our Boomer-in-Charge, Hershel Chicowitz, has something to say about life, society, or what’s going on... from the perspective of a baby boomer. This is what’s on his mind the week of August 15, 2016.  HMC now

At the time, folk singer Bob Dylan lived in a town called Woodstock, in New York state. Festival organizers decided that would be a good name for their event. Symptomatic of the myths that surround Woodstock, Bob Dylan did not appear at the festival, which was held nowhere near Woodstock.

A ticket for one day cost $8; a 3-day ticket, $24.

(Actually, a 1-day ticket purchased in advance, started out at $6. But, greedy capitalists that they were, the price rose to $8 by the start of the festival.)


Something happened in August of 1969; a boomer wind took hold; and by the end, over 450,000 kids with time on their hands and money in their pockets had come to a farm in upstate New York to inhale the spirit. (A farmer named Max Yasgur owned the property; it was in Bethel, NY, about 100 miles from New York City.) Once you got there, you didn’t need a ticket; you just needed to be able to endure the elements. Of course, once you got there, you had no choice.

Woodstock - the crowd

The sea of boomers clogged the small roads leading to Bethel and blocked all traffic on the nearby New York State Thruway. Some people said that two million people tried to get to Woodstock. By that count, most of them never made it.

The organizers did not expect 200,000 people to arrive by Friday morning. They had exactly three ticket booths in place. In a matter of minutes, the festival became a free event. Not one cent was ever collected at the gate. In fact, after noon on Friday, there was no gate.

People parked their cars as far as 20 miles away. Once you arrived, you had to stay; there was nowhere to go. There was no place to sleep, no place to bathe, no place to eat... no place to nothin’.

That weekend Bethel became the third largest city in the state. No one had planned for this. There was not enough of anything... except rain.

It was indeed music... and mostly it was peaceful, too (depending on how one defines “peace”). Some were there for the music; some for the “atmosphere”; and some just to be there. Truth be told, it is hard to maintain peace in a crowd of 400,000 kids.

Performers at Woodstock included Richie Havens; Country Joe McDonald; Jimi Hendrix; John Sebastian; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Melanie; Arlo Guthrie; CCR, Janis Joplin; Jefferson Airplane; and the Grateful Dead. The performers came and went via helicopter; it was the only way in or out.

behind the stage

There were virtually no motels, no restaurants... none of the creature comforts we demand today. But that didn’t matter; we were “doing our own thing,” communing with nature.

The rain started on Friday night. And it rained....and it rained, and it rained, and it rained. But still, the crowd grew.

The rain

There is no way you could have had a sound system for an audience of 400,000. But it was probably just as well. To be honest, the music was often... terrible. For a while, during the rain, the sound system failed completely. But nobody cared. The music was secondary... it was the event that mattered.... just being there.

The rain was present for most of the three days. The grassland turned to mud. The stage began to slide down the hill on which it was constructed; then it sagged to one side. The wind took hold of the tarp over the stage meant to protect the performers; mother nature nearly provided a “trip” of her own. She had her own idea of “communing.”

Two boomers died of drug overdoses; hundreds more were treated and sent back for more. One was run over and killed by a tractor hauling a tank trailer.

Still, most everybody who came... were glad they did; although perhaps not at the time.

Because there was nothing like it before, and there has been nothing like it since.

Nobody made any money from Woodstock, except the performers and a few local merchants. It started out as organized chaos, and then turned to just chaos.

the crowd

Woodstock lives on, over 40 years later, as more myth than reality, in the memories of those who attended, and those who wish they had. But it was... something else.

Bert Feldman, a Bethel historian, said, “What we had here was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Dickens said it first: ‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’ It’s an amalgam that will never be reproduced again.”

They tried to revive it 25 years later... it didn’t work. They tried it again in the summer of 1999... But “you can’t go back,” even at 150 bucks a pop. It was a moment in time... gone forever.

So, nearly half a century century later, we have the pictures... and the memories... perhaps that will help...

The Woodstock Preservation Alliance is a group of fans of the memory of Woodstock who would like to help preserve the original Woodstock site. Seems like a worthwhile endeavor to us. Their web site has details: http://www.woodstockpreservation.org/

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