By Melissa Bruen
Colleen Plimpton and Sandy Johnson have been friends for almost 18
years, but it wasn't until recently they realized they had more in
common than they previously knew.
Both are Methodist and the product of rural New York upbringings.
But both also spent a memorable three days in Bethel, N.Y., in August
1969 at the Woodstock Festival.
Of more than 1,000 submissions, their stories were chosen to be among
the 50 first-hand narratives that compose "Woodstock Revisited," a
book that hit stores in June.
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair was a music festival held at Max
Yasgur's 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y., from Aug. 15 to Aug. 18, 1969.
Nearly half a million people came to see 32 of the most famous
musicians at the time who performed during the rainy weekend.
It is considered one of the greatest shows in all of music history
and is listed on Rolling Stone's top 50 Moments that changed the
history of rock 'n' roll.
Bedazzling in Woodstock-era attire -- a feathery top, beaded headband
and multiple necklaces, Plimpton sat in her Bethel home June 22,
swapping memories with Johnson, who was wearing a wrap top, peace
sign earrings and a wooden bracelet.
In 1969, Plimpton was 20 and had a summer job at a Howard Johnson's
restaurant. She went in on Friday, quit her job and hitchhiked to the
festival with her boyfriend, Bobby.
By the time she got there, the fences were already down.
"We found a place on the ground, just to lay down. We would scoot
down the hill each time people would leave," she said.
On their way out Sunday, "we saw all the old, abandoned, ratty, hippy
cars that wouldn't start -- wouldn't make it to Woodstock," Plimpton said.
It took the police weeks to sort out the cars left in the wake of the festival.
Johnson, who was 19 at the time, called the weekend "controlled chaos."
She arrived at Max Yasgur's farm with two friends Thursday night,
before the crowds. On waking early Friday morning, she was face to
face with "a sea of humanity," she said.
"Peace and love was not just a bumper sticker -- it was a collective
mentality. It drove us together, gave us the sense of humor to be
together, the element of surprise," Johnson said.
"It wasn't as if we were out to meet half a million people at a
concert. The fact that it happened peacefully -- I don't think you
could recreate that."
Johnson, whose father was a musician in the 1940s, bought tickets to
what she naively thought was going to be an arts and folk music festival.
"Music is music, but this music was saying something different,"
Johnson said. "Music in a way pacifies people's pain and inspires the
listener to make changes."
"It moves a movement forward," she said. "It definitely changed my
attitude from a very parochial view. ... It made me less interested
in staying in one spot. I wanted a more global view of the universe."
Plimpton, on the other hand, cared little about the music.
"I wouldn't have been there if it hadn't been for Bobby," she said.
She said she was proud of being a hippy and wanted to be free and different.
Johnson said she didn't define herself as a hippy and still doesn't.
Even today, it is the music she remembers most -- the power of the
music and how it moved the crowd.
The community bonding and communal living left a great impact on
Plimpton, especially groups of people creating mud slides down the
hill and bathing in the dirty pond.
"There was a naturalness about being there, because we were in the
natural world. It was beautiful even when it was raining," she said.
But, after three days in the mud -- soggy, dirty, hungry and
exhausted, each hitchhiked home.
"There's a limit (to what you can take). Even when you're 18 or 19
years old, there's a limit," Johnson said. But even today, "There's a
little badge of honor" for the people who actually made it to Woodstock.
Contact Melissa Bruen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (203) 731-3350.
"Woodstock Revisited" features: Colleen Plimpton of Bethel, a retired
clinical social worker and now garden educator, lecturer and writer.
Sandy Johnson of Southbury, a retired speech therapist and special
If you go: WHAT -- "Woodstock Revisited" book signing WHEN -- Aug. 22
from 2 to 4 p.m. WHERE -- Borders, 110 Federal Road, Danbury WHAT --
"Woodstock Revisited" book talk and signing. WHEN -- Aug. 27 at 6:30
p.m. WHERE -- Gunn Memorial Library, 5 Wykeham Road, Washington.
1969 Woodstock performers: Friday: Richie Havens Sweetwater Bert
Sommer Tim Hardin Ravi Shankar Melanie Arlo Guthrie Joan Baez
Saturday: Quill Country Joe McDonald John B. Sebastian Keef Hartley
Band Santana Incredible String Band Canned Heat Grateful Dead
Creedence Clearwater Revival Janis Joplin Sly & The Family Stone The
Who Jefferson Airplane Sunday: Joe Cocker Country Joe & The Fish
Leslie West/Mountain Ten Years After The Band Johnny Winter Blood
Sweat And Tears Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Monday: Paul Butterfield
Blues Band Sha-Na-Na Jimi Hendrix