Woodstock still hip 40 years later
By Georgette Braun
Posted Aug 08, 2009
ROCKFORD Barbara Yahn just returned from a mission trip to West
Virginia. The church group members she traveled and worked with have
good values, she said, just like those held by the friendly
peace-lovers she encountered at Woodstock 40 years ago.
"Things are turning back around, where people are starting to
appreciate things," the graphic artist, 60, of Rockford said.
She attributed the turnaround to the economic crisis moving folks
away from materialism, and that conjures up a bit of déjà vu to her
experiences at the music festival near Woodstock, N.Y. There, she was
surprised by how nice the people who lived nearby were, offering
concertgoers sandwiches and water.
"That was pretty neat, considering what we must have looked like" in
rain-drenched bell-bottoms, headbands and beads, she said.
But Ethan Erickson, 59, also of Rockford, who went to Woodstock, too,
isn't today feeling the love/peace vibes and idealism that Woodstock projected.
"The contrast then and now, it's so awful," said Erickson, a printer
who recently gave up playing bass in local bands because he says he's
too old. "The way the economy has imploded, the way we took
manufacturing out of this country and gave it to China, is so upsetting."
The kicker, he said, is that the people in power who are of the
"Woodstock-age" are the culprits.
Back at the concert, he was mostly unbothered, even though he sat in
the middle of the crowd practically the entire three days and a girl
climbed into his soaked sleeping bag without either saying more than
a word all night.
As the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival draws near
Friday, people worldwide and locally are considering what the event
meant and means to them, music and humanity.
Here's what others have to say about one of the greatest events in
popular music history. Most were interviewed July 31 outside the
Rockford Theater in Rockford where John Sebastian, formerly of The
Lovin' Spoonful, played. Sebastian performed at Woodstock.
Dom Castaldo, 52, of Mount Morris responded to a solicitation in the
Register Star. He's a college biology instructor:
Mud-sloshing and society's collapse. "I was 12 years old when
Woodstock took place. I was living in a typical 1960s suburb in New
Jersey. Woodstock was in our neck of the woods. Even though it was
before instant news, we knew it was taking place. The daily
newspapers and evening news carried many photos of the 'hippies'
sloshing around in the mud. We kids were pretty excited. We thought
it would spread across the country, and we would all be sloshing
around in the mud. I remember that when Woodstock was taking place,
we had a heavy rain. All of us boys in the neighborhood got together
and played a mud football game. That was about as close as any of us
got to experiencing Woodstock.
"Our parents had a different take on Woodstock. They were alarmed and
scared. They looked at Woodstock as another step closer to the
collapse of our society. Opposition to the war in Vietnam was
growing; Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated
the previous year; drug abuse was spreading. They had a lot of
worries. Actually, we needed Woodstock. The U.S. needed something
that was fun to take our collective minds off all of the bad.
Woodstock added the outdoor rock concert to America's entertainment choices."
Musically, a follow-up.
"The event was more about liberty, the 'New World.' The music changed
with The Beatles and Elvis. Musically, it was just a follow-up."
Roland Lestoquoit, 60, of Reims, France
Concert costs vs. love-in.
"Going to a concert today has become more of a 'What kind of credit
card do you have?' The atmosphere is not as loosey-goosey and organic
Jerry Bauer, 55, of Barrington, a telecommunications engineer
Shows result in music appreciation.
"Bringing these (Sebastian, Hot Tuna) shows to Rockford brings some
of us out of the woodwork to ... appreciate the music" of the Woodstock-era.
Deb Fowler, 54, of Rockford, graphic artist and customer service
"It really set the direction of a generation, the music culture.
Those were simpler times, where you could make do with less."
Glenna Anderson, 55, of Roscoe, school social worker
Staff writer Georgette Braun didn't have a record player but bought
the "Woodstock" live album when it came out and carried it to
homecoming float-making parties to play. Reach her at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-987-1331.
OTHER WOODSTOCK HAPPENINGS
"Taking Woodstock," a film in theaters Aug. 28, recounts the
haphazard way in which a man working at his parents' motel in the
Catskills inadvertently sets in motion the generation-defining
concert in the summer of 1969, according to Internet Movie Database (imdb.com).
"Woodstock: Long Time Gone," an original piece celebrating the
festival by the Rockford-based Dean Moriarty Jazz Band, will be
performed again Nov. 7 at The Sullivan Center (formerly New American
Theater), 118 N. Main St., Rockford. More details will be announced
later by the presenter, Charlotte's Web for the Performing Arts.
'Woodstock, Illinois' sounds just like 1969
You can hear the music of Jimi, Janis, Joe Cocker and six other
performers who played at the Woodstock festival on stage Friday and
Saturday near Woodstock in McHenry County.
Galt Airport in Greenwood is hosting "Woodstock, Illinois" featuring
nine tribute bands that pay homage to groups that played 40 years ago
in New York.
Other tribute bands will play the music of the The Who, Creedence
Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead and Santana. Two bands will
perform music by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Cost ranges from $20 to $40; camping will cost you extra. Deadline to
pay for camping is Thursday. More info: 815-648-4591, ext. 10;
by Kaelin O'Connell, The Gloucester County Times
Sunday August 09, 2009
As head of security at Woodstock, Wesley Pomeroy was charged with
keeping order among half a million hippies. It was an overwhelming
task, complicated even further by widespread drugs, pouring rain and
But the 50-year-old longtime cop had "a sort of a Buddhist sense of
how you deal with people," explained Joel Makower, who met Pomeroy
while researching his book "Woodstock: The Oral History."
"He created a lot of really clever strategies of dealing with people
in a nonviolent manner," Makower said. "At one point they got word
that the Hell's Angels were coming up to Woodstock en masse, so they
met them all as they approached the festival and basically hired them
all as messengers and sent them off in a dozen different directions.
"It's one of many reasons that Woodstock wasn't the disaster that,
logistically, it could have been."
This week, Woodstock turns 40. The music that blared from its stages
is now "classic rock," and the people who swayed along with it are
retirees. But Woodstock's legacy remains strong.
"I think there's no better window on who we were in 1969 than
Woodstock, in terms of the music, the culture, the politics, the
sensibilities, the entrepreneurship, the humanity," Makower said. "As
such, it did help to define the generation or a certain part of a generation."
In 1988, Makower set out to create an oral history of Woodstock. He
traveled the country to interview producers, performers, doctors,
cops, lawyers, shopkeepers, kids in the audience, and Woodstock
icons, like Abbie Hoffman.
"The most common response was that hardly anybody remembered the
music. They remembered the experience. They remember getting there
from Cleveland, California, New York. They remember what it was like
sitting in the mud, the rainstorm, what it was like trying to eat or
find a bathroom. They remember losing or running into their friends."
One guy Makower talked to remembered saying to a friend from home,
"I'll see you at Woodstock." Amazingly enough, he did.
"It's been said that we went to Woodstock as a half million
individuals, but we left as a market," Makower said. "After Woodstock
we were finally seen as an economic force that would help to define
all kinds of industries and, ultimately, politics."
There was just something special about this concert, in this place,
during this summer.
"It has a lot to do with timing," said Ted Geortzel, a professor of
sociology at Rutgers-Camden. "I think the feelings were percolating
in this generation and the feelings of people of that time. This was
something that brought a critical mass of people together."
Geortzel pointed to Barack Obama's presidential campaign, the recent
uprising in Iran and grassroots efforts on the Internet as having
similar effects, but he said Woodstock remains unmatched as a
non-political, peaceful event.
"I don't think we'll have another Woodstock for another couple of
generations," he said.
For fans of Woodstock music, the "Heroes of Woodstock" concert will
be stopping at the Mann Center on Aug. 18 in honor of the 40th
anniversary. It will feature 11 original Woodstock performers paying
tribute to the original three days of peace and love. The Mann Center
is offering select lawn seats for the original Woodstock ticket price
of $18. For more information on the concert visit www.manncenter.org.
Three Days in August
By GAIL COLLINS
Published: August 6, 2009
The Woodstock festival ("Three Days of Peace and Music") has been
celebrated for 40 years as a great moment in American cultural
history, although we've never quite agreed about why. Sometimes the
argument seems to be that it was important because nothing terrible happened.
"It was unique in that there were a half-million people not stabbing
each other to death at a concert, and that hadn't been done before,"
said Grace Slick, who sang there with Jefferson Airplane.
"Nobody killed anybody, nobody raped anybody, nobody shot anybody. In
the history of humankind, I think it's probably the only group of
people that size that didn't do any of that," said David Crosby of
Crosby, Stills and Nash.
We will pause for a moment to contemplate the dark opinion American
musicians circa 1969 entertained about humankind in general and their
fans in particular.
To really appreciate Woodstock, you have to understand that it was,
in many ways, incredibly awful the rock concert in the middle of
nowhere that attracted so many young fans it became a nation unto
itself, surrounded by a ring of stalled traffic. The weather was
terrible. The lines at the concession stands were endless. The smell
from the Port-o-Sans was ferocious. "It was the most horrific stench
I have ever smelled in my life," one woman said. "And once I got done
with what I had to do there, I literally had to walk around to clear
my head a little bit because I thought I was going to fall down."
Yet everybody seemed cheerful. Pete Fornatale, in "Back to the
Garden," offers up the Slick and Crosby analyses, as well as one
from Ravi Shankar, who said of the huge audience: "It was drizzling
and very cold, but they were so happy in the mud; they were all
stoned, of course, but they were enjoying it. It reminded me of the
water buffaloes you see in India, submerged in the mud."
Not the most flattering description of those of us who were there.
But it does put the event into better perspective. Woodstock was
unique not because 400,000 people give or take a hundred thousand
or so refrained from murder, rape and robbery. The point was that
they treated one another very kindly under extreme circumstances.
They shared food or drugs, which seemed to be in much more
plentiful supply. As they walked back to their campsites in the
crowded dark, they refrained from pushing or shoving. And almost
every adult they encountered said they were remarkably polite.
"By adult standards the occasion was clearly a disaster, an
outrageous upset of all normal patterns," an editorial in The New
York Times said. "Yet the young people's conduct, in the end, earned
them a salute from Monticello's police chief as 'the most courteous,
considerate and well-behaved group of kids' he had ever dealt with."
This was the editorial page's second verdict on Woodstock. The day
before, in a piece titled "Nightmare in the Catskills," it had
denounced the "maddened youths" who flocked to the concert and
demanded to know "what kind of culture is it that can produce so
colossal a mess?"
There was a lot of that revisionism going on. The summer of 1969 was,
of course, long before the age of the cellphone and laptop. Except
for a few extremely overworked pay phones, the kids at the concert
were totally cut off from the outside world. A nation of worried
parents saw helicopters flying over miles of abandoned cars and
listened to reports about doctors treating one drug-overdose case
after another. While the concert was under way, the rest of the
country presumed the worst. (My own mother, at 85, has wiped out
practically every memory of anything unpleasant in our family
history. But she still has never forgiven me for taking my
19-year-old brother to Woodstock, while she spent the weekend waiting
for a report of his grisly death.) It was only after the music ended
on Monday morning and the last of the youths made their trek home
that a consensus began to form that the whole thing had been pretty
neat after all.
Michael Lang, one of the four Woodstock organizers, and Fornatale, a
longtime New York radio broadcaster, have each written a book about
the festival to coincide with the 40th anniversary. Fornatale focuses
a little more on the music, with back stories about many of the bands
and analysis of who stopped the show (Sly Stone, Joe Cocker) and who
underachieved (Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead). Lang, who wrote "The
Road to Woodstock" with Holly George-Warren, has much more detail
about how the whole production was put together and kept running. He
is the more authoritative author, although Fornatale's writing is a
The books are remarkably similar in structure, relying heavily on the
voices of other people who were at the festival, whose reminiscences
the authors collected from interviews or previously published work.
Many of the same people show up in both books Lang is in
Fornatale's. Each includes the famous story of how the festival was
tossed from Woodstock itself to an abandoned industrial park in
Wallkill to, in a last-minute retreat, a dairy farm in the run-down
Catskill town of Bethel; the farm's owner, Max Yasgur, a 49-year-old
Republican with a heart condition, became a countercultural hero.
There are a number of descriptions by breathless musicians of what it
was like to fly over the vast crowd in the helicopters that ferried
important people in and out of the site. My favorite by far is David
Crosby's: "Like an encampment of the Macedonian Army on the Greek hills!"
The biggest danger was not crime but the weather, which dumped so
much rain that the staff was worried the water would seep down to the
power cables that ran right under the crowd. John Roberts, the major
financial backer, said later that he had been terrified of a mass
electrocution and that he had decided, if it happened, he would
commit suicide rather than live with the guilt. Meanwhile, the wind
was so heavy that the production manager was worried that the light
towers would either fall or drop their massive spotlights on the crowd.
Roberts, a wealthy 24-year-old, was the one who decided to keep the
festival going after it became clear that the ticket booths had
gotten stuck in traffic and the fences around the site had been
pulled down, turning the organizers' great business venture into a
free concert. He also held off Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who wanted to
send the National Guard in to close the concert down. Roberts spent
the entire weekend stuck in the concert's business office, trying to
keep the operation afloat and rounding up hard cash for acts whose
managers refused to let them work unless they were paid in advance
he had a local banker open up in the middle of the night so the Who
could be persuaded to play. As a result, Roberts never got to see any
of the concert. That seemed both unfair and sad until I read his
obituary (he died of cancer at 56) and found out that his own musical
taste ran more toward Gershwin.
Among the other semiheroic figures in these books are the members of
the Hog Farm, a West Coast commune, who proved to be good at
everything from clearing trails to cooking food, and who provided
some order after the New York Police Department prohibited its
officers from moonlighting as security. Richie Havens saved the day
by agreeing to step in as the opening act when virtually all the
other musicians were caught up in traffic. With no one to follow up,
he wound up singing for more than two and a half hours. When the
organizers again needed someone onstage immediately, they persuaded
Country Joe McDonald to go out and play without his band and
without his own guitar. McDonald lasted an hour, and a little later
came John Sebastian, who was not even on the bill and had the
additional burden of having just dropped acid.
"I'd like to sing you a song," Sebastian burbled. "Actually, I'd like
to dedicate it to . . . there's a cat, and I really don't know his
name, but I remember that Chip said that uh, that uh, his old lady's
just had a baby. And that made me think, Wow! It really is a city
here! But this is for you and your old lady, man. And uh. Whew! That
kid's gonna be far-out!"
You'd have thought the new mother would at least have gotten top
billing, but the women's movement had not really peaked yet.
Both Lang and Fornatale try to explain what Woodstock meant, besides
not killing your neighbor, but neither comes up with much beyond
platitudes. "Woodstock was about the passing of the torch to the next
generation," Fornatale says. He also includes some testimony from
Abbie Hoffman at the trial of the Chicago Eight, trying to tell the
judge that his place of residence was "Woodstock Nation." Hoffman
defined it as "a nation of alienated young people . . . dedicated to
cooperation versus competition, to the idea that people should have
better means of exchange than property or money."
Well, that didn't quite work out. And Hoffman himself did not exactly
soar like an eagle at Woodstock. Both books include a story about the
moment he went onstage during the Who's performance and tried to
rally the crowd around the "political prisoner" John Sinclair. Pete
Townshend bonked Hoffman on the head with a guitar, and he scurried
offstage, never to be seen again.
Lang says the whole weekend was "a test of whether people of our
generation really believed in one another and the world we were
struggling to create. How would we do when we were in charge?" At
Woodstock whose enduring secret might be that the good behavior had
to last for only three days Lang and the fans did great, with a
little help from their friends. The organizers kept the crowd
entertained, dragging the last night of music on until the middle of
Monday morning to make sure that the remaining tens of thousands of
fans didn't all try to leave in the dark. When the food ran out,
donations from the surrounding towns were helicoptered in, and
everyone was given Dixie cups of granola by the Hog Farm. "What I
have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000," the commune leader,
Wavy Gravy, cried. The rather inept caterers had run out of supplies
early on, and two of their stands were burned down by customers irate
at the high prices a moment that suggests that even the most mellow
event in American music history had its limits.
Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist for The Times. Her new book, "When
Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960
to the Present," will be published in October.
Retirees remember Woodstock era
ALDRICH M. TAN
August 9, 2009
It had been a long time since Carol Wilson, 66, tie-dyed T-shirts.
But on Saturday, the Indio woman, who attended the Woodstock Festival
celebration at Sun City Shadow Hills in Indio, found the process came
back to her quickly.
Wilson, a retiree, said she did not attend the original Woodstock
Music Festival, but she was 24 when she moved to San Francisco in
1967 during that city's iconic Summer of Love.
"I'm excited because I sort of remember how to do it," she said as
she looked at the shirt of orange, lime green, and purple.
Attendees of the local two-day event commemorated the 1969 music and
art festival with their own celebration, albeit a much more
It featured live entertainment, documentaries, arts and crafts
vendors, and tie-dye workshops, said Eric Angle, lifestyle director
of Sun City Shadow Hills.
Sunday's festivities will include a concert with tributes to
musicians Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
"It was a time where people remember where they were when that
(festival) happened," Angle said.
The local event is also reflective of the baby boomer era that is now
retiring, Angle said.
As he watched festival volunteers dressed in tie-dyed shirts and
dresses Saturday, Douglas DeLalla, 62, of Indio, said people would
not believe how big his hair was back then.
He had a sandy blonde afro he said his "head looked like a
snowball" and wore big Elton John glasses and bell bottom pants.
In the 40 years that have passed, DeLalla has since cut his hair,
kept the beard he grew up with and settled for the "retired look" of
shorts and Hawaiian print T-shirts.
"It is funny when I look back and think about how I could have ever
looked like that," he said.
DeLalla, who lived in Detroit at that time, said he did not go to the
music festival because he was working, but a girl he dated did.
Wilson said she did not go to the festival either, but she did get to
see Joplin perform later that year at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.
Wilson said the event on Saturday made her feel young and happy and
took her back to a peaceful time.
"The era of Woodstock was like a rite of passage, and every
generation has their own significant events," she said. "I wouldn't
want to relive the era, but I am glad that I experienced it."
This pair never left the garden
By LARRY CORNIES
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was summer 1969 and 18-year-old Joann
Melfa, daughter of strict Italian-American parents in the Bronx,
N.Y., harboured a secret -- one she knew she'd soon have to tell.
In May, she'd hatched a plan. In early June, she'd carried it out.
And now, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in upstate Bethel was only
When she'd first told her mom she'd like to go to Woodstock with her
four male cousins and their friends, her mother had issued an unequivocal no.
"My mother flipped out," she says. "My parents just went berserk.
They said there was no way I was going unless I ran away from home.
And if I did, I wouldn't be allowed back."
It was exactly the reaction Melfa had expected. Hers had been a rigid
Catholic upbringing. She'd seldom dated, never attended a rock
concert and certainly never kissed a boy.
"They told me if you kissed a boy, you're pregnant -- that was it.
And I just didn't know any better," she says.
So in early May, while listening to music in her room, she'd settled
on a scheme. She'd ask John Muller to marry her. He was a good friend
of her cousins and they'd known each other a while. He was 20 and
held down two jobs: one at a Bronx gas station, the other as a
typesetter for a newspaper in Manhattan.
"I knew this one boy liked me . . . I thought if he marries me, I can
go to Woodstock," she recalls. And she'd tell him up front it needn't
be forever. If after the summer he wanted a divorce, fine, she
thought. Besides, at Woodstock, "I thought I'd meet some guys," she says.
About two weeks later, when the two of them were alone, she turned to him.
"I said, 'Would you marry me?' I didn't even tell him why.
"His face was unbelievable. His mouth dropped open. He said, 'Excuse me?'
"Would you marry me?
"And he just said, 'Sure. When?' "
For a few minutes, each thought the other was kidding. But as they
talked some more, neither backed away.
In the days that followed, Melfa furtively arranged for blood tests
and a marriage licence. And because New York state law dictated that,
while girls could be married at 18, boys had to be 21, Muller's
mother gave her secret consent.
On June 2, a Monday, Melfa and Muller took a train to Peekskill,
N.Y., where a friend and her husband picked them up and drove them to
Carmel, about 30 kilometres away. There, in the courthouse, they were
married. And after their vows had been said, Melfa had her first kiss.
"I was scared to death," she says, recalling her mother's warnings
about getting pregnant.
"They usually charged a fee -- I think it was $30 -- but because
nobody had ever run away to Carmel from the Bronx to get married,
they gave us our money back," she says.
The couple hurried back to the city so Melfa's parents wouldn't
Later that month, she asked the neighbour for whom she regularly
babysat whether she'd be going out on the weekend. No, the neighbour
said, she had no plans.
"Well, you have to, because I need a honeymoon," Melfa pleaded. The
neighbour relented, but took her children with her. And it wasn't
until that night that the secret marriage found its clandestine consummation.
Which brings us back to the weeks before Woodstock. When a cousin
mentioned to Melfa's mother that the festival tickets were in hand,
she demanded to know who they were for. And at that point, the
closeted bride broke the news. She was going, she said.
"I'm married. I stuck my little ring out I'd kept on a chain around my neck."
It did not, shall we say, go over well.
But that is how a girl from the Bronx, who had never before been to a
concert or showered in the rain, took part in three historic days of
peace and music. As for Muller, he stayed in the city. Had to work.
Melfa and Muller celebrated their 40th anniversary in June. And if
you wander to the end of St. Petersburg's pier and enter the hat
shop, you may just find Melfa there, humming a '60s tune.
To get in touch with Larry, e-mail him at email@example.com.
Woodstock 40 years on: The legend, the legacy
In August 1969, 186,000 people bought tickets for an event billed as
'three days of peace and music'. In the end, half a million turned up
to revel in the sex, drugs and rock and roll. Forty years on, Roya
Nikkhah talks to the key players behind a cultural milestone.
08 Aug 2009
Woodstock was the brainchild of Artie Kornfeld, a music executive,
and Michael Lang, a concert promoter. The pair had responded to an
advert in the New York Times placed by John Roberts, the heir to a
pharmaceuticals fortune and Joel Rosenman, the son of a dentist and
financial entrepreneur, which read: "Young men with unlimited capital
looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities and
business propositions." In April 1969, the four men met up and formed
Woodstock Ventures. Originally, they discussed building a recording
studio in the bohemian town of Woodstock, home to Bob Dylan, but the
idea soon evolved into an outdoor music and arts festival in the
nearby town of Bethel after the Woodstock authorities refused to
grant a permit.
Artie Kornfeld: "I was 24 years old, and the vice-president of
Capitol Records. Michael Lang and I were great friends he ran a
paraphernalia shop in Florida and had been promoting a series of
concerts in Miami. One morning, at about 3am, we were playing pool
and he was teasing me, saying I'd been writing and producing so much
that I didn't go to clubs any more and see bands. We said, wouldn't
it be great if all the bands I never saw played a free show to which
we'd invite all our friends.
"I knew Jimi [Hendrix], so, once Jimi said yes, you couldn't keep the
acts away. The message was all about freedom of choice, love your
brother. I didn't like the [Vietnam] war; friends of mine were being
killed. For me, the protest was my agenda. It showed Richard Nixon
that so many were against the war."
Michael Lang: "We always wanted to have it as a counter-culture
event: it was important to me to have it about politics, interests in
ecology and human rights. The Vietnam war was a huge issue at the
time. Woodstock was a picture of what life would be like if we were
in charge. Fun in the sun with a lot of mud.
"We deliberately wanted to create a space where everyone was welcome.
If you didn't have money to eat, there were kitchens for you; if you
didn't have a tent, we had a free camp site; and those who couldn't
afford tickets, we'd get them in anyway."
August 15 to August 18: three days of music, mud and magic...
AK: "Once you got within 100 miles of the place, it was like a
magnet. There was a spirit of brotherhood. People came together as
one, and everyone was sharing food. We had about 672,000 people there
we'd anticipated 60,000 to 80,000. We had to close the roads from
New York because three million people were on their way. People were
leaving their cars on the freeway; it was anything goes. John
Sebastian came as my guest; he wasn't actually supposed to play. But,
after all the rain, we had no electricity, so I gave him a guitar and
said, 'Play.' In the Woodstock movie [edited by a young Martin
Scorsese], you can see him forgetting the words to his song. He ended
up playing five songs."
Chip Monck, described by Martin Scorsese as "the pioneer genius of
rock-concert lighting", was the lighting director of the festival and
last-minute master of ceremonies: "On the Friday morning, Michael
clapped me on the back and said, 'We haven't hired an MC you're
it.' He figured I was relatively articulate and, anyway, I had
nowhere to run. The first thing I did was ask 500,000-plus people to
pick up all their belongings sleeping bags and everything and
take 10 steps back. Amazingly, they did. Then we put up two metal
sticks and a clothes line as the barrier in front of the stage. That
flimsy little barrier was never breached the whole three days. There
was such a relaxed vibe. I'm sure not a punch was thrown throughout
"When the rain came on the Saturday, boy, did it hit, but it only
drew people closer. Everyone looked the same like drowned rats. It
was a major unifying factor. People were just standing in mud up to
their knees, sleeping bags gone, jumping up and down in the mud and
cow s--- having fun. Everyone was exceptionally relaxed: it was that
time of year, that time of the century, and we were all taking a lot of drugs.
"Many of the artists weren't in great form. They had taken too much
before coming to the festival, so we had to look after a lot of them.
I remember one world-famous performer was peaking on mescaline when
he came on stage. A lot of the acts were really scared, too, by the
sheer scale of the crowd. I remember Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
starting their set saying: 'Ladies and gentlemen, we are scared
s-------.' They were great, but Jimi's Star-Spangled Banner on the
last morning really stopped me in my tracks. It was magnificent."
Arlo Guthrie, the folk singer, famous for his protest songs,
performed at Woodstock on the first night much to his surprise:
"The first sign of a this-is-different scenario was when we couldn't
actually get close to the site. All the roads were jammed, so we were
diverted to a motel in the forest in the middle of nowhere, where
helicopters were ferrying the acts to and from the stage. I was 19,
and I'd never been in a helicopter, so flying over those crowds was
something else. No matter how high we were, there were people as far
as the eye could see.
"I was under the impression that I was to perform on the second day,
so I was dropped off backstage and started wandering around, saying
hi to friends. I had a real case of the munchies in the afternoon, so
I headed out into the fields of mud to find something to eat, but
there was nothing to eat or drink anywhere.
"Backstage, there was nothing but 147 cases of champagne which were
being saved for the last night. Naturally, it was all gone by the
first night, and I think I was responsible for a few cases. So it was
a real shock when someone came up and said: 'Arlo, you're on, man.' I
wasn't ready to walk, let alone perform, but I went up and made the
most of it. It was a double-edged sword moment of having a
performance that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and not being in
shape to do it. It was a best and worst moment."
Barry Levine was the stills photographer for the Oscar-winning
Woodstock film. During his six days on the festival site, the only
sleep he got was a 45-minute nap on the piano cover on stage during
the performance by Blood, Sweat & Tears: "The vibe at Woodstock was
one of people understanding that there is a little heaven in every
disaster. There was not enough food, water, toilets. It was
uncomfortably hot and wet, but nobody complained. Everyone was
determined to show the world that, given the opportunity, there was a
different way of doing things from the traditional 2.3 children,
buttoned-down-shirt way of life, and we knew the whole world was
watching. Hippie or not, everyone there was anti-war. That was the
"People were taking acid and smoking dope openly at a time when
marijuana was supposed to be the next big evil that was going to
destroy the country. There were plenty of cops around, but they
didn't bother anyone. Folks were skinny-dipping and walking around
nude. At the time, having long hair in the US was enough to get you
beaten up, and espousing peace and love drew accusations of being a
communist. But, when half a million people came together to share
that ethos, it made you feel that you weren't alone, that we were a
movement, that, no matter what your beliefs were, we were united on
some very basic issues.
"I remember walking up to one of the ponds on the site and seeing a
crowd of people, arms crossed, looking down longingly at the water. A
friend and I dropped our clothes and cameras and ran into the water.
The next minute the pond was filled with naked people. My favourite
image of Woodstock is the picture I took of a couple kissing in the
water. I don't know who they were, but, to me, it says in a simple
and beautiful way what Woodstock was all about, which was peace and love."
The success of the festival has arguably fuelled every outdoor rock
event since, from the Concert for Bangladesh, the star-studded
charity show organised by George Harrison in 1971, to Live Aid (1985)
and Live 8 (2005). Woodstock was also the precursor of Glastonbury,
now in its 39th year of raising funds for environmental concerns.
AK: "Time magazine called it the greatest peaceful man-made event in
history. The impact was like the war of the worlds, a time of love
and hate. I think it was also the start of the end of the war. It
showed that so many people were against the way people were treating
each other. Forty years on, that still resonates and people can still
see the significance of it. I think the anniversary is focusing
people on the problems we still have today. But you can't do another
Woodstock because you can't repeat a miraculous work of art.
Woodstock was anti-business and capitalist. With a lot of them [the
festivals], it is using people's problems as a reason to make money
on a concert."
BL: "I think what Woodstock represented, and what it still represents
today, is hope, which is in such short supply. These were such dark
days: we'd had the assassinations [of Robert Kennedy and Martin
Luther King] the year before, we were in Vietnam, there was
tremendous division in American society. But Woodstock gave the hope
that things could be different. A lot of people describe the
inauguration of Barack Obama as a Woodstock moment. We've had eight
dark years, but now there's hope.
"Almost all of the big movements that have emerged over the years are
elements of Woodstock that have survived. The green movement, the
less-is-more mentality, and even the sexual revolution. Before
Woodstock, the idea in America was that sex should only happen
between married men and women at home with the lights out. But at
Woodstock, there were naked couples kissing in the lake and couples
making love in the grass."
AG:"There was a constant hum at the time that you couldn't trust
young people because the nature of man is such that we need the
disciplines of authority or else all hell will break loose. But here
were hundreds of thousands of people with no regulation of any kind,
who just all took care of each other. Woodstock showed that, in times
of disaster or difficulty, people can take care of each other, and
for that reason alone it reaffirmed my faith in people."
ML: "When you're young, you're part of a generation that wants to
change the world, and you want it changed tomorrow. We strived to
make a point and extend some of our desires into mainstream America.
Woodstock sowed the seeds for the green movement nobody talked
about organic gardening before Woodstock or had seen granola or
long-grained rice, and all our kitchens on site used organic,
"It feels like we're having another Woodstock moment now. Things have
been going so badly for the past four years, and looked as if they
might get even worse, and then we elect Barack Obama and suddenly the
world is changing. The inauguration got the headlines, 'Washington's
"You can't plan magic like Woodstock. Glastonbury, Live Aid, all the
others they are all wonderful music events, but they haven't had
the impact on social behaviour that Woodstock did. People who were
there, and even people who watched it on TV, came away with a
different take on how we can live with each other."
Ellen Shapiro, co-owner of the Golden Notebook bookshop in Woodstock,
who has lived in the town for more than 35 years: "I moved to
Woodstock because I was drawn to the counter-culture and artistic
atmosphere that became ingrained here after the festival. It's still
a music town. A lot of musicians live here and Michael Lang lives
here. It still has the sense of being a real artists' colony.
"Every weekend, people come into the store and want to talk about
Woodstock. The festival definitely had an impact on the way people in
the town see themselves and how the town itself is perceived. While
some of the original settlers probably wish they'd never been part of
it, most of us are proud of living somewhere so historic.
"After all, wherever I go in the world, people have always heard of