By Adam Bosch
Posted: August 02, 2009
ELLENVILLE Marty Cohen was nervous when he approached the
Woodstock was an unfriendly setting for a state health inspector
whose work clothes and crew-cut hair represented everything that the
crowd of thousands rallied against. Still, Cohen had spotted a foul:
A bearded man clad in nothing but a loin cloth, chef's hat and love
beads was grilling hamburgers for concertgoers.
"I walked up to him and told him that he was violating a number of
health codes," Cohen recalled. "Next thing I know I'm surrounded by
hippies saying, 'Get lost, we're hungry.'"
The cook wasn't as friendly. Using some four-letter words, he told
Cohen to stick his clipboard in an uncomfortable place.
"I found out quickly that I was not going to be useful in this
place," Cohen, now 79, said with a chuckle.
Cohen, a science teacher from Brooklyn, arrived at Woodstock after a
series of coincidental twists. In 1964, a co-worker sold him a summer
house just outside of Ellenville for $4,500. Cohen got a summer job
at Hecht Enterprises setting up 16-millimeter movie equipment at
hotels and bungalow colonies in the Catskills to pay the mortgage.
Because the gig paid only $10 a night, Cohen and a few of his
co-workers decided to go on strike, but the plan backfired when Cohen
was the only one to show up at the picket line and was laid off.
Using his science knowledge, Cohen found a new summer job as a
part-time state health inspector testing water quality at hotel pools
and the cleanliness of local delis. On the Friday that Woodstock
began, Sullivan County health director Gerry Leiber came to Cohen
with an offer.
"He said, 'Marty, you wanna make a little extra money? They're having
a little concert in Bethel called Woodstock and I need some inspectors.'"
Cohen took the job and quickly found himself shunned and cursed at by
the hippies he was assigned to regulate. Cohen's partner, a young
health inspector who had just graduated college, took the rejection in stride.
"I saw him one day with a loaf of Silver Cup bread and bottles of
water," Cohen said. "He told me, 'You see all those naked girls over
there? They're going to get thirsty and hungry.'"
The young inspector romanced several of those girls in the state
trailer where he and Cohen were supposed to sleep, Cohen said.
Meanwhile, Cohen gave up trying to regulate the madness and wandered
the muddy hills, listening to Joplin and Hendrix instead.
When he arrived back home after two days, Cohen's wife, Rita, used a
garden hose to clean the mud off him. Forty years later, Cohen is
still amazed that people are talking about the "little concert" that
he was asked to inspect.
"After it was over I never thought it would come up again," he said.
"I had no idea it would be a historic window to what was happening in