Woodstock experience had lasting impact for me
by George Taylor
Saturday August 15, 2009
It must have been a Friday. I'm really not sure. But I am sure it was
a counselors' day off. Richly deserved and greatly appreciated. We
were the counselors at Camp Shawnee, near Waymart, not to be confused
with another Camp Shawnee somewhere along the Delaware.
I decided to be a camp counselor that summer of 1969 because I wanted
to make sure I liked kids enough to become a teacher. So I applied to
work for Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bland (I'm not making that name up)
who ran Camp Shawnee. Lacking any special skills that could be turned
into a camping activity, I was named a general counselor and put in
charge of a bunkhouse full of 11-year-old boys.
But this is not the story of what a great counselor I turned out to
be and how I went on to a successful teaching career and early
retirement. No, this is the story about a trip to a Joan Baez
concert, or at least that's what I thought was a Joan Baez concert in
some small town across the border in New York state.
My day off started with a quick trip across state to my hometown
where I picked up my new, slightly used, 1967 Mustang, which my
father had just purchased for me. Fellow counselors Rich Fornadell
and Cindy Hammill went along for the ride. I left my old Dodge
station wagon at my parents' house and off we went to the concert.
For some reason, we decided to stop back at Camp Shawnee and take
Rich's car to the concert. Looking back, it was one of the smartest
decisions I made in my young life.
Rich was from New Jersey. He, too, wanted to become a teacher and
decided to try counseling for one summer. Cindy Hammill was one of
two young women hired to run the stables that summer at Camp Shawnee.
To my amazement, she was a Penn State student, like myself. How could
I have missed her on a campus of only 35,000?
Neither Rich nor Cindy cared that much for Joan Baez, but they didn't
have anything better to do that day so they thought a road trip would
be interesting. Most of the other counselors would go shopping in
Scranton and spend the evening in a local bar that didn't mind
serving underage camp counselors.
By the time we got to Woodstock, the roads were pretty well clogged,
so we parked the car somewhere along the road and started following
the crowd. We didn't have to worry about tickets because all the
fences surrounding the concert site had been trampled down, so no
tickets were being sold or collected.
The crowd was large. But I had no idea how large until that evening
when Melanie sang "Candles in the Rain" and just about everyone lit a
match and held it over his/her head. Can you imagine 500,000 people
with lit matches raised in the air. It's my most vivid memory of Woodstock.
I can't tell you for sure if we heard Joan Baez that day, and I'm not
sure who else performed while we were there. For some reason that's
all a blur to me, though I do remember hearing Richie Havens for the
first time. I mostly remember the people -- the hundreds ... the
thousands of people my age converging on one place. I had never seen
that many people together at one time.
I must have looked a little like Forrest Gump sitting there with Rich
and Cindy on the hillside. I know I felt like a fish out of water.
Throughout the first two years of college, I stayed pretty much a
small-town boy with a small-town hair-cut, small-town clothes and a
small-town mind. I liked The Doors, Sgt. Pepper and Jefferson
Airplane, but I wasn't into drugs or peace marches. I was amazed by
the funny little cigarettes being passed around the crowd that day
and when people started getting naked around me, I felt
uncomfortable. Thank God, Rich and Cindy kept their clothes on!
Back at Camp Shawnee, the Blands (I'm not making that name up) and
everyone else had given up hope for us. The network news programs
carried scenes of the masses at Woodstock. Our fellow counselors knew
we'd never get back to camp until Woodstock was over, and maybe not
even then. But they were wrong.
George Taylor was one of the many thousands at Woodstock in 1969.
Sometime late in the evening, Rich, Cindy and I got up, amazingly
walked in the right direction, found Rich's car and drove back to
Pennsylvania. I wasn't there for the rains (maybe it had started to
rain and that's why we decided to leave) and "bad acid" and all the
other now-historic events. Still, something from Woodstock came home with me.
It wasn't long into the new school year I started growing a goatee.
Cindy and I dated, I guess you could call it that, once back at Penn
State and even drove down to New Jersey to visit Rich one weekend.
Cindy took me to my first peace march. She taught me about
relationships and how they don't always work out. Eventually, Cindy
got lost at Penn State. I'm not sure whether she ever finished school.
And Woodstock ... well it's gotten a little lost, too. Specific,
detailed memories are lacking. But being at Woodstock awakened
something in this small-town boy that has never gone back to sleep.
An awareness. A consciousness. I think it was during that day on a
crowded New York hillside I realized I was part of a big world made
up of a lot of individuals who matter, who can make things happen.
And like Forrest Gump, I had blundered onto Woodstock, but that
experience 40 years ago remains both a fond memory and an important
influence in my life today.
George Taylor is editor of The Bethlehem Press, a weekly newspaper
serving the greater Bethlehem area.
Woodstock close to Sioux Falls woman's heart
August 16, 2009
Richie Havens was playing at Woodstock when then 21-year-old college
student Janelle Lenser arrived on Aug. 15, 1969.
Lenser and a group of friends, carrying sleeping bags and a few
articles of clothing, walked several miles to the concert site from
their parked vehicle on the highway to Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, N.Y.
A summer waitressing job at a resort in the Adirondacks Mountains put
Lenser, who attended a small Lutheran college in Fremont, Neb., on
course to attend the iconic festival.
Lenser, who now is 61 and an English as a Second Language teacher for
the Sioux Falls School District, still listens to Joan Baez and cites
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Jimi Hendrix as standouts on the
"And, of course, The Who was always great," Lenser recalls, while
looking over her Woodstock memorabilia at her Sioux Falls home.
Ask Lenser what it was like to hear Hendrix play "The Star-Spangled
Banner," and her face lights up. "I remember the sound effects that
he got out of the guitar. When they did 'bombs bursting in air,' he
made it sound like bombs were exploding - very talented guitarist," she says.
Many of the bands Lenser saw at Woodstock are broken up or missing
members who died. But Woodstock, held on Aug. 15-18, 1969, remains
one of those events that continues to define a generation.
Just look at the plethora of Woodstock nostalgia marking the 40th
anniversary. There's a new director's cut DVD of the concert movie, a
remastered concert CD, director Ang Lee's rock 'n' roll comedy
"Taking Woodstock" and a memoir by promoter Michael Lang. There also
are performances scheduled by Woodstock veterans at the old site, now
home to a '60s museum and an outdoor concert pavilion.
The Woodstock legend stems from big names playing at a show where
everything went wrong but turned out right.
The venue switched at the last minute from the town of Woodstock to
Yasgur's hay field. More than 400,000 people showed up at the site 80
miles northwest of New York City for the event, rendering tickets
like Lenser's for the show useless. Then the rain came, turning the
field to mud.
Despite all of this, Woodstock still is considered one of the
greatest moments in popular music history. Soon after, Woodstock
became a symbol of peace and love of the '60s. The festival itself
was billed as "Three Days of Music and Peace."
Lenser says the event was a "general statement against government
policies, and especially against the war." There were a number of
protest songs at Woodstock, including Havens' "Freedom." Lenser says
Woodstock leaders like Baez drew criticism: "She talked about Ronald
'Ray-guns' and emphasized the guns, instead of Reagan."
Lenser's Woodstock memories range from hearing a birth announcement
from singer John Sebastian while onstage to the relaxed, party
atmosphere and bad weather. A personal photo from Woodstock shows
festival attendees covering their sleeping bags with plastic tarps to
keep out the rain.
"The weather was horrible, which is why we didn't stay the third
day," she says. "It became hard to get around. It was very muddy and
unpleasant. I suppose if you had been smoking enough grass, you
really didn't care. But I wasn't, so it was a little harder to take."
Overall, Lenser sees Woodstock as a defining moment in the '60s that
gave society an outlet for expression - and a call to action.
"It helped mobilize people. It brought attention to the government's
involvement in Vietnam. ... It was a very idealistic moment, too,
that probably didn't last, but at least it popped up at a time where
people needed to be reminded there's a different way to do things. It
doesn't have to be about war."
Forty years later, Lenser has thought about Woodstock in relation to
the Iraq War. "How come we don't have more protesters? How come we
don't have as many people writing protest songs? What's different about today?
"I thought about the energy people put into protesting today, and
asking myself how has it changed, how have young people changed, why
aren't they protesting as much. Is life too comfortable for them now?"
Lenser thought about attending a Woodstock reunion 10 or 20 years ago
but hasn't been to the site since the original fest.
"It's really pretty hard to duplicate events in history," Lenser
says. "I'm not sure it's possible - with anything, not just with
this. There are special moments in history, and they always say
history repeats itself, but not maybe in the same form, the same style."
Reach BryAnn Becker at 977-3908.
Woodstock and Vietnam Remembered
Last Update: 8/15/2009
Each line etched into Rich Watts's face represents a story of a man
who's seen it all. The eyes are those of a combat veteran, but the
diamond stud in the ear lobe represents a young man with the long
hair and wire rimmed glasses, that arrived at Woodstock a day early.
"I'm starting to feel the ambiance of this, and you could feel
something special was coming. You could just feel it, sense it," says Rich.
Rich Watts remembers seeing Joan Baez from his vantage point only a
few rows away from the stage. He has virtually a front row seat to
one of the iconic moments in pop culture history.
While Country Joe McDonald sang about Vietnam, in August of 1969 Rich
Watts was mentally still there. He was only a few months removed from
the war where he spent time scouting the Ho Chi Min Trail and was
wounded three times. He came home and found he no longer fit in.
"I ended up sleeping in the woods with two other Vietnam veterans and
a couple of our other former friends for two weeks. It was our
nature. I slept in abject situations," says Rich.
Rich Watts had never heard of Richie Havens or most of the other acts
at Woodstock. The music of young Americans was not available to him
in Vietnam. He was there to see what the upheaval in America was all
about. While others in his generation were protesting the war, he was
fighting it which makes his view of Woodstock different from the ones
in picture books.
Rich's most memorable story involves a group of people doing drugs,
and a fellow Vietnam Veteran. "He picks up a cricket and yells over
at me, 'Richard, you want half? He breaks the cricket, because
everybody is passing their stuff. He was, in a way, ridiculing this
culture," says Rich.
Rich concludes, "It's a massive drug deal, and money is changing
hands. Now, there are people there who are benevolent to the point
they were sharing their drugs. They wanted everybody to be high. They
wanted everybody to know the age of aquarius, to feel the ambiance,
to feel the high, to take the trip, to get you to the place where
everybody's on the, in nirvana. Well, to me nirvana didn't exist, and
I knew it didn't exist. I'd seen reality."
By the time Crosby, Stills, and Nash were singing Suite Judy Blue
Eyes, Rich Watts was on his way home. He was tired, wet and dirty.
One of his meals had been dog food. He missed Janis Joplin, and that
he regrets, but he did see Santana and has been a fan ever since.
He came back to Girard, spent some time with the police department,
and in the 1980s even served a short term on City Council. Today he
lives in the house he grew up in. It wasn't until year later that he
realized what he had done.
Rich says, "For me to have been at Woodstock and Vietnam and be a cop
and how do I accommodate all these things in my process, my thought
process, and it was difficult."
In 1969, $23 got you flight to N.Y. -- and Woodstock
August 16, 2009
By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong. But
we weren't all dope-smoking hippies. We were just a bunch of kids who
loved our music.
I'm having a hard time believing 40 years have passed -- this
But I remember sitting in my friend Rick Streicker's basement when
another friend, Tom Gottlieb, showed us a Sunday New York Times --
his parents were ahead of their time -- with an ad listing all the
bands and folk singers who would be playing at Woodstock:
Jefferson Airplane. Crosby, Stills and Nash. Creedence Clearwater.
The Grateful Dead. The Band. The Who. Jimi Hendrix. Santana. Joan
Baez. Arlo Guthrie. And on and on.
It was the summer before our senior year at Deerfield High School.
The astronauts had just gone to the moon. The first-place Cubs seemed
to be headed for the promised land. And we knew the Woodstock music
festival was going to be something special, too.
We weren't going to miss it.
In those days, you could fly on "student-standby" to New York for
something like $23. We were working at Wrigley Field that summer, and
one good day of vending Cokes covered the round-trip airfare. We
bought our Woodstock tickets while wandering around Greenwich Village
before hopping a bus to Bethel, N.Y., a tiny Borscht Belt resort town
a couple of hours out of New York City.
Armed with a small tent and sleeping bags, we arrived a day or two
early and stocked up at the general store. Our tent was pitched in a
field a couple of hundred yards behind the stage. We had no idea we'd
wind up sharing our canned goods and hot dogs with whoever was
hungry, but we were glad we could help.
On Friday morning, the giant natural bowl in front of the stage began
filling with people. And filling. And filling.
We wandered over and found a grassy spot for the first of three days
of magical music. We were not sitting as close as our tent.
There was a lot of craziness going on around us. But we were awfully
young suburban kids, and we were watching the craziest of the people
wide-eyed as they did their drugs and removed their clothes and ...
We just thought it was cool that we'd scored some beer.
When the rain came, as it did several times, the show was delayed,
and the field turned to mud. The occasional journey to the stage for
an up-close look at the performers became a game of slip-and-slide.
But that didn't dampen anyone's spirits.
,Woodstock wasn't just about 500,000 people gathering on Max Yasgur's
farm to listen to 32 powerful music acts. I still love my parents'
Big Band music. I can understand people's obsessions with the
groundbreaking work of Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. I'll even
take it on faith that more recent music speaks to its followers in a
But what made our music unique, I believe, was that we connected with
it in ways that went far beyond music. It expressed our feelings
about Vietnam, about America's commercial zeal, about what we wanted
out of life. Put that on a foundation of melody and sound that could
have you rocking without any words or sentiments, and you had the
stars aligning for a wondrous musical celebration.
Far from being hippies, our generation moved on pretty well. Gottlieb
got a Ph.D. in Chinese studies and spent a lot of time negotiating
the end of the British era in Hong Kong. Streicker became a
record-company attorney. And me? I got back in time for the start of
another Cubs homestand and went on to the now-shaky newspaper business.
Sometimes, I think about whether I would have gone to Woodstock if
the Cubs had been in town that weekend. The answer: probably not.
There was too much college money to be saved.
I'm glad it worked out the way it did.
You're hearing a lot about Woodstock right now. Just know that it was
different things to different people who shared two things: We all
loved our rock 'n' roll. And we all cared.
Remember the music? Probably not
By LARRY ESKRIDGE of the Daily Ledger
Canton Daily Ledger
Sat Aug 15, 2009
To this day there are people who swear they remember Crosby, Stills,
Nash and Young performing the Joni Mitchell song "Woodstock" during
the show at Bethel.
The trouble is, the song hadn't been written yet. And Joni Mitchell
never made it to Woodstock.
The upshot of all this? While Woodstock is considered the most
important musical concert of the Sixties, perhaps of all time, the
music itself may have been the least important part of the event.
Many who attended were unable to recall any specific performers. And
the same Woodstock performance was considered brilliant by some,
dreadful by others.
Many of the performers themselves have said their Woodstock
appearances were among the worst shows of their careers. These
included the Grateful Dead. Soon-to-be-gone member Tom Constanten
told Jack Curry in "Woodstock: The Summer of Our Lives," the usual
chemistry between the band and the audience was impossible at
Woodstock because of the size of the crowd and their distance from the band.
Another group disappointed with their performance was the Who. Pete
Townshend reportedly called Woodstock a drug-laced mud pit, adding
something to the effect of "If that's the kind of Nirvana they want,
f(orget) the lot of them."
Townshend's feelings may have had something to do with the fact that
just before he went onstage someone shoved a tab of LSD into his
mouth without his consent. Added to this was the fact that in the
middle of their performance of "Tommy," the Who's landmark "rock
opera," Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman grabbed the microphone and
harangued the crowd for celebrating while a fellow activist was in
jail for handing two joints to an undercover policeman. Townshend,
who was not in a good mood to begin with, hit him over the head with
Another reason many of the performers had less than fond memories of
Woodstock was the rains which plagued much of the weekend, causing
problems with the electrified instruments and amplifiers. Many of the
musicians were shocked (literally) almost every time they strummed
Appearing at Woodstock offered mixed results for the future of many
of the acts. Some who performed were quickly forgotten (anyone
remember hearing a song by Bert Sommer lately?), while others
capitalized on their appearance for a while, then faded. These
included Ten Years After, whose number "I'm Going Home" was a
highlight of both the movie and the album, and folksinger Melanie,
whose hit "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" was about the festival.
Still others found their performances at Woodstock stereotyped them
for the rest of their careers.
One of these included John Sebastian who had just left the Lovin'
Spoonful and was not even scheduled to perform. Sebastian told Curry
Woodstock was the first show he did while under the influence of
psychedelics and his spacy performance, captured in the film, caused
him to be caricatured as a hippie burn-out. At the same time, the
future songwriter of the "Welcome Back, Kotter" theme said playing at
Woodstock gave him the confidence to go ahead with a solo career.
Also trapped by his performance was Country Joe McDonald, whose
rendition of his anti-war song "Fixin' to Die Rag" pegged him as a
political protest singer in spite of the fact that most of his solo
work, as well as that with the group the Fish, was not political at
all. McDonald, a veteran who performed in his Army jacket, had been
attacked at the 1968 Democratic convention because of his long hair.
His Woodstock performance helped speed up the break-up of the Fish,
prompting a solo career which was more successful in Europe than the
One group which received a huge boost from Woodstock was Santana, who
were only signed after manager Bill Graham threatened to pull his
other group, the Grateful Dead, from the lineup if Santana was not
included. Their number "Soul Sacrifice" is also a highlight of the
movie and the album.
Another group whose popularity rose after Woodstock was Fifties
nostalgia act Sha Na Na, a number of college students who performed
as a lark. According to drummer Jocko Marcellino, Sha Na Na's encore
of "At the Hop" almost didn't get into the movie and the group almost
didn't get to perform.
Marcellino told Curry the band was scheduled to play after the Paul
Butterfield Blues Band. "Butterfield played forever," he said. "We
just snuck in…I love Paul Butterfield, but he went on forever. I
didn't like him that day…So we got to play right before Hendrix. By
then it was a refugee camp…(M)ost of the people were gone, not that
many people were there. I met a guy, years later, who had been
tripping the night before. Fell asleep and woke up when we were
playing and had no idea what we were, and he thought he had gone on a
Jimi Hendrix was the last act at Woodstock. Playing early Monday
morning, Hendrix's version of "The Star Spangled Banner" is perhaps
the most lasting musical memory of the event. Even today, the song
causes intense emotional reactions from the people who were there
(and many who weren't.)
Wavy Gravy, head of the Hog Farm and chief organizer of the Seva
Foundation, whose mission is to "help relieve suffering around the
world with awareness, love, and skill," uses the song during the
organization's children's camp.
Quoted in "Woodstock: The Oral History" by Joel Makower, Wavy Gravy
said, "At the end of my children's camp, on the last day, the kids
are all asleep and we'll just crank that up full blast and lift them
about three feet up."
Oh, yes, about Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Woodstock was their
second gig. Ever. And they were terrified.
Woodstock Memories, Mud And All
By Karen Michel
August 14, 2009
Forty years ago there was this thing on a farm in the small town of
Bethel, N.Y. It was called the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, and to
this day it conjures images: a field of people nearly surrounding the
stage half a million free wheeling, free smoking, free loving,
music-loving hippies covered in mud. But besides the mud part, how
much of that is true?
Artie Kornfeld was one of the organizers of the festival. For him,
the torch burns bright.
"That's still my whole trip, keeping the spirit of Woodstock alive,"
And that doesn't just mean the good stuff.
"I did have a gun pulled on me by some guy who said I was a hippie
fascist," Kornfeld recalls. "And Crosby, Stills and Nash's road
manager saved my life by jumping the guy."
But for the most part, Woodstock was an immense gathering of people
who were into music, had no idea about camping but definitely
wanted to have a good time. Parry Teasdale went to the festival as a
video artist. Today he publishes a local newspaper.
"I think I look like a geezer," Teasdale laughs.
He's wearing chinos and a pressed shirt. Back in 1969, the costume
was a bit different.
"(A) large brown kind of Stetson cowboy hat that was punched up in
the center, and big motorcycle boots and dirty jeans. And a VW bus
full of old video equipment," says Teasdale.
Teasdale's black and white, fuzzy videos almost look as if they're
shot in a sort of slow motion. He repeatedly asks the question, "Are
you having a good time?" The kids look back, incredulous, as if
saying, "Do you have to ask?" These tapes, these documents, seem to
validate the Woodstock legend of all free, all peaceful, all love.
Myth And Reality
"That's part of the sort of mythology of Woodstock is that it's free;
it's peaceful," says Michael Lang. "I don't buy into that."
Surprising, considering that Lang was one of the producers of the
festival. Today, Lang lives near the town of Woodstock, on a 100-acre
estate he bought in 1979. It's so big that that a reporter couldn't
figure out which building to go to to find him.
But 40 years ago, it wasn't about the money, man.
"Somebody forgot to roll the ticket booths in place in time to beat
the traffic," Lang remembers. "And once we focused on that, they
couldn't be moved. There were not ticket booths. Most of the people
who came were looking for a place to buy a ticket and you could not
buy a ticket."
Still, the bands had to be paid. Bill Thompson managed the then-hot
"I remember saying to Michael Lang, 'How are we gonna to get paid?,'"
recalls Thompson. "And he was I think maybe he was on acid, or LSD.
And he said, 'Aw don't worry about it, man. Isn't this beautiful?'
Well that was the worst thing he could've said to me. So I got
everybody together and I said, 'We should just tell them we're not
gonna play unless we get paid.' So they showed up a couple of hours
later with cashier's checks for all the bands."
For their gig, the Airplane got $10,000. It was 6 a.m. when singer
Grace Slick greeted the crowd: "You have seen the heavy groups," she
said, "Now you will see morning maniac music. Believe me."
"The band had stayed up all night," says manager Thompson, "and to be
honest with you, did just about every illegal drug known to man. So I
think they were a little woozy at first. But then the "black
beauties" kicked in I think those were the Obitrol, speed. And
about 20 minutes into the set it was really an excellent set."
The Music Stunk?
Few people claim that the music was very good. It was the context,
more than anything. Still, for Bob Solomon, who's now in the music
industry in Nashville, sound was everything.
"Musically only one act was passable: Santana," Solomon says. "There
were so many drugs floating around the entire farm that everybody was
completely out of it; nobody did a very good job."
Back then, Wavy Gravy was called Hugh Romney, and Michael Lang asked
him and his commune, the hog farm, to help feed at least some of the
thousands, to help with security and one of the hog farm's
specialties talk people down from bad acid trips.
"I was so transported kind of like dowsing for the juice," Gravy
says. "There is a high there not available in the pharmaceutical
cabinet! It's all people pitching in for common good and that's what
Woodstock was, except we had a better sound track!"
It's a soundtrack that had a stuttering start. The equipment hadn't
arrived and organizer Michael Land needed somebody to play acoustic.
He convinced Richie Havens that he was the guy.
And like all Houses of the Lord, the Woodstock story is largely a
matter of faith. Charles Hardy is a professor of history at West
Chester College in Pennsylvania. He was at Woodstock: 17 years old,
cold, wet, hungry.
"Bragging rites are nice nowadays," Hardy says. "Often I don't even
mention it because it sounds like bragging. It's only fun when I tell
people how miserable it was, which makes it sort of interesting.
But for Woodstock organizer Land, it was a respite from the Vietnam
War, the struggle for civil rights, assassinations and Richard Nixon.
"It was this moment of hope in the midst of all this darkness, so
hold out hope for this wonderful experience that's what it was for
us," Land says.