Saturday, August 15, 2009

Woodstock Memories - 40 Years Later!

Writing today on the 40th Anniversary of the beginning of the Woodstock Festival, which I was fortunate enough to attend, I will try to share my memories, faint as they are. As I wrote earlier 1969 was my year for discovering live rock music. I hope that what I write interests at least a few of you.

Two weeks before Woodstock I was in the NYC Area and got the opportunity to attend the Atlantic City Rock Festival, my first festival. Its performers included The Byrds, Canned Heat, Iron Butterfly, Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater and many others – overlapping somewhat with performers I saw at Woodstock. (See: - for a list of performers.)

I first heard of Woodstock while at Atlantic City, but presumed I’d never make it back to the East Coast two weeks later as logistically it seemed impossible at the time. I had planned on trying to go to the (First) Ann Arbor Blues Festival that weekend, but Woodstock had much more appeal to me.

My “friends” (more like acquaintances) that summer were most often a “radical/druggie” group. I best remember Wednesday that (Woodstock) week, there was space offered to me in a car going to Woodstock. With my mother’s permission I took off Thursday in an older model convertible with my friends.

Late that night in rural Pennsylvania we were awakened from our light sleep as our driver (apparently having dozed off) hit a guard rail. He then swung the wheel to the left to keep us on the road. We spun around but miraculously didn’t flip over or hit another vehicle. Shaken – another driver took over and we continued on.

As we approached the Festival Area the traffic got increasingly heavy. We slowed to such a slow pace, that I decided to leave my car-mates and walk into the festival. Perhaps I had a little of my hyperactivity, as well as a fear of missing early acts in the show. I (of course) never saw my car-mates that weekend again!

There was no “gate” when I got to the festival site, after walking a good hour or longer with my sleeping bag and clothes, so I didn’t have to pay anything for the festival. I remember seeing the huge stage and many thousands of others on the sloping site. It was easy to find somewhere to sit down as close to the stage as I could comfortably be.

Everyone was most cooperative and “cool” during the Festival. We had long lines for the portapotties, but there were no hassles that I saw with any of the simple logistics. Food was shared and there was plenty of water that helped when it got hot during the days. There was a little nudity, but really it didn’t feel that “crazy”, though it was certainly a Very New experience for me to be at such a momentous event.

I remember it raining Saturday or more likely it was Sunday which made it somewhat uncomfortable with mud and a wet sleeping bag and wet clothes, but such things seemed inconsequential with all the great music.

The group that most impressed me (silly to say I know!) – was Ten Years After – whose guitar player played extremely rapidly. That really seemed “great” to me then! I also enjoyed – The Who, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker and many others. The music continued into the early morning – Saturday and Sunday nights. I dozed off during some of the performances – from sheer exhaustion. It was hard to sleep much – not wanting to miss music and then facing the bright sun in the mornings.

Monday morning during Jim Hendrix’s set – I was both too exhausted and too disappointed with what I saw as a poor performance by his group – and decided to try to begin my trek – to NYC – to try to work my way back to WL. (I had seen Hendrix with his great group – with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding in June, 1969 in Indianapolis – which had been incredible – and Hendrix’s new group was not together at all and he seemed a little out-of-it.).

I hitchhiked to NYC – don’t remember the trip at all. In NYC – I think I stayed at my relatives’ apartment in Manhattan. Richie Havens who I’d enjoyed at Woodstock was playing at the Felt Forum (part of Madison Square Garden) and I enjoyed the show very much – feeling a tie back to Woodstock.

I then flew back to Indianapolis the next day. I then hitchhiked home to WL. My first ride was in a Rolls Royce – the only time I’ve ever ridden in one. Though it was only a ride for perhaps 5 miles, it was a memorable end to a most memorable part of my life.

My memories of Woodstock – are not of illicit substances or craziness, though there were of both. (For me leaving Indiana a few weeks later for The University of Wisconsin was when I left the druggie world of 1969, though I was never a heavy drug user.)

My memories are of an experience which dwarfed my life up until then. I wish that I could remember more! A year later – I attended the Second Ann Arbor Blues Festival and got Massively Interested in Blues Music. No longer was I interested significantly in the groups now famous as the first Woodstock Album came out – and my peers in my single semester at Macalester College (St. Paul, MN) listened to. I was in my own mixed up worlds in my first two years away from home. Thankfully life is much calmer and more together now – 40 years later.


1 comment:

Alan said...

Hey George, very cool to hear a first hand account of a defining cultural event.