brings event back to life
May 4th 2010
Woodstock is part of American history.
And Pete Fornatale, the esteemed radio deejay, author and Rockaway
resident, is professor emeritus of Woodstock. His terrific book,
"Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock," about that three-day
music festival in August 1969, and all that it meant to an America in
the throes of a cultural revolution, will be released in paperback
If you were at Woodstock, as I was, it magically resurrects that
event from the purple haze of yesteryear. If you weren't there, this
book, coupled with the live presentations Fornatale gives about
Woodstock, will allow you to transport yourself onto a muddy blanket
on Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, N.Y., circa 1969.
It's that good.
The book will be on sale in bookstores, and on Amazon, and at the
Flushing Library, 41-17 Main St., on Monday at 6:30 p.m. when
Fornatale does another of his excellent live audio/visual shows on
Woodstock. It is put together by a multi-media whiz named Tony
Traguardo, using a video, PowerPoint, and old audio recordings from
WNEW-FM, the pioneer radio station that provided the New York
soundtrack of my generation.
"I play the first commercial I ever read on the air at WNEW, about
the three-day Woodstock Music and Arts Festival three weeks before
the event," says Fornatale. "I had been teaching school at the time,
to avoid the draft for a war I opposed, and I was working the
graveyard shift at the station and one of my students that night held
a microphone attached to a reel-to-reel tape recorder up to a table
radio. That's how I still have a copy of that live broadcast. So I
use that recording of myself, a stumbling, bumbling kid on his first
night at the big FM radio station in New York reading the commercial
Fornatale didn't think at the time that Woodstock would be any kind
of history-making event. On July 4, 1969, the Atlantic City Pop
Festival, featuring many of the same musical acts, drew 80,000
people. "No way did I or anyone else predict that 500,000 people
would descend on Yasgur's farm three weeks later," says Fornatale.
"Not the promoters, not the police, not the artists."
How and why did it happen?
Some of that will be explained in Fornatale's highly entertaining
live presentation at Flushing Library. And in "Back to the Garden:
The Story of Woodstock," that he wrote with a Bic pen on yellow legal
pads, "looking out at the angry waves" crashing onto the shores of
Rockaway. "People ask how long it took to write the book," he says.
"And my smart-ass answer is 40 years. But it took two years of
research and reflection."
Fornatale did not go to Woodstock. He was the new kid at the station,
so he was kept in the booth in the Empire State Building. But when a
half-million people literally rocked the world at Woodstock,
Fornatale paid attention.
"Something huge was happening musically, culturally and
audience-wise," he says. "By the Friday of the festival, Woodstock
had evolved from a music story to a major news story. In my live
presentation, I play a tape of WNEW-AM reporter Mike Eisgrau, who
arrived in a helicopter in a jacket and tie, and the first person he
interviewed was a naked hippie. Woodstock really was a gathering of
the tribes. Boomers heard all their lives that they were different
and special, but I think Woodstock was the event that proved it."
Some four decades later, Fornatale felt compelled to write about it.
"Woodstock was the awareness of the power of the baby boomers," he
says. "It was the culmination of the social and political climate of
the time, particularly the Vietnam War, but also civil rights and
women's rights. And the maturity of rock 'n' roll."
And, Fornatale says, the flames for all this were fanned by FM radio,
where deejays like him picked their own playlists, airing bands like
Ten Years After, who went from playing clubs to theaters after
Woodstock, and to arenas after the Woodstock movie was released.
"What a time for me to be arriving at the job of my lifetime," says
Fornatale. "I became a WNEW deejay three weeks before Woodstock. It
changed my life."
When I got back from Woodstock, Fornatale became my favorite deejay.
With his soothing, articulate cultural riffs and impeccable musical
tastes, he grooved young New Yorkers through a magical time in history.
Today, Fornatale is still my favorite deejay on the same Fordham
University station where he began his career - WFUV 90.7, or WFUV.org
- on Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
"Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock" is a very cool, um, trip.
For more information, call (718) 661-1200.