by John Kominicki
Published: May 15, 2009
This year, Long Island celebrates the 30th anniversary of the 10th
anniversary of Woodstock.
This little bit of historical obscurity comes to us courtesy of
developer Ron Parr, who back in 1977 assumed reluctant ownership of a
Yaphank horse track when the original builder defaulted on the project.
Parr decided his best hope for a profit was to open the nearly
completed track, and the hastily renamed Parr Meadows went on to a
successful 113-day racing season before closing under the weight of
financial shenanigans and attempted mob infiltration that had Parr
wearing both a wire and a sidearm.
The resulting lawsuits dragged on longer than "The Sopranos," with
only slightly fewer bodies.
The idea for a Woodstock anniversary concert surfaced in the spring
of 1979. Parr, with a boarded-up and bankrupt racetrack on his hands,
understandably loved the idea.
The Sept. 7 show featured a dozen or so of the original cast,
including Richie Havens, Johnny Winter, Stephen Stills and the
remnants of Canned Heat. John Sebastian, who had famously urged the
original Woodstock crowd to love each other and pick up a little
trash on the way out, was also there, as was fish-cheering Country
Long Island's "Woodstock Reunion" concert was taped and later aired
by the King Biscuit Flower Hour, the long-running syndicated radio
series. There is also at least one bootleg CD out there called "Live
at Parr Meadows" and featuring former Band guitarist Rick Danko and
blues great Paul Butterfield. You can download or listen to
performances from the Parr Meadows concert at Wolfgang's Vault, a Web
site devoted to musical arcane. Most of the early King Biscuit
archives were destroyed in a 1982 fire, so Wolfgang's treasures are
Parr is not thrilled with my news about the King Biscuit deal,
because he was promised a cut of post-concert recording sales and has
never seen a check. That aside, he remembers the concert fondly, in
part because it went off without damage or even a single liability
claim. And unlike the original Woodstock, where there was a heroin
overdose and a guy in a sleeping bag crushed by a tractor, there were
also no serious medical emergencies.
Back in 1979, the first of the 40,000 concertgoers started showing up
the day before, lining their cars along William Floyd Parkway and
several miles of the LIE. As temperatures dropped that night, the
crowd lit bonfires made of Pine Barrens timber, and by morning a
raucous throng was crowding the gates as a small force from Patron
Security and the SCPD looked on. Fearing a riot, the promoters opened
up at 6 a.m., then quickly gave up trying to control traffic in or
out or limit the influx of food, drink or inhalants.
"The cloud of pot smoke was so thick," Parr remembers, "you had to
wave your arms to get through."
The show started at 8 a.m. and went past midnight, to generally
favorable reviews. The last of those standing were finally herded out
at dawn; the over-served were hauled out sometime after that. Parr's
take of the gate and concession sales totaled less than $30,000.
"It wasn't worth all the trouble," he concedes.
Yes, but the original concert lost $1.3 million.
Unlike Max Yasgur's famous farm near Woodstock, which remains as
revered as the fields of Fatima, Parr Meadows is stubbled with brush
and weeds today, the property sold and the grandstand razed to make
way for a housing deal, then an office park, most recently a
warehouse, none of them ever built.
Too bad, because the Woodstock anniversary season is once more upon
us, and Long Island could surely use a little summer loving.
On the broader stage, Woodstock Nation appears to have moved from the
I Ching to the ka-ching.
Joel Rosenman and Michael Lang, two of the original promoters, are
still kicking around plans for an official 40th anniversary show, but
there are dozens of other tributes planned, including a Heroes of
Woodstock tour featuring Melanie and a Jefferson Starship lineup
that, as always, will depend on who's speaking to whom. There is also
word of a possible Berlin concert featuring Woodstock veterans
Santana, Joe Cocker, The Who, Neil Young, The Grateful Dead and Joan Baez.
On the retail front, Target is readying a "Summer of Love" push for
merchandise featuring the iconic songbird-and-guitar Woodstock logo,
drawn by artist Arnold Skolnick right here on Shelter Island. Coming
soon is the Ang Lee film "Taking Woodstock," based on the memoir of
Elliot Tiber, the Bethel motel operator and occasional arts festival
organizer who had the $18 permit that allowed the original music
festival to take place.
Brad Littleproud and Joanne Hague, authors of the just-released
"Woodstock: Peace, Music and Memories," one of more than a dozen
books being produced for the anniversary, are also running a Facebook
group that hopes to amass 500,000 fans of a virtual Yasgur's farm in
Imagine what Joni Mitchell could have done with that.