By Bruce G. Kauffmann
August 10, 2008
"By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half-a-million strong, and
everywhere was a song and celebration." Joni Mitchell
One of the seminal events in the cultural history of America began
this week (Aug. 15) in 1969 when young music lovers from around the
country began arriving at Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, N.Y. "Three
Days of Peace and Music," as the Woodstock Music and Art Fair billed
itself, was all of that and then some.
Food quickly ran out and sanitation facilities were hopelessly
inadequate. Bethel's residents awoke to the smell of marijuana and
went to bed with it. Hard drugs such as LSD were everywhere,
resulting in bad drug trips that kept medical personnel working
nonstop. And then it began to rain hard.
But, as advertised, there was no violence or crime (other than
trespassing and a few drug busts), and Woodstock promoted a sense of
communal harmony, respectful co-existence and unselfishness that
astonished the nation and the world. It even earned these young
adults a nickname "The Woodstock Generation" which in later years
came to symbolize a curious duality of peace, social equality and
environmentalism on the one hand, and cultural narcissism, youthful
hedonism and mindless excess on the other.
But at Woodstock, music was the draw, and there was an orgy of it by
the greatest rock and folk bands of the time The Who, The Grateful
Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Richie Havens, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez,
Santana, Jimi Hendrix and more. For three days, the music played,
rain or shine, while the gatherers sang, danced, romped in the mud,
took drugs, slept and slept together. "Sex, drugs and rock-and-roll,"
which became the slogan of the '70s, got its test drive at Woodstock.
And when it was over, everyone went home with a memory that, as hard
as it must be for many of these flower children to come to grips
with, they are now sharing with their own children and (gasp!) grandchildren.
Which leaves one question: Why was a festival in Bethel, N.Y., called
Woodstock? Because the nearby town of Woodstock was home to one of
the decade's music icons, Bob Dylan, and the promoters sought to take
advantage of that. They assumed, given Woodstock's proximity to
Bethel and the concert's all-star lineup, that Dylan would join the
party. But ever the inscrutable contrarian he never did.