Woodstock: An Eye Witness Report

Guess what? It's the 43rd anniversary of Woodstock, folks!  Since I love music so much, I asked a friend who was there back in 1969 to share his memories of this historic music event with us.  Dig it!

When I saw the first ad for the Woodstock Festival, I knew I had to go. I had just graduated high school, every band I loved would be there and, as I told my parents, “There’ll be tents!” I plunked down $18 for my three-day ticket and made plans to go with a friend, his sister and her friend. It was sheer luck, however, that we actually made it. My parents had a summer house in Lake Hopatcong, NJ and I’d coincidentally just found a winding road behind Stroudsburg PA that landed me smack in the middle of Bethel NY. Shortly thereafter, the festival moved to Bethel, after disputes with other towns that didn’t want half a million hippies dropping in. If I hadn’t found that road, if I’d gotten stuck in the endless traffic on NY’s Route 17, I’d never have gotten within a hundred miles of the place. By the time we arrived, the fences had been torn down and tickets were meaningless. The place was a sea of mud—it poured rain on and off the whole weekend—and conditions were primitive but I never found them as bad as the headlines. I had no problem finding food as long as I was willing to pay for it. I noticed the first day that there were always lines for the first two or three Port-O-San’s so I walked to the back of the row, the tenth or fifteenth and always found a seat, no waiting. Sunday morning, I saw a truck pulling up near the food tables. I walked over and found they were delivering grapefruit; I bought three big ones off the back of the truck; that was breakfast and lunch that day. I coped with the weather by hiking back out to my car every night and getting a few hours sleep in the (dry) back seat. I remember Gabe Pressman, a local NY broadcaster, standing at the edge of the stage telling the camera about the terrible conditions—I wanted to yell “We’re having fun, Gabe” but he wouldn’t have heard me in any case. The festival was an eye-opening experience for a shy kid from the suburbs. I was very naïve about drug use going in and much less so going home. I saw more flesh than I ever had, though rarely from the girls I would most have enjoyed watching. But generally, I saw kids on the cusp of adulthood acting more like grown-ups—cooperating, helping each other out, dealing with challenging situations—than the grown-ups I knew. Or the grown-ups we turned out to be, I’m sad to say. In the end, Woodstock was still about the music and that was overwhelming. I was a Buffalo Springfield fanatic so I went to see the unknown successor band, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. They were charming and sang brilliantly (though their guitars needed tuning). I heard the Band, my other favorite group, who were terrific. I fell asleep to the Grateful Dead and woke up to Sly Stone. The Who, Richie Havens and Santana probably made the strongest impression from the weekend. I heard Hendrix echoing through the trees as I left for home. Three footnotes: When we arrived at the crossroads in Bethel coming up, the girls left my friend and me and headed East on their own, away from the concert . When we met them again Monday morning, they said they’d gone to Monticello—where the bands were staying. They smiled all the way home. When we arrived in Stroudsburg on the return trip, we stopped at a diner for something better than grapefruit. The place greeted us like refugees from a war zone and offered to feed us for free. Last: Thirty years later, I was at a birthday party for a television producer I worked with. It was the weekend of the last Woodstock, the debacle at a former Air Force base that devolved into riots and car burnings. I was watching it on TV and a man across the room said woefully, “That’s my concert.” He turned out to be Joel Rosenman, one of the Woodstock Ventures partners. “I went to your first show,” I told him. Just like a producer, his immediate response was, “Did you buy a ticket?” When I said I did, he hugged me.

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