Aug 14, 2009
By Sheila Lennon
I find most of these commentaries, frankly, unbearably square
-- crazy chau
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair began 40 years ago this Friday
afternoon at Max Yasgur's dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y. I had seen an
advertisement in the July 27, 1969 Sunday New York Times Arts
section, and ordered tickets -- $18 for all three days, Aug. 15, 16 & 17, 1969.
Twenty years later, I was lifestyles editor of The Providence
Journal, and the task of doing the 20th anniversary package fell to
me by default, since I'd been there. I interviewed 50 other Rhode
Islanders who were also there, and published a 3-day series on the concert.
Two years ago, these stories became part of a college history
textbook, Time It Was: American Stories from the Sixties, published
by Prentice Hall.
There's a lot of Woodstock revisionism going on now, so long after.
The facts haven't changed.
Here's Part 1 of that 1989 series.
A special section - Woodstock Nation. First of a three-part series.
BY SHEILA LENNON
Journal-Bulletin Lifestyles Editor
The rain of Friday night had turned Max Yasgur's dairy farm to
cowdung mud, and now the August sun was pumping it back up as steam.
In little puffs it rose to meet the cloud of marijuana smoke hovering
over the sweaty people drawn here by the promise of three days of
peace and music.
"The sun was beating and beating with the rhythm of the 'copters,"
says Dottie Clark, one of the many from southeastern New England who
answered the call. "It had a jungle look."
Since the night before, tiny helicopters had been dropping musicians
and their instruments behind the stage. The drone was familiar. But
now big green Army choppers, the same Hueys that strafed Vietnam on
the nightly news, were sweeping in behind our backs, loud and low.
"Nixon could wipe out the antiwar movement in one fell swoop here,"
murmured a voice behind me, setting off a nervous ripple in our
neighborhood. "Paranoia from the sky," recalls Jim Edwards. A rustle
spread over the peaceable hillside, a wrinkle of bad vibes.
"Everybody looked up. I was just gripped with fear," remembers Mel
Ash. "I was 16, but I was actually thinking about my death."
From the stage, the deep velvet voice of Chip Monck boomed, "Ladies
and gentlemen, the U.S. Army . . . Medical Corps," as the choppers'
red crosses came into view.
All weekend, the National Guard would drop sandwiches and blankets
and performers and instruments, evacuate casualties and laboring
mothers, and assault us with fire hoses to cool us off.
Sunday, as we stood 6 inches deep in mud, a tiny private plane
swooped down to spray us with daisies, a gift from Festival organizers.
Welcome to Woodstock. These are our war stories.
Rumors of The Woodstock Music & Art Fair had been in the air all summer.
Joe Landry ran a folk club in Cleveland at the time, and hung out
with musicians. "Everyone was hyping it as the happening of the
century. They were gonna make it as big as they possibly could," he
remembers. "Of course they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations."
By late July, bright posters with a whimsical logo of a dove perched
on the neck of a guitar began popping up on telephone poles
throughout the East. The magic words were "3 days of peace and
music." It was like broadcasting a radio signal, and anybody tuned in
would get it. Somehow they'd find White Lake, N. Y.
This festival was fielding a band list that read like the course
description of Rock 'n' Roll 101. If we were typed by the music we
liked, all kinds of people would show up here, fans of Joan Baez,
Arlo Guthrie, Tim Hardin, Richie Havens, The Incredible String Band,
Ravi Shankar, Sweetwater, Keef Hartley, Canned Heat, Creedence
Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson
Airplane, Mountain, Santana, The Who, The Band, Jeff Beck, Blood,
Sweat and Tears, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jimi Hendrix,
Iron Butterfly, The Moody Blues or Johnny Winter.
With a lineup like this going on in his backyard, it seemed likely
that Bob Dylan would drop by and sit in. What the heck, maybe the
Beatles and the Rolling Stones, too.
By surrounding the music with an art show, music and craft workshops,
a bazaar, food booths and hundreds of acres for camping, festival
organizers guaranteed that nearly everybody under 30 except Tricia
Nixon would want to be there. Coming together seemed long overdue.
Rhode Island's 'beats'
" Woodstock Nation was pre-Vietnam," says David DelBonis. "There was
a beatnik culture on Thayer Street. The guy who lived next door to me
in Johnston - Richard Carbone - used to take me to the Tete a Tete
coffee house, to Jone Pasha's. He bought me e.e. cummings' poems, at
7, 8 years old. That changed my whole life. I knew there was an alternative."
Jack Kerouac explained the "beat" attitude as "a weariness with all
the forms, all the conventions of the world."
"They were nice people," DelBonis said of Rhode Island's beats. "They
had their own little business and their own little community and they
played music. They were much more sensitive than the people I knew in
Johnston. They didn't want any part of the 'commercial' world. They
were interesting, and they were interested in art, they traveled and
enjoyed the things of the world. Everybody can't be that way or we
couldn't function, but I saw a whole other world."
Pop art, Eastern religious ideas, John Kennedy's Peace Corps and
Bobby's idealism, Dylan and the Beatles, anthropology courses on
cultures that ate "magic mushrooms" and peyote buttons for spiritual
visions were absorbed along with Buddy Holly, Betty Friedan's The
Feminine Mystique, Percy Sledge and Hermann Hesse's mystical novel,
At Hope High, Shelly Lynch decided a beatnik was something to be. She
went to NYU's theater department in Greenwich Village. "We were gonna
grow up and live in a little white house," she says. "Then the '60s happened."
When the ads appeared in the underground press and the New York
Sunday Times Arts section July 27, the response was overwhelming. At
$7 a day and a pricey $18 for the weekend, the official expectation
was a crowd of 150,000. But before the festival opened, Woodstock
Ventures had sold 200,000 tickets, and had requests - but no more
printed tickets - for 100,000 more.
The festival was almost held in the ominously named Wallkill, but the
town balked. Less than a month before the festival was to happen,
Yasgur, a prominent citizen of Bethel, agreed to rent his cow
pasture, a natural amphitheater, for $60,000 for three days.
In Hebrew, Bethel means a holy or consecrated spot. A good omen. With
the help of 80 people from the Hog Farm Commune in New Mexico, a
staff who were into the music and into the lifestyle, Woodstock
Ventures began to build a city.
By Wednesday night, 50,000 people had already come to Bethel. In
Providence, WBRU was announcing that Woodstock would be a free
concert. There hadn't been time to build the gates.
The road to Woodstock
Hope High senior Joseph Caffey and his friends took the bus to New
York City, planning to catch a bus to the festival. There was no bus,
but there were 250 kids. They improvised:
"We rented U-Haul trucks and hired bus drivers to drive them," said
Caffey, now director of rental rehabilitation for the City of
Providence. "We chipped in, collected from everybody and headed up to
Woodstock." The trip was a metaphor for what was to come, physically
uncomfortable but high-spirited. At one point they were stopped by
police for having the back doors open, and had to finish the trip in
the hot, stuffy darkness of the box.
"The water pump went and the truck broke down 20 miles away," says
Mike Kaprielian, who had joined the Navy two months earlier rather
than be drafted. "We knew something special was happening, because
when we piled out of that truck and stuck out our thumbs, 50 cars
must have lined up to pick us up." They couldn't get closer than 10
miles, "so we walked in the rest of the way. I had just finished
basic so I was in shape," Mike recalls, "but Joe was huffing." Five
minutes after getting to the field, they got separated and didn't see
each other again for 19 years.
By Friday, thousands of people had converged on the Port Authority
terminal at Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street, lining up under signs that
read "Woodstock Festival Load Here." Among them was John Rossi, who
had seen an ad for the Aquarian Exposition in Providence's
underground newspaper, Extra. Rossi, 38, now works for the Department
of Defense in Washington, D.C., as a computer systems software
specialist, devising ways to ensure the security of top-secret
information, but at the time he had just graduated from Mount
Pleasant High School. The atmosphere of the "party bus" set the tone
for the weekend: He recalls a camaraderie never experienced before or
since. Rossi's bus stopped within a mile of the field.
After the festival, the Short Line bus company ran ads featuring
pictures of the drivers who manned the party buses, along with little
quotes such as "We have a lot to learn from them about getting along
together," "They don't look at the public the way the public looks at
them," "I don't understand why they wear long hair but now I don't
care . . . And they're the most no-griping, no-complaining, patient
and generous, respectful kids I've ever met. Come on kids and ride
with me. It's a pleasure driving you."
A bit later in the day, the bus carrying Dena Quilici of Providence,
then 19, gave up three miles away. Meanwhile, her future husband, Jim
Edwards, who worked at India Imports of Rhode Island, was driving the
company van towards Woodstock, accompanied by anybody he knew who
needed a ride. He didn't know Dena.
He found a dirt road and followed it. It led directly to the festival grounds.
'The endless vans'
Friday morning, the New York State Thruway was jammed with cars, long
hair streaming out of every window, peace sign decals on back windows
and Make Love Not War bumper stickers. Most amazing were the
psychedelically painted vans and school buses with faraway license
plates - California, New Mexico. The communes had come East flying
"The endless vans," said Dottie Clark, "were kitchens, bedrooms,
Near the site, traffic slowed, and people with guitars, bongos,
flutes, pan pipes, whistles or bells clambered up on hoods and
trunks, serenading the bumper-to-bumper traffic. There was dancing on
van roofs, and anticipation in the air. People tired of walking
hopped on your hood and rode with you for a while. These were, as
John Haerry of West Greenwich put it, "the days of high hippiedom."
At the White Lake exit, one lone policeman had closed the ramp, but
cars crossed the median strip and exited from the southbound lane
onto the gridlock of Route 17. Complicating the mess was a junkyard
of overheated cars by the side of the road. Amateur mechanics swarmed
over them. If they couldn't be restarted, their passengers were
scooped into any vehicle still moving, and the beat went on.
Michelle Keir of Warwick recalls tossing a deli pickle to the car
behind her, never dreaming how precious that pickle would seem the
next hungry day.
Chris Heinzmann of Pawtucket, who had piled into his father's
International Travelall with his two older brothers and five friends,
remembers that "everybody was yelling back and forth, having a good time."
Cheri Light spent Friday night in the woods 10 miles away. Saturday
she walked and rode to the site on the hood of a car behind a giant
moving van. When traffic jammed, the back doors opened up and four
bikers zoomed down a ramp and up the road.
John Sousa of Rumford remembers that "When cars got stuck (on the
already wet dirt roads), people would literally lift them up. We were
spontaneously working together."
The traffic jam was fun.
Cars were ditched at whatever point their drivers decided this was as
close as they were getting. These pioneers circled the wagons and
cordoned themselves off in the center of a parking lot with a 10-mile radius.
Rental is right. It a housing job.
Dennis Lemoine parked in a field where he could hear the music. "A
farmer came up on a John Deere with a shotgun," he says. They moved,
and the woman who owned the second field came out and said, "Please
don't make a mess, and don't keep us up all night."
By Friday night, police blockaded the main roads. Most people who
heard what was happening Friday and tried to crash the big party were
just too late.
David Del Bonis, who arrived in Bethel on Wednesday to pitch in,
watched the crowd swell. "If all the people who were blocked out had
gotten in, you would've had a mess, from sheer numbers and from the
partiers who were trying to get there," he said. "The people who came
early enough to get in were a different kind of people. The
authorities did a great job. They blocked it at the right time.
"You had a good balance: The people who were there ahead of time had
already gotten into the feeling of the whole thing and the helping
and the sharing, and then enough people came to give you the masses.
So the powers that ran it had already set the tone, and that's why it
never got out of hand.
"Security was just to keep people mellow," he added.
For those who did make it, the long walk in the company of thousands
made an indelible impression. Dottie Clark, who had parked about 5
miles away, thought the road "looked like an old movie of refugees
Friday, the people who lived by the roadside couldn't help enough.
One middle-aged woman urged me to take oranges and drink from her
hose. There had been radio reports that residents were charging a
dollar for a drink of water, and she was outraged. "We're not that
kind of people," she said.
John Sousa remembers families on the lawn flashing peace signs and,
amazingly, police doing it, too. "It was the first reassuring
element," he said. Others would follow: A farmer who milked his cows
and gave away milk, and hoses that ran constantly.
Six or so abreast, we streamed up a country road lined with
streetwise types quietly muttering the menu, "Acid, hash, grass . . .
Owsley acid . . . Afghani, gold weed . . . sunshine, blotter . . .
red Colombian . . . Vietnamese . . . Thai stick."
("New Yorkers," says David Del Bonis disgustedly. "Hard-core New York
City people came up and that's where all the drugs came from.")
We exchanged sidelong glances. The dealers were being discreet only
in the volume of their voices. The police were directing traffic,
discussing crowd control, returning peace signs, accepting flowers,
smiling and being polite.
We weren't in Richard Nixon's America anymore.
Colors on top of a mountain
Blue and brown were the colors of Woodstock. Blue jeans and sky,
tanned skin and mud and bare stage.
Coming up the road and over the hill behind the stage, the first view
of the festival field was stunning. Many of our brains could not
process what our eyes saw.
The hillside was seething with moving bumps as far as I could see.
Cheryl Godek Curran saw colors on top of a mountain. We each asked
our friends, "What's that?"
"That" was rows of densely packed heads stretching to the horizon.
How many of us? The respectable conservative estimate is 400,000. Ty
Davis, who was at both Watkins Glen (which officially drew between
600,000 and 650,000) and at Woodstock, says Woodstock was bigger.
There was no way to know. Little festivals were going on wherever the
traffic stopped. Some people who never heard a note report having a
To Phil Kukielski, it was like "walking onto the set of a Fellini
film. I had a sense of what the world would be like if it were run by
people 18 to 25."
Freedom in the air
The concert that came to be called Woodstock began a few minutes
after 5 p.m. Friday, August 15, 1969. Black folksinger Richie Havens
was tapped, simply because he was available and no other bands were.
Woodstock Ventures had rented every helicopter they could book, but
the ferrying process was way behind schedule. When the helicopter
came for Havens, he was the only performer available who didn't come
with complex equipment that would demand a time-consuming sound
check. Havens's acoustic guitar set could be the sound check for the evening.
The crowd, growing by the minute, was happy it was finally underway.
There had been a false start earlier when Swami Satchananda took the
stage and talked about peace, but that had merely been the invocation.
Havens sang every song he knew, including Here Comes The Sun and The
Universal Soldier, which drew cheers from this group who were facing
a test of their core philosophy: make love, not war. Then he made up
Freedom, the song on the album, on the spot, because he felt freedom
in the air, and nobody was ready to follow him. Woodstock, the
concert, was off to a fine start.
'What's it spell?'
Country Joe McDonald was near the stage when Havens came off.
McDonald's band, The Fish, wasn't around, but Michael Lang asked him
to kill time with an acoustic set. What happened next is one of the
few Woodstock moments everybody who was there remembers. Everybody.
It was called the Fish Cheer.
After a lackluster 20 minutes, Country Joe (nobody called him
McDonald) was dying out there. With nothing to lose, he called out,
"Give me an F. . ."
Well trained by football cheerleaders, the crowd came to its feet and
followed along through four letters that don't spell fish.
Then "What's it spell? . . . What's it spell? . . . What's it spell?
. . . What's it spell? . . . What's it spell? . . . What's it spell?"
"Country Joe, like Abbie Hoffman, seemed to understand we had a
tendency to take ourselves too seriously," said Jim Edwards.
Chris Heinzmann recalls, "Half a million people didn't say that word
in public at the same time."
John Sousa, a member of the Rhode Island National Guard at the time,
remembers, "It felt great. I felt free. The F word is horrifying for
some people to hear. This was freedom of speech."
Besides, "The F word was common in basic training."
With the sound of the liberated word still vibrating in the air,
Country Joe segued right into the catchy little ditty called I Feel
Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag. The audience picked it up, singing along
and dancing merrily. It was fun.
If there's a collective memory for our deathbeds, a song that took
permanent root in the consciousness of a generation, this is it. This
ditty became the de facto anthem of Woodstock:
. . . Now come on mothers throughout the land
Pack your boys off to Vietnam
Come on fathers, don't hesitate
Send your sons off before it's too late
Be the first one on your block
to have your boy come home in a box
And it's one, two, three,
what are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam
And it's five, six, seven,
open up the pearly gates,
Well, there ain't no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We're all gonna die
The cheers and whistles rocked the night. For a moment, time had
stopped for me. I was stunned. Looking around in midchorus, I
realized that some of these joyous, vital young men around me would
indeed come home in a box, as had so many before them. The horror of
war usually brings the message home, but war had never seemed so
senseless to me as at that lighthearted, macabre moment.
Country Joe soon found it hard to get bookings, perhaps because
booking him was not only political, the Fish Cheer might be part of
the package. The IRS audited him. He suspected his phone was tapped.
His career stalled. He had become identified with one song that
summed up an era people would soon try to forget.
The veteran whose Woodstock performance is burned in our brains says
he never said they wouldn't fight; he just wanted to know - and still
does - "What are we fighting for?"
John Sebastian followed Country Joe. He had just left the Lovin'
Spoonful - the San Francisco band that sang "The magic's in the music
and the music's in me" - but was not booked for Woodstock. He had
just come to hear the show, but couldn't resist the chance to play
this crowd, despite having just swallowed God knows what chemical
compound. He wore tie-dye from head to toe, and sounded spaced out
and hokey - hippie-dippie - to me. But Cheryl Godek Curran felt the
combination of Country Joe and John Sebastian left the crowd feeling
unified against the war.
Tim Hardin, who wrote If I Were a Carpenter and Reason to Believe,
seemed too fragile for this population. I liked his songs, but he
played a disappointing set.
Chris DeLuca especially wanted to hear the Incredible String Band, a
Scottish band whose work is described as avant-garde folk. They had
played at Newport, opened for for Judy Collins and Tom Paxton, and
were riding a crest after a lovely album entitled The Hangman's
But "the audience was unresponsive to them," says a disappointed
DeLuca, who heard rude comments about their performance in his neighborhood.
Nobody seems to remember Bert Sommer, a folksinger who had been in
the Broadway musical Hair, which introduced the notions of the Age of
Aquarius and hippie nudity to the masses in 1968.
The long road to the stage passed by a pond full of unself-conscious
skinny-dippers. Most of this multitude of middle-class kids had never
seen groups of people of both sexes take their clothes off together.
It was apparent that we were about to examine our taboos.
Most of the nudity that so shocked the older generation about
Woodstock came as a result of being mud-crusted and ripe-smelling,
hot and miserable. Bathing in their birthday suits became, for many,
the lesser evil.
Several people we talked to volunteered that they were among the nude
bathers. But the 1980s, like the 1880s, are Victorian enough that we
present their comments without attribution, to spare them both their
good names and obscene phone calls.
* "I remember going swimming, washing up. I took my clothes off to
wash up and cool off. No one watched. Everyone did things at their
own pace," said one woman.
* "I was taking a bath. That's all it was. I would rather be nude
than dirty," said a practical man.
* "I was naked, or maybe wore just underpants. I felt completely at
ease - as if skinny-dipping with best friends. I didn't feel I was
naked among half a million strangers. It was truly wonderful."
* One festival worker had been standing all day in the hot sun, and
was getting sunstroke. She was ordered by a festival honcho to get cooled off.
* "You took your clothes off and went in the pond because you didn't
want to get your clothes totally wet. That was basically the nudity,
except for isolated incidents. When the sun came out, some women took
their blouses off, but it wasn't craziness. We didn't even pay
attention to it. It didn't mean anything."
Although it seemed important to passers-by to be nonchalant,
different things were going on inside them.
"I didn't see anybody getting intimate together, but I did see a
little bit of nudity," Chris Heinzmann says. "Being 14, I thought it
was great. I wasn't gonna take off my clothes, but I thought it was
neat. There weren't that many people doing it."
Phil Kukielski wasn't shocked. "It wasn't lewd. There was a gentle,
nonpredatory ambiance to it," he recalls. "It was a celebration, an
expression of being comfortable enough to take off your clothes
without embarrassment, like brothers and sisters."
Susan Vogler saw some bare-breasted women, and remembers walking over
people making love. "I was embarrassed, but I thought 'Good for
them.' I couldn't do it but look at them - that's what everything was
about. Be free, don't worry about what the future brings."
John Haerry's first response was, " 'Wow, naked women]' But after a
while," he says, "it was 'Hey, nice pond, chuck your clothes and go
Al Puerini says he "felt like a voyeur. We'd look in amazement, shake
our heads and say 'This is unbelievable.' They were totally self-unconscious."
John Sousa remembers "one guy doing cartwheels in the nude all the
way down to the stage." His was perhaps the only way to get all the
way from the back of the crowd to front, and quickly, too. He was
All this freedom didn't really lead to "Why don't we do it in the
road?" It depended on who you were, how old you were and with whom
you had come.
Certainly, lovers who had been intimate at home probably found a way
to be so at Woodstock, but without a tent, it wasn't easy. Maybe on
the West Coast people were freer, but making love in the mud
surrounded by a half-million people trying not to step on you was not
most people's idea of a good time.
Joe Landry was 29. He spent a lot of time at Woodstock with the
people from New Mexico's Hog Farm Commune, who were older and much
less conventional than the college students still living at home.
David DelBonis, who also hung out at the Hog Farm, said "The Hog Farm
people were totally outrageous. They were in another universe."
"There was a lot of love going on," says Landry.
But "free love" didn't mean a free lunch.
"I got turned down by more women at that time," DelBonis chuckles. "I
don't think the '60s were as wild as everyone thought they were.
People made easier attractions, maybe. I never thought of it as a
Mike Kaprielian, who was 19, says, "I went to Woodstock a virgin, and
I left a virgin."
"It wasn't the type of environment that was conducive to forming
really close personal bonds," said John Haerry. "A lot of people came
with a group they were hanging out with, and they tended to stay
together and keep an eye on each other. Other contacts were just
ships passing in the night."
People were constantly roaming, all day, all night. "Everyone was so
friendly to each other. It was a constant movement of people, hooking
up with a group of people for a while, sharing with them, then moving
on," says Dena Quilici.
Cheri Light remembers, "There was never a pass the whole weekend, not
even a suggestion of it. Men walked up and talked to me, but it was
just friendly people making conversation."
Friday night, Woodstock almost felt like a pretty normal outdoor
concert. Jim Edwards remembers actually buying a hamburger (from an
ad hoc group of New Yorkers misnamed Food For Love who, the day
before the concert, threatened to pull out unless they could keep all
their profits, and threatened the promoters enough that they called
in the FBI. By Saturday, their staff was trading burgers for anything
useful, then giving them away.)
Then it began to rain hard during Ravi Shankar's set. Phil Kukielski,
who had come with his future wife just for "folk night," was holding
a wool blanket over their heads as an umbrella. As the rain soaked
in, "The blanket got heavier and the smell of wet wool got stronger,
to the point of misery," he remembers.
The rains whipped for about 15 minutes, and then died. The concert
resumed, with everyone wet and a mountain chill in the air.
Then Arlo Guthrie came on, and his cheerful good humor changed the
vibes. He goofed on how many freaks there were, on how the New York
Thruway was closed - something most of us didn't know. We were
unaware of the million or so people trying desperately to get to the
exact spot where we shivered miserably.
"Arlo made the crowd totally relax. It was like, 'Thank God, he's
funny, we can relax.' If all those people ran, you knew you'd get
trampled," said Dena Quilici.
Troubles went away
"All those troubles kind of went away once you just settled down and
started listening to the music," Ty Davis says.
Sweetwater came and went, leaving no mark on the memory of anyone we
About midnight, Kukielski, who lived not far away in Newburgh, N.Y.,
left the festival. During the long walk to his car, the mud sucked
his shoes off his feet. He drove barefoot, taking whatever passable
road seemed to lead away from the site.
He pulled into a field and slept in the car with his girlfriend under
an airplane beacon that revolved all night with a bright white light,
and went home in the morning. After hearing the news reports, his
parents hadn't expected to see him for days.
A new kind of freedom
The only real taboo at Woodstock was violence. Hundreds of thousands
of people roaming the woods at night could have meant real trouble.
Despite an atmosphere which John Haerry describes as "The only rule
was that there were no rules other than what people established for
themselves," there was no real trouble. The announcers, the bands,
all said "We're in this together. It's up to us to make it work."
"You knew you really had to cooperate with the people next to you,"
says Dena Quilici.
Kathleen McDevitt remembers, "It was a little bit frightening to have
such freedom, like another world where you could do anything, say
anything, be anyone, nobody would stop you. It was hard on all of us
having that much freedom, it could have gone the other way and been
really dangerous. The balance was unnerving, and everybody at the end
said, 'We did it.' "
"It would be so embarrassing to (be violent) in a sheer crowd that
was obviously enjoying itself and full of good feelings. There was a
feeling that you were among a select group of people who could gather
in such huge numbers without any problems," said Stephen Shechtman.
"We probably thought that half a million of our parents couldn't get
together and do as good a job with it."
"I knew something could go wrong, but I didn't feel that it would,
same Chris Heinzmann, and about a dozen others.
Points of light
From the stage, announcer John Morris asked us each to light a
match, just so we could see how many of us there were. At first, the
response was slow but then little lights appeared, far, far away, and
we began to get the idea. The cynicism faded. Your light was a gift
to everybody else, and marked your place in the big picture. All
along the hillside and into the woods as far as you could see were tiny fires.
Michael Craper lit his match and just watched in awe. "I had never
seen anything like it," he reports. "I was mesmerized for about an hour."
Melanie was on stage next, and and all this incendiary business went
on during her set. She later wrote a song about Woodstock called
Candles in the Rain, and audiences lit matches whenever she sang it.
Now, flicking one's Bic is a polite way to request an encore.
Joan Baez finished it all off, pregnant and sweet.
Dawn Jabari-Zhou had earlier met someone who knew of an empty chicken
coop she and her friends could sleep in. They followed him into the
woods, where there was an abandoned coop that didn't smell. Rain
poured in. She rolled her bag out on a plank that was probably a
former chicken roost. "Back then, we trusted each other completely," she says.
Woodstock, Day One, was over.
Bid goodnight from the stage with a solemn reminder that the person
next to us was our brother, hundreds of thousands of wet, tired
people crept off to the woods, under or into vans, or stayed on the
field, sleeping where they had roosted.
Tens of thousands of others, too keyed up to sleep, milled all night
by firelight. This convention of the unconventional had just begun.
There were easily 500,000 points of light in Woodstock Nation that night.
Woodstock Nation, Part 2: The music went for 24 hours
A special section - Woodstock Nation. Second of a three-part series.
BY SHEILA LENNON
Journal-Bulletin Lifestyles Editor
The first of the "3 days of peace and music" - and mud - had been
just a prelude to Rock 'n' Roll Survival Weekend.
BY THE TIME CARLOS Santana finished playing Soul Sacrifice Saturday
afternoon at Woodstock, he was a major star.
"Every band changed the vibes," recalls Dena Quilici, one of the many
there from southeastern New England. And the crowd came alive for
Santana. The by-now broiling sun, the hunger and thirst and mud, the
Army helicopters intermittently turning fire hoses on us full-force
to cool us off - "all those troubles kind of went away once you just
settled down and started listening to the music," says Ty Davis.
Santana was a salsa band without a contract, who came at the Dead's
insistence. "Santana came out and just blew everyone away," says Ron
Gamache. "We kept saying, 'Who are these guys?' We'd never heard such
Quill had opened Saturday's show about noon. Only Ty Davis seems to
remember them, "as one of the totally unimportant bands. But they
were one of the first Boston bands to get any notice."
Michele Keir had a tremendous time at Woodstock, even though she
heard only one band and doesn't recall which one.
Many of us who were there don't individually remember much of the
music for which Woodstock has become a synonym.
The quality of the sound was fantastic near the stage, deteriorating
to terrible at about half the depth of the crowd and beyond. And the
bands were faraway specks to many, competing with the human
kaleidoscope around us.
Musicians had to touch and amplify some powerful human chord just to
get our attention.
"You knew you were there more for the experience than for the music,"
says Dennis Lemoine.
There were bubbles and banners and weirdly dressed people. Many of
Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters were evolving into the Hog Farmers,
members of a New Mexico commune who cooked, and counseled and taught
survival skills. Both groups were at Woodstock.
Mel Ash didn't know who the Pranksters were then, but he later read
Tom Wolfe's chronicle of their bus trip across America playing
theatrical cosmic jokes, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. "The next
year, I said, 'These are famous people.' "
The experience was intensely visual. The Hell's Angels arrived, and
started ferrying medical supplies.
"I remember one guy with an American flag headband and a flag cape,
going around with some sign about 'If we all coordinate our energies,
we can end the war this weekend' - a very intense wired cat,"
remembers John Haerry.
"We were next to a blanket containing a really huge guy dressed only
in athletic shorts," Tom Mulligan recalls, "getting his body painted
by his girlfriend. That was my first exposure to body-painting."
"I don't remember the music so much as the people, but it was a
background," says Dena Quilici.
"It got so big the music was just a little part of it," says Walter Williams.
We seemed to be spending as much time searching for food as our ancestors had.
Joe Caffey lined up to buy overpriced tomatoes. "You knew you were
gonna get ripped off, but you're starving. And the guy had a
10-gallon can of tuna fish. Then a guy comes out of nowhere, naked,
sticks his hand into the pot, grabs a handful and goes off into the woods."
"Somebody came in with a soda truck and started selling cans for a
buck," David DelBonis recalls. "Everybody got really ticked off, and
kind of confiscated the truck, passed out the soda. But they started
handing the guy what he should have been selling it for - a quarter,
at that time. They just starting throwing the money at him, saying
'This is what the can's worth, you got it.' He tried to scalp
everybody . . . but they didn't steal it."
I had a half-full bottle of Vin Rouge Superieur left from Friday
night, and I desperately wished for a miracle that would turn the
wine into water. When the water truck arrived, I dumped out the wine.
For two days that empty bottle was my most precious possession.
"There was a premium on cold things," Tom Mulligan remembers. "People
with beer and soft drinks were held in high esteem. Someone nearby
had a basket with raw carrots and shared it, but nothing went very far."
Mel Ash of Providence, a vegetarian, had the foresight to bring about
2 1cans of sardines to barter with. "I hated fish, but they could be
opened with keys, so they were convenient. We traded for watermelons."
At the Hog Farm across a road from the music area, where street signs
read High Way, Groovy Way, and Peaceful Way, Woodstock Stew was on
the menu. It was a sticky vegetable and grain glop that tasted
strange to those of us raised on canned soup casseroles, but was very
filling. They served free brown rice and vegetables all weekend, and more.
When Ash went there looking for food, "They were handing out cones of
granola, and Wavy Gravy (the commune's leader) was saying some Zen
saying, 'A day without work is a day without eating.' So we
volunteered to clean the pots. Then we went closer to the crowd at
the stage and said, 'Free food this way, eat all you can, if you
can't eat it, give it away.' Over and over again for a couple of hours."
Demand for pay
We settled in to wait for Bob Dylan.
With every helicopter that landed behind the stage, rumors spread
that it was Dylan, who lived in Woodstock - the town, not the nation
- 50 miles away. He never came. He was playing the Isle of Wight on
the English Channel for $87,000, a booking he had before Woodstock
asked him to play.
Jimi Hendrix, the highest-paid act at Woodstock, got $18,000. Santana
earned less than $2,500. The Who ($6,250) and the Grateful Dead got
nervous about the free concert and refused to play unless they were
paid in cash. A local banker was roused after midnight and whisked by
helicopter to the bank in his pajamas to get $25,000 cash.
The performers didn't share our physical hardships. Helicopters were
delivering delicacies and champagne to the performers' area. David's
Potbelly Restaurant from New York City catered and offered to ferry
them back to the hotel and the party in the bar.
But they had to face the biggest, most distracted crowd in rock
history and were looking at major flop sweats.
If other bands griped about facing a crowd too big to reach,
Creedence had a different problem. They followed the Grateful Dead at
3:30 a.m. and the biggest crowd in rock history was dead asleep. John
Fogerty has said he saw one guy flash his lighter, and played the
whole set to that one person.
Rock's power lineup was on Saturday night's bill, but by then many of
us were exhausted. "The music was 24 hours, so you had to pick and
choose," says Mel Ash. "My friend and I took turns waking each other
up. There was a lot of sharing of blankets and what not."
Still, with all the distractions wrenching our attention from the
music, among us we have a composite memory good enough to reconstruct
most of the action.
To many, Janis Joplin was the only woman really out there on the edge
alone. The reigning folk and rock women - Baez, Grace Slick, Joni
Mitchell, Michelle Phillips of the Mama and Papas, Judy Collins -
were romantic figures, and Mama Cass was a 300-pound hot ticket in a
quartet. But Janis was beyond the pale, a brazen hussy singing her
soul out as she swigged Southern Comfort. A lot of us were rooting
for her, but the woman who wailed, "I'm gonna show you that a woman
can be tough," seemed born too soon and too alone.
She is reported to have said, "Me, I was brought up in a middle-class
family; I could have had anything. But you need something more in
your gut, man." Her emptiness seemed bottomless, and the more she
battled the blues with hard liquor, heroin and one-night stands, the
deeper she seemed to sink.
Woodstock isn't generally considered one of her great performances.
She seemed genuinely distraught as she wailed and sobbed in a skimpy
dress with spangles instead of her customary feathers. Her band -
neither Big Brother and the Holding Company nor Full Tilt Boogie but
the Cosmic Blues Band with saxes and trombones - didn't seem to work with her.
To some it didn't matter.
"When Janis sang Ball and Chain . . . We all felt tied down like
that," says Carmino Scaglione.
David Weinrebe had plopped down in a ditch to sleep. "I woke up to
Janis Joplin shrieking. She was a goddess. To be waking out of a dead
sleep to Janis . . ."
When Sly Stone followed, he did something with I Want to Take You
Higher, that had the entire crowd on its feet shouting "higher" for
Dawn Jabari-Zhou remembers Sly for the "enthusiasm and energy it
created in concert. Everybody was up, paying attention, shouting and
clapping, Sly in a bright white outfit, an Indian jacket with tassels
long the sleeves. He almost looked like he was a bird and like he was
gonna take off and fly."
The Who and Abbie
The Who played at 2 in the morning. What everybody remembers is Pete
Townshend bashing Abbie Hoffman with his guitar.
Abbie had seized the mike to urge the crowd smoking flowers so freely
to mobilize on behalf of John Sinclair, head of the White Panther
Party, who was serving a 10-year sentence for having passed a joint
to a narcotics officer. Somebody turned the mike off and Townshend
made like a bayonet with the guitar and jabbed Abbie in the head and
off the stage.
In Soon to be a Major Motion Picture, Abbie wrote, "Townshend, who
had been tuning up, turned around and bumped me. A nonincident."
But Townshend told Rolling Stone magazine, "I kicked him off the
stage. I deeply regret that. If I was given that opportunity again I
would stop the show. Because I don't think rock and roll is that
important. Then I did. The show had to go on."
Rico Topazio of Bristol, who now plays in a band called the Pink
Cadillacs in Los Angeles, says, "I liked Abbie, but it was the wrong
time for Abbie to be on stage. As a guitar player, I knew that. Pete
didn't know who Abbie was. Woodstock wasn't political in that way. It
was as if Bob Hope were at a USO show, time to get away from all
that, to see how many of us were together."
The crowd seemed to agree with Pete that Abbie was out of line. There
were no boos or shouts, and The Who continued playing. "The Who were
in their prime, not like they are now," Haerry recalls. "Roger
Daltrey still had his voice, and Pete Townshend still had his voice,
and they did a hell of a show."
It's unfair that Abbie is remembered for a stupid act at Woodstock.
Abbie had organized the medical tent, worked in the bad trips tent,
and been an extraordinarily competent man to have around. His death
by suicide earlier this year, so close to this anniversary, seems to
mark the end of yet another era. Wavy Gravy, the man on the record
saying, "There's a little bit of heaven in every disaster area,"
suggested to me this week that if we cared, it would be fitting to
"do something for the Yipper."
Just as dawn broke, the Jefferson Airplane took the stage. They had
been waiting to play since 10:30 the night before, and Grace Slick
played with her eyes closed.
"I remember waking up at about 5 in the morning," said Haerry, "and
all of a sudden hearing Grace Slick out of nowhere, 'Good morning,
people, it's time to wake up,' " BOINGGGGGGGG, Whoa, yeah] and going
down to the stage, treading my way through what looked like the
aftermath of a battlefield, all these bodies and getting right down
to the front of the stage and there was Jefferson Airplane, 25 or 30
"I had to see Grace Slick," Mel Ash says, "because I was in love with
Grace Slick and I thought the Airplane represented at that moment
everything the culture stood for."
Grace Slick in a white fringed minidress in the blue dawn is an image
burned in many brains.
"The sun was coming up over the hills," recalls Carmino Scaglione,
"over the campfires of the people who'd been up all night," and she
sang White Rabbit, the song that let the East know what the West had
been up to in the summer of '67.
Do You Want Somebody to Love? sent ripples up spines; hearing only
Volunteers on the concert tape is one reason to have been at Woodstock.
It was Sunday morning. Time enough to sleep.
Woodstock Nation, Part 3: We had pulled it off
A special section - Woodstock Nation. Third of a three-part series
BY SHEILA LENNON
Journal-Bulletin Lifestyles Editor
Despite two days of uncomfortable conditions, peace and music are
both holding out. Sunday is the acid test.
The storm bore down on us, all hard rain and whipping wind, just
after Joe Cocker ended the set that opened Woodstock, Day 3. "The
ground was slippery red clay, and then it really looked like
Baghdad," remembers Dottie Clark, one of the many from southeastern
New England who were there. "People selling the junk of the time were
packing up, my friends were crying, and I was laughing. I thought it
was funny. I said, 'Someday you'll see that this was something.' "
Cocker had finished his set with what may have been the best live
performance ever given: With a Little Help From My Friends.
"I ran into a friend from school standing at the stage when Joe
Cocker was performing," says Stephen Schechtman, "and I just remember
tears in his eyes, this guy just standing there crying. He was really
moved by it."
The storm that followed, with clouds straight out of a Hollywood
epic, "was almost like a test from some god," says Kathleen McDevitt.
"That was really hard to get through. But I remember being
exhilarated. People on stage were saying 'hang in there,' and everybody did."
These people had been too long wet, hungry, hot and cold.
Spontaneously, the rain chant began - "No rain, no rain, no rain . .
." When the hour-long deluge stopped, the field was a giant mud
puddle. But the Woodstock attitude held: Another bad situation was
turned around. With a slight shift of perspective, any kid could see
a perfect hill for sliding. The long coast to the stage was fun.
"It looked like a picture from the World War II archives, the
refugees after a town had been blitzed or invaded," says John Haerry.
"Here were all these people, cold, wet, miserable, hungry, thirsty,
but still keeping it together.
"I remember people walking around quietly asking, 'Do you have any
spare food, or anything to drink?' At the same time, if people had
anything, it was 'Well, we've got a bag of potato chips, here, have
some of our potato chips.' "
"To the media it was a catastrophe, but to us, it was the very best
life," says Carmino Scaglione.
"There were enormous garbage bags and people sitting all around
them," remembers Dottie Clark. "It was Felliniesque."
"It stunk on Sunday," Rico Topazio recalls. "People were burning
clothes to keep warm. Then a helicopter came over the field and
started dropping things. It was scary, people freaked out, until they
saw they were flowers.
"It was like a reward for just being there, and staying," says
Kathleen McDevitt. "There was someone somewhere concerned about us."
Lee Blumer, assistant to the security director then, said last week
that the gesture had been arranged by Michael Lang, the man who
thought up the whole idea of a festival that would bring together the
counterculture so we could see how many of us there really were.
A recent reminder
Dawn Jabari-Zhou, who was forced to leave China last month after
teaching there two years, said the students in Tiananmen Square in
June reminded her of Woodstock. "In Beijing, people did make that
analogy: They hadn't seen these many people since Woodstock. People
were orderly, friendly, and shared food and shelter. There was a tent
city at Tiananmen."
Woodstock also had shadows.
Two deaths were reported.
Without checking underneath, a farmer moved his tractor out of a
field dotted with sleeping people. A 17-year-old who slept Friday
night under a tractor was killed when the farmer started it up and
ran over him.
Another young man died, but it is not clear whether it was from a
heroin overdose or a heart attack.
I suspect that Margaret Chevian speaks for many when she says, "At
the time people were sucked into being liberal; what you were then
and are now is not the same. We went along with the crowd. I don't
know why we didn't die from bad sanitation."
And others would agree with Ed Dalton's statement that " Woodstock
was a promise unfulfilled because I don't think my generation
accomplished what they set out to accomplish: change the world. When
we saw all of us, we knew we had force and power.
"I think the whole generation has sold out, and I hope the kids turn
out better than we did."
Most of us who were at Woodstock also know somebody who tried to stay
there no matter where they were later, and became casualties of drugs
Tom of Providence was 14 at Woodstock, doing drugs. "I regret that
Woodstock set me on this path. I wish I'd spent more time studying,
learning a trade. Because I was so young and doing drugs, I didn't
have a chance to have a real adolescence, to grow up." He's been in
AA two years.
One caller from North Kingstown wouldn't identify herself but wanted
to say that her parents didn't let her go to Woodstock, and her
friends who did all developed serious addiction problems.
Three births and four miscarriages were reported at the festival,
but, so far, no one has come forward waving a birth certificate to
prove, "I was born at Woodstock."
No unknown garage band
Crosby, Stills and Nash had only played one concert, in Chicago,
before Woodstock, but this was no unknown garage band.
David Crosby had been a founding member of the Byrds; Stephen Stills
played in Buffalo Springfield with Neil Young, and Graham Nash was
stolen from the Hollies. Their first album together, Crosby, Stills
and Nash, would stay on the charts for 107 weeks. But that night at
Woodstock, Graham Nash sheepishly greeted the crowd with, "We'd like
to a do a medley of our hit."
Several people named them as a favorite memory, but on Suite: Judy
Blue Eyes the harmonies were so badly offkey that the tracks would be
redubbed for the album. It didn't matter, except to festivalgoers who
swore later they were offkey but couldn't prove it by the movie.
Neil Young joined CSN at Woodstock, and again two weeks later at the
Big Sur Festival at the Esalen Institute, where Joni Mitchell first
sang Woodstock, the anthem she wrote for the festival without ever
having been there.
Mitchell was living with Graham Nash at the time, but spent the
festival weekend in New York City with her manager, David Geffen.
Geffen convinced her she might not be able to get out of Bethel, N.
Y., the town 50 miles from Woodstock where the festival was being
held, in time to make a TV appearance on the Dick Cavett Show.
Bulletin board of the air
The stage announcements were sometimes witty, often humorous, and
excessive. The bulletin board of the air was full of lost people,
headlines about what the world thought was happening to us, happy
news, call your mother, come get your medicine, and colorful - if
meaningless - warnings about specific colors of bad acid. There were
probably fifty shades of green acid, and if anybody had just taken
some, this was no time to hear it was polluted.
Cheryl Godek Curran knew people who had taken green acid. "They said,
'Take us to the doctor,' so we went to the bad trips tent. There they
said 'If you took it and you're having a good trip, just go back and
enjoy the festival.' And they did."
David DelBonis had helped build the children's playground, the
hospital tent (which Abbie Hoffman ran) and the kitchens. During the
festival, he roamed the crowd, bringing people whose mental circuits
had crossed back to the bad trips tent. Rick Danko of the Band and
John Sebastian dropped in to play a sort of mellow rock for people
who weren't digesting mind-altering substances well.
Del Bonis explains a bad trip as "being with too many people and
thinking you can party on LSD. Your brain can't sort it quick enough.
You feel scared and paranoid." A good trip: "It's searching; it's
kind of like looking for yourself. It's a very spiritual thing."
From his observations, "The drug thing was totally overblown.
Certainly there was marijuana used, but not as many drugs as people imagine."
"Not everybody at Woodstock used drugs," Phil Kukielski says, "and
people didn't drink much. A little wine, maybe. But this was a place
you could safely smoke grass."
For some, the novelty of being able to take a social puff in public
was the big thrill. A joint lit up in the crowd got passed all over.
"It was nice not to feel worried about the police," said one Rhode
Islander. "That was very liberating."
Although there were dealers, most people were wary of what they might
be selling. Street drugs could be anything.
"LSD is more dangerous for anybody to experiment with now," says
Dennis Lemoine, now a Corrections Officer at the Rhode Island
Training School for Youth. "Then it was made by chemists in
universities and people with real knowledge of it. People now make it
in cellars from a book in the library. They use strychnine (a
favorite poison in old murder mysteries) to get a physical effect.
"Back then, the marijuana was less strong than what it is now. The
grade has accelerated. People got stoned, laughed, sang and got
happy. Now kids smoke it, sit back and nod and that's it. The old
Mexican was destroyed with Paraquat. This stuff they're importing has
a higher THC content. And they don't stick with pot anymore.
"I know people who did heavy drugs for years on the streets, then
crack and freebasing got them in a year. They're chasing that first
big high from then on."
"We did drugs, but not the dangerous drugs. We were a whole different
generation who cared for each other. We were against war, we had goals . . ."
Last week I asked Wavy Gravy, who ran the bad trips tent, what he
thinks of drugs now.
"You need to differentiate between smack, crack and smoking flowers,"
Wavy said. "Cocaine is horrible. It's nature's way of telling people
they have too much money. It makes them mean to their friends and their kids.
"Psychotropic stuff in moderation can lead to extraordinary results.
I like to say, 'My father's mush has many rooms.' "
Wiring repairs halt show
There was music through the night, but the sound system was shut off
during the storm, which soaked some dangerously tattered wiring.
While repairs were made and new wires were laid, the show did not go on.
So the Sunday bands played too late to too few still awake. And the
movie crew slept at night, which is why so many great sets are
missing. Sha-Na-Na made it into the film only because the crews were
getting up to shoot Jimi Hendrix.
"We tried to book Roy Rogers to sing Happy Trails as the closing
number for the festival," Michael Lang told Joel Makower in The Oral
History of Woodstock. "His agent declined."
Instead, Hendrix insisted on closing the show with the national anthem.
"Obviously, he got the meaning of this thing sufficiently enough to
know to play the Star Spangled Banner at the very end," Lee Blumer
told Rockfax, a small music paper published in Norwich, Conn. ". . .
He saw Woodstock come from out of dust to a nation and he played an anthem."
But not before he tossed off what was probably the strangest line of
that long strange weekend: "Maybe the new day might give us a chance,
It was 8:30 Monday morning when Hendrix started to play. He was in
lavender fringe with a head band, "letting his freak flag fly," as
one member of the group would write.
There were fewer than half a hundred thousand left when he did it.
Most people had gone.
Hendrix played in the early morning sun with garbage all over, and he
was loud. Too loud, I remember, for my frazzled nerve endings. His
guitar seemed to frizz my brain, but I was finally next to the stage,
10 feet from Jimi, and I had to watch his face. It seemed illuminated
I could hear Vietnam in this anthem, bombs bursting on guitar. It
flew and dived and made brand new a song that had always seemed to me
a war chant. The anthem of Woodstock Nation was the anthem of America
loosened, freed of its rigid measures. It was okay to be different.
The song ended at 10 a.m., 65 hours after Richie Havens began it.
We had pulled it off. It was over, and we left on whatever roads have
brought us to where we are now.
An invitation to dinner
"On the way home," remembers Tom Mulligan, "we were slogging to the
car and noticed some people standing around a house. We walked over
and they invited us to dinner. They were making a huge meal for
anybody who wanted to come by."
Phil Kukielski and David DelBonis both remember being handed flyers
as they left. They read, "Come to Chicago" for the radical
Weathermen's Days of Rage.
People stayed for weeks, reluctant to leave, cleaning up Yasgur's Farm.
"On the way back I was bummed out and didn't know why, because I'd
had a good time," says Jim Edwards. "At first I thought, 'Every high
has a crash,' but then I really felt like I had just attended an Irish wake."
Woodstock's promoters flew to New York to explain to the bankers and
lawyers why they threw a free festival and spent the bank's money to
drop flowers on the crowd.
So what came out of all that mud and music 20 years ago?
Joe Landry, a Providence native who at 29 was one of the oldest
people at the festival, seemed to sum it up: "That it's no good for
me if it's not good for everybody."