“a pretty girl who is naked is worth a million statues.”
~ e. e. cummings ~
© 2019 nightpoet all rights reserved
~ e. e. cummings ~
© 2019 nightpoet all rights reserved
~ Oscar Wilde ~
© 2019 nightpoet all rights reserved
~ John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester ~
© 2019 nightpoet all rights reserved
Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the Woodstock Music And Art Fair. To commemorate this legendary event, over the next two days I am re-posting the blog posts I first published in 2014 with some updates and a new photo. That I was lucky enough at the age of 19 not only to attend the festival, but work there, I felt that it would be enjoyable to share my memories. It has been said “that if you remember what went on at Woodstock you probably weren’t really there.” I beg to differ. I recall quite a lot of what I experienced there, as you will see in these blog posts. As I write this I am 69 years old and have been kept busy over the last month doing a number of newspaper, radio and television interviews. Most often I am asked what has stayed with me from Woodstock over these 50 years. That is easy. Along with the music, the most important thing was the spirit of Woodstock, that feeling of “WE,” the togetherness of mind, energy and brotherhood that defined my generation. We were all there for each other and to show the world we were a force to be reckoned with. The music of Woodstock was the soundtrack of my generation. And within me there still lives the free spirited, politically and environmentally active 19 year old rebel that I was back then. It always will…
I had only slept for about two hours before I woke up on Sunday morning and decided that I needed to walk down to that pond I kept seeing behind the stage and try to clean up a bit. As I left the trailer I walked by the badly leaning truck trailer. It was still leaning precariously and the fence was down again. A pile of people were spread out under it. So much for security. I skirted my way around the mass of humanity occupying the area in front of the stage. Most of those people had probably been in their spots since Friday. The welcome smell of grass seemed to permeate the air wherever you went. I read somewhere later on that nine out of ten festivalgoers smoked marijuana. That might be a fairly accurate estimate. At least somewhere around a half a ton of grass must have made its way onto the site along with all the hash, opium, cocaine, speed, psychedelics and other various illegal substances. Probably at that time one of the largest concentrations of dope in any one place. When considers the fact that there were only 33 arrests for drug possession outside of the festival grounds, and one death due to an overdose, the amount consumed seems incredible. But once again I digress.
When I got down to the pond a number of folks were in various stages of bathing, undressing and dressing. I’d brought one of my already worn T-shirts with me to use as a towel. Good thing I did, because after stripping and wading in for a few minutes, it seemed like I was getting dirtier in the water than I had been before I went in. At least it felt good. I came back out, dried myself off, dressed and walked back up to the trailer. It must have been around 11:00 a.m. Work beckoned. At the trailer Topper was nowhere to be seen. Except for his presence in photos and in the movie, I never saw him again either. And when I looked for my supervisor I was told he was missing in action and that I had just been promoted to security manager. Most of the stands were no longer in operation, but there were still the truck trailers to deal with. And still a good influx of confused zonked out and freaked out folks to try and find help and resources for. That’s actually what I spent most of my time doing once the festival was underway. For the umpteenth time I managed to clear everyone out from under the truck trailers and get that rickety fence back up. And, although the day had started off with good weather the possibility of more rain was looming on the horizon. Throughout the day people began leaving. There was a steady stream of folks moving along the roads and away from the festival all afternoon.
Around 2:00 p.m. things finally got underway on stage when Joe Cocker came out after his band had played two instrumental numbers and started his set with a rendition of Dylan’s “Dear Landlord.” He too created an iconic moment with his closing performance of “With A Little Help From My Friends.” And then all hell broke loose. A heavy thunderstorm rolled across the site and delayed everything for a few hours. With storm clouds approaching, the crowd was urged: ‘If you think real hard maybe we can get rid of the rain.’ A chant went up: ‘No rain, no rain, no rain.’ But it didn’t stop the deluge and in three hours, approximately five inches of rain fell and the festival really became a mudfest. I spent those three hours catching up on some sleep in the trailer. At some point a lot of noise in the other room woke me up. Sexual noises. Liquid noises. Groans, moans, sighs and slurps. Thinking back to yesterday and my pleasant interlude with Frances, I thought to myself, gee, somebody’s having a good go at it. The commotion continued for about a half an hour and then died down. As I arose and went back outside I passed through the room and noticed that the only two people in it were two of the guys who were running Food For Love. Okay I thought, you’ve just witnessed your first alternative sexual encounter. No problem. Hell, after all, this is Woodstock.
The music got started again when Country Joe And The Fish played a long set. Night was falling as the next group took the stage and once again one of those iconic moments was made as Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee boogied into rock history with his closing performance of “I’m Goin’ Home.” He tore the place up. There was about a 45 minute break before the next group was scheduled to take the stage. And this was the moment that I had come to Woodstock for. I checked out of work, had a couple of really good tokes of opium and made my way about halfway down the field. The crowd was noticeably thinned out, so it was easier to get nearer to the stage. At 10:00 p.m. five musicians walked out into the lights of the stage, the guitarist and the bass player plugged in, the piano player, the organist and the drummer sat down behind their instruments and the first heavy organ chords of “Chest Fever” echoed out across Max Yasgurs’s pasture. Pure ecstasy. The Band was on stage, feeling and looking a bit shy and lost, but laying down an incredible sound. “Chest Fever” was followed by “Don’t Do It,” “Tears Of Rage,” “We Can Talk” and “Long Black Veil” in rapid succession. There was no sign of Bob Dylan nor would there be as they continued with “Don’t You Tell Henry,” “Ain’t No More Cane,” “This Wheel’s on Fire,” “I Shall Be Released,” “The Weight” and finally closed with “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.” Dylan might have shown up, but the story was that one of his kids was sick and in the hospital. It didn’t matter. The Band by themselves were for me the pinnacle of the whole festival. But the night was yet young. And I had to get back to work. There were a couple more people having bad trips to get down to the first aid people when I got back to the trailer.
At midnight Johnny Winter did an hour’s set, joined by his brother Edgar for three songs, one of them a really classic version of J.D. Loudermilk’s classic song “Tobacco Road.” And of course, Johnny closed his set with a burning rendition of “Johnny B. Goode.” He was followed by Blood Sweat and Tears who, fronted by David Clayton-Thomas, over the course of the next hour did an excellent set of songs from their first two albums including “Spinning Wheel,” “And When I Die” and “You Make Me So Very Happy.” And then the next iconic performance took place. I walked half way down towards the stage again as Chip Monck came out and announced the next act as “Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.” Only Crosby, Stills and Nash came out for the first six acoustic songs, Young joining them on “Mr. Soul” and “Wonderin’.” After one more acoustic song they did the electric set. They rocked through “Pre-Road Downs,” “Long Time Gone,” “Bluebird” and “Sea of Madness.” And then they closed the electric set with “Wooden Ships.” For an encore they did do two more acoustic songs. Their set lasted almost two hours. They were followed by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band who ripped up the ever dwindling crowd with a fine 45 minute long blues set. And then Sha Na Na played a half hour of their good and greasy 50’s renditions during which I retreated back to the trailer for some more smoke before Jimi Hendrix was scheduled to come out and close the festival. The grey dawn was slowly lighting up what looked like a battlefield after a war. Hendrix was waiting in the wings.
To be concluded…
An aerial view of the festival before it turned into a mud bath.
© 2019 nightpoet all rights reserved
Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the Woodstock Music And Art Fair. To commemorate this legendary event, over the next three days I am re-posting the blog posts I first published in 2014 with some updates and a new photo. That I was lucky enough at the age of 19 not only to attend the festival, but work there, I felt that it would be enjoyable to share my memories. It has been said “that if you remember what went on at Woodstock you probably weren’t really there.” I beg to differ. I recall quite a lot of what I experienced there, as you will see in these blog posts. As I write this I am 69 years old and have been kept busy over the last month doing a number of newspaper, radio and television interviews. Most often I am asked what has stayed with me from Woodstock over these 50 years. That is easy. Along with the music, the most important thing was the spirit of Woodstock, that feeling of “WE,” the togetherness of mind, energy and brotherhood that defined my generation. We were all there for each other and to show the world we were a force to be reckoned with. The music of Woodstock was the soundtrack of my generation. And within me there still lives the free spirited, politically and environmentally active 19 year old rebel that I was back then. It always will…
I slowly opened my eyes. As the haze began to lift and the gray interior of the trailer began to come into focus my first thoughts were that it was early. Way too early. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and pulled on my jeans. Yesterday, along with my Staff Pass, I had been given an official T-shirt with the Woodstock logo on it. As I looked through my duffel bag for it, I couldn’t find it and realised that someone had probably nicked it while I was out last night. Bummer. I put on a purple T-shirt and picked my way over the sleeping bodies in the two rooms and went and stood in the doorway. Where most of last week I had looked out over a green pasture with the stage down the slope in the distance, I now looked out over a literal sea of humanity. Here and there was a bit of movement, but most of the people who had spent the night in the natural bowl shaped area in front of the stage were still long lost in dreamland.
When I made my way over to the office trailer I found one of my working colleagues, whom I only knew by the name of Topper, already on the job. He wore a top hat for the duration of the festival, hence his name. I think that he had been up all night speeding. “One of the first things we have to do is persuade people to come out from under that badly leaning truck trailer. They’ve breached the fence again and have been crashing there,” he told me. Not a good situation because the truck was filled with thousands of cans of cheap no name soda pop and had sunk even more into the soil because of the rain. It was leaning rather precariously to one side. “Give them some time to wake up,” I suggested, “then we can re-erect the fence and hope that they stay out this time.” We both knew that they wouldn’t, especially if it rained again today. The thought of that trailer falling over and spilling thousands of cans of soda pop was not an appealing one, the thought of it crushing a few festival goers even less so. We waited a while and then managed to persuade the sleepy intruders that it was in their best interest to vacate the premises. We weren’t winning any popularity contests. This was the kind of stuff we’d be doing all day.
Overnight the Woodstock Music And Arts fair had become a nationwide news story, probably worldwide. All routes to and from the festival grounds were blocked, highways had become parking lots for miles around and the performers had to be brought in by helicopter. Personnel from the nearby Stewart Air Force base were assisting in airlifting the performers to and from the site. Woodstock was turning into a disaster area. Though I’m getting ahead of myself, by Sunday morning the New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller was on the phone with one of the festival’s organizers, John Roberts, threatening to call in 10,000 New York State National Guard troops. Roberts was able to persuade the Governor not to do it. Sullivan County, in which Yasgur’s farm was located, had already declared a state of emergency. The overwhelming influx of people was straining the ability of the festival promoters to deal with the situation. Once the residents of the surrounding area heard that there were beginning to be food shortages they collected food, drinks, canned goods, made sandwiches and saw to it that they were delivered to the site. From their initial opposition to the festival, the residents of Sullivan County put aside their feelings and did everything they could to help. With the news reports talking about an impending disaster, America held its breath to see what would happen next. The some 450,000 kids at the festival saw it differently from the inside. They were having the time of their lives. One hell of a huge party. The only negative thing was the fickle late summer weather.
Around noon, as the music started to get under way with Quill doing a half hour opening set, I decided to take a break and have a look around. One of my more clear memories is of walking down one of the access roads at the festival entrance at around 1:00 p.m. when Country Joe McDonald took the stage and did a solo acoustic set that ended with the “Fish Cheer” and the “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag.” Standing there in the midst of that huge sea of spectators and hearing them reply to County Joe’s shout of “Gimme an F, gimme a U, gimmie a C, gimme a K, what’s that spell?” epitomized the true spirit of the gathering. One element of Woodstock was that it was telling the nation that the youth were sick of the War and weren’t going to remain silent about it. I hung out and watched Santana and John Sebastian do their sets. I really enjoyed John Sebastian’s acoustic set. I had worked equipment for the Lovin’ Spoonful back in 1967 when they had come to Virginia Beach for a concert and he was one of the nicest laid back and mellow musicians I had ever met. I am still of that opinion today, so many years later. After that I started back to the trailer and ended up stopping and chatting up a nice looking young lady named Frances. When I told her that I had a bit of opium she didn’t need any persuasion to accompany me back to the trailer. I got out the pipe I’d made out of a soda can, loaded it up with that sweet black sticky manna and we proceeded to get down to some serious smoking. Opium is a very physical drug so naturally it wasn’t long before we took off our clothes and started balling on my sleeping bag. We made love for about an hour, climaxing, coming down and climaxing again and again before we both drifted off into an opium haze. Meanwhile outside on the stage the Keef Hartley band and The Incredible String Band were providing the entertainment. Subconsciously I’m sure I absorbed some of their performances as they unfolded in the distance. At some point I gradually realised that I was regaining consciousness and became aware that there was something very pleasant happening. When I finally was fully awake I found myself staring up at Frances. She had woken up, aroused and mounted me and was balling her round little ass off. She had her head thrown back and was squeaking with pleasure as she bounced up and down. In that opium haze it was a most beautiful way to wake up. After a while we rolled over and continued for a spell until we both drifted off once more. When I came to again she was gone. No telling where she had wandered off. I never saw Frances again. But she did leave me a small present that I ended up taking back with me to Virginia. The crabs. Oh well, sex, drugs and rock and roll. You’re only nineteen once.
I had to get back to work. Canned Heat was doing their set when I popped into the office trailer. Things were not looking good. Food For Love was about to become Food For Rip Off Prices, as my three bosses decided to try and raise the prices at their hamburger stands. Not the wisest thing to do under the circumstances. In yesterday’s post I said that I’d talk a bit about the Food For Love enterprise. In his book “The Road To Woodstock,” Michael Lang, one of the festival’s organizers wrote, “We originally thought locating a food vendor would be a no-brainer and that this would be a big profit center for us. As it turned out, the large food-vending companies like Restaurant Associates, which handled ballparks and arenas, didn’t want to take on Woodstock. No one had ever handled food services for an event this size. They didn’t want to put in the investment capital necessary to supply such a huge amount of food, on-site kitchens, and personnel, plus transport everything upstate. And what if we didn’t draw the crowds we projected?” Lang turned to a company called Nathan’s Hot Dogs, a well known vendor at Coney Island in the hopes that they would supply the concessions, but there were initial disagreements about the wages and staffing. And when the original site for the festival fell through and everything had to be relocated to the site in Sullivan county, Nathan’s pulled out completely. Now desperate, and with only two weeks to go before the festival was supposed to start, the organizers turned to three guys who had very little experience in the food services business, Charles Baxter, Lee Howard and Jeffery Joeger. They called themselves Food For Love, and they were my employers. Things got off to a bad start when, on the day before the festival began, Jeffery got into a fist fight over the deal with Peter Goodrich, one of the festival’s organizers. Another issue was that the food stands weren’t even completed yet. By the time the festival was underway the Food For Love concessions were overwhelmed. By Saturday night the festival goers had lost patience with the long lines and the suddenly inflated prices (a hot dog that had sold for 25 cents now was costing a dollar) and took things into their own hands, burning two of the stands down. Power to the people. Fortunately I didn’t have to deal with that insurrection for at the time Topper and I were back to trying to keep people out from under the tilting trailers. I’m getting ahead of myself again, but on Sunday morning one of the festival announcers, Hugh Romney, better known as Wavy Gravy, tried to calm things down a bit when he told the crowd, “There’s a guy up there, some hamburger guy, that had his stand burned down last night. But he’s still got a little stuff left, and for you people that still believe capitalism isn’t that weird, you might help him out and buy a couple hamburgers.” But it was too late. Food For Love ended up having to give their remaining food away and in the process lost their shirts. But that was only the beginning of their problems. More on that issue later.
Mountain took the stage around 9:00 p.m. after Canned Heat and they were followed by a disastrous set by the Grateful Dead. At least the Dead thought it was a disaster. Jerry Garcia always maintained that the Dead just didn’t have it together at Woodstock for various reasons. The crowd seemed to enjoy it though, at least until the Dead’s amps overloaded during their performance of “Turn On Your Lovelight.” They were grateful to get off the stage at around midnight. At this point things were really starting to run late. The Creedence Clearwater Revival took the stage and played a long set for about an hour. Then there was a short break of about a half an hour before Janis Joplin and The Kozmic Blues Band was scheduled to play. The fine line between when I was supposed to be working and when I wasn’t had become completely blurred. Earlier in the day the guy who was the assistant security manager had flipped out and disappeared so I got promoted from security stooge to assistant security manager in his place. I wasn’t having any problems doing all the dope because I just didn’t let it get to me. If I hadn’t learned how to function relatively normally when I was totally blitzed I’d never have made it through college. On Sunday the security manager for Food For Love went AWOL, so I got another promotion. But I digress.
Already blitzed out on opium and weed I dropped one of Topper’s speed capsules to keep from dozing off and we watched from the top of the hill while Janis Joplin delivered an incredible set. Despite the speed though I went to the trailer and half nodded off for an hour while Sly and the Family Stone cooked up a good set of funk for the audience. Topper came in around 4:00 a.m. and shook me awake. “Come on,” he said “Let’s go down the hill a bit and watch The Who, they’ve just started their set.” 4:00 a.m. I thought, looking at my watch. Damn, they were supposed to go on much earlier. That didn’t faze them though, they played most of their new rock opera “Tommy” and then did a four song encore set that included “Summertime Blues” and “My Generation.” Following the song “Pinball Wizard” political activist Abbie Hoffman somehow got on the stage, grabbed a microphone while Pete Townshend tuned his guitar and said: “I think this is a pile of shit! While John Sinclair rots in prison…” Hoffman was trying to protest the imprisonment of the leader of the White Panther Party and manager of the left-wing hard-rock band the MC5, John Sinclair, who had been convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison because of marijuana possession. Townshend, really pissed off that someone had invaded his stage, screamed, “Fuck off! Fuck off my fucking stage!” He then smacked Hoffman with his guitar chasing him off stage. So much for peace and love.
After The Who’s performance there was a break of almost an hour before the Jefferson Airplane were supposed to take the stage. Topper and I decided that, under the circumstances, we no longer had to be “on the job” and were going to take a break. We figured it would be worth going down behind the stage and, using our Staff Passes, try to get on stage for the Airplane’s set. The only difficulty was that our passes had FC written on them, which meant, of course Food Concession, and therefore weren’t supposed to give us access to the stage area. But what the hell we thought, it was worth a try. We walked down to the fence and passed through one cursory pass check and thereafter no one gave a shit. We walked over the bridge-like ramp that led on to the stage and stood off to the right hand side, looking out at the multitude. We couldn’t believe our luck. The Airplane were just getting their stuff together, tuning up and sorting things out. Nicky Hopkins was with them, sitting behind a large piano. It was around 6:00 a.m. and the sky was already well into the dawn. Now the Airplane had originally been scheduled to go on around sometime after 9:00 p.m. on Saturday but things were really running behind schedule and they were many hours late. The spectators didn’t mind, but the Airplane had one slight problem. Supposedly the story goes that they had dropped acid sometime earlier in the evening in anticipation of peaking around the time they began their set. At this point they were still feeling the effects but were starting to come down. That’s why at the beginning of their set you hear Grace Slick say, “Morning, people, you’ve seen the heavy groups. Now you’ll see some morning maniac music. It’s a new dawn.” Grace many years later elaborated, “Woodstock was basically a mess. We really didn’t get to see anybody. We were in a hotel and the roads were all clogged, so they sent a helicopter to pick us up and drop us back stage a half an hour before we were to go on. Things kept getting screwed up. ‘You’re not on now, you’re on in a half hour,’ then they’d say, ‘you’re on now; oh no, now you’re not.’ We originally went to the stage at 9.00 p.m. and didn’t play until the next morning. We hung out all night, backstage and around the sides, so all I saw were people’s butts. The speakers weren’t aimed back at us, so all we heard was this massive barrage of sound. But hey, we were in our 20s. You talk to people, take drugs, eat grapes, smoke dope. It wasn’t all as bad as it sounds, but it was off-putting because you get your mindset to go on, then they say no. Finally at 6:00 a.m. I walked up to the microphone and said, ‘Now you’re going to hear some morning-maniac music’ because I had no idea how we were going to sound at that point.”
They sounded incredible, especially from where Topper and I and others were standing on the side of the stage. From that vantage point, looking out over that vast multitude of gathered humanity the true impact of what Woodstock was hit me. In my own performing with many different bands through the years I have been onstage hundreds of times, in front of some large audiences and have felt something similar on a much smaller scale, but the vibe and the energy of that moment was unlike anything else I have or ever will experience. I saw the true spirit of the Woodstock Festival in that instant and it has stayed with me all my life.
It must have been around 8:00 a.m. when the Airplane finished their set with a cosmic rendition of their classic “House At Pooneil Corners.” Topper and I hung out a bit on stage and then walked back up to the trailer for one final pipe of opium before we crashed. I looked for 23 years for some sort of photographic evidence that I really was on stage for their performance. Without success. That is, until the Jefferson Airplane Box Set came out in 1992 and I bought it. Imagine my surprise when I opened the booklet and there, staring out from behind Grace Slick in the background of one Woodstock photo is my much opiated face in my purple T-shirt with one of those ‘glow in the dark’ necklaces around my neck. I had forgotten all about getting one of those from somebody. Much later on, when the movie was released in a director’s cut on DVD, if you slow down the frames, I can be seen for a few seconds. My fifteen seconds of unintentional fame preserved for posterity…
To be continued…
An onstage photo of the Jefferson Airplane I just recently discovered. I can be seen standing in the background wearing my purple t-shirt behind a lady with blond hair, between Paul Kantner and Jack Cassidy. Photo © by Michael Frankel.
© 2019 nightpoet all rights reserved
Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the Woodstock Music And Art Fair. To commemorate this legendary event, over the next four days I am re-posting the blog posts I first published in 2014 with some updates and a new photo. That I was lucky enough at the age of 19 not only to attend the festival, but work there, I felt that it would be enjoyable to share my memories. It has been said “that if you remember what went on at Woodstock you probably weren’t really there.” I beg to differ. I recall quite a lot of what I experienced there, as you will see in these blog posts. As I write this I am 69 years old and have been kept busy over the last month doing a number of newspaper, radio and television interviews. Most often I am asked what has stayed with me from Woodstock over these 50 years. That is easy. Along with the music, the most important thing was the spirit of Woodstock, that feeling of “WE,” the togetherness of mind, energy and brotherhood that defined my generation. We were all there for each other and to show the world we were a force to be reckoned with. The music of Woodstock was the soundtrack of my generation. And within me there still lives the free spirited, politically and environmentally active 19 year old rebel that I was back then. It always will…
I had awakened early, the consciousness slowly crawling through my brain’s neuron connections shaking the opiated cobwebs from the night before aside. Outside the trailer a chilly morning mist had settled over the rolling hills and dales and wove its damp fingers through the still dark groves of trees that dotted the surrounding farm fields. It was Friday. Once the mist would burn away in the early morning sun, the countryside would begin waking up. I already heard a cacophony of birds, roosters and cows tuning up in the distance. As my mind slowly shifted into gear I began to think about my schedule for the day, my fifth day here. First off I’d stop by the office trailer and grab a couple of sandwiches. And then I’d report for my work shift and see what the bosses had dreamed up for us to do today. The trailer was a long affair, divided into three sections, a small entrance room followed by two large empty rooms separated by a wall but without a door that you could close. A number of other people were scattered on the floor still sleeping as I picked my way carefully between them. I was still in a lingering opiated haze as I made my way to the entrance and stood in the doorway looking out across the field. When I had first arrived four days ago it was a sloping green pasture with small groups of people settling in here and there. At the bottom end of the slope a large wooden stage, built over the last two weeks, dominated the field. Two large towers rose some distance in front of it on either side. What had been a cow pasture dominated by scurrying carpenters and construction workers on Monday now began to resemble a colourful gypsy encampment. It was Friday. I still had the sweet taste of rich black opium in my mouth and I was happy. Things were about to begin. As the world began to awaken on Yasgur’s farm, you could feel the electricity in the air.
It was summer. I was 19 and had just finished my first year of college. It had been quite a year. Although I had managed to get most of the required work done for my two semesters of courses, the majority of my time was spent in other pursuits. Socializing, smoking, drinking, balling, listening to and making music, attending demos and anti war rallies and marches and generally raising hell seemed so much more of an invigorating curriculum than Freshman English, Beginning German, Physical Education or English History. I had already had a couple of girlfriends and my hair was starting to reach my shoulders. Life was good. When I returned to Virginia Beach and my parent’s house at the end of May I had other plans for my summer vacation than what they thought I should be doing, which was to find some sort of summer job and be productive. I gave the obligatory expressions of intent, but I already had my job all lined up and it involved hanging out on the boardwalk, making music, staying as stoned as possible and writing my poetry. I was convinced that such an agenda was my profession and that it was certainly in the realm of being productive. I’d been having fun all through the fall, the winter and the spring so I had no intention of stopping now. By early August I was well immersed in hanging out on the boardwalk jamming with friends and had a good tan to take back with me to college in the fall, along with a sheaf of poems and songs.
A few weeks earlier I had, along with millions of other Americans and the rest of the world, watched as Neil Armstrong descended from the Apollo 11 lander and took those first fledgling steps on the surface of the moon, followed by Buzz Aldrin. For the occasion I had dropped a 12 hour Black Beauty and was speeding right along with Collins in the orbiting capsule looking down as the whole event was unfolding. Shortly thereafter the Atlantic City Pop Festival took place on August 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Hanging out with a crowd of friends two weeks after the moon landing on the beach one evening, the talk turned to music and bands when someone mentioned an upcoming music festival that was going to take place in Woodstock, New York, where apparently one hell of a lot of really good groups were planning to perform. In the fall of 1968 an album had come out called “Music From Big Pink” by The Band, who had been backing up Bob Dylan on his recordings and at his concerts. The album was a masterpiece and quickly became one of my favourites. It still is today. As we were discussing the Woodstock Festival while sitting on the beach, someone mentioned that The Band would be performing there. Suddenly a light went on in my head. The Band? I was thinking, man, I’d love to see them in concert and they’ll probably never get down here to Virginia. As the wine and the numbers were being passed around I began to seriously consider the idea of going to the festival, but then New York was a long way from Virginia and when I took stock of my finances things were looking rather bleak. I only had about twenty-five dollars and I had been considering blowing twenty of it on an ounce of weed, since my stash box was down to seeds and stems again. It was Friday, August 11th. Now there was a young fellow named David and his sister Susie hanging out with us who were from Washington D.C. They were planning to hitchhike up to D.C. the next morning, spend the weekend with their Mom and then head out for Woodstock on Monday morning bright and early. They wanted to know if anyone else was interested in going along. That sounded good enough for me. We agreed to meet the next morning. So I went home, packed a duffel bag with a couple of t-shirts, another pair of jeans, underwear, my old army jacket, some toiletries and my sleeping bag. I hit my parents up for another ten dollars as I was informing them of my plans. They did not share my enthusiasm.
The next morning we met up and quickly got a lift up to D.C. Their mother picked us up and took us to their apartment in Arlington. She was apparently a very liberal Mom, because she gave her kids the freedom to undertake the journey and didn’t seem the least bit worried. I was, mainly because her son was 18, but the daughter was only 16. I had visions of the cops stopping us for hitchhiking somewhere and throwing me in jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. So I asked their mother to write a letter of permission for the girl to be traveling with her brother and myself, which she did. The kids were cool, but their Mom was really with it. I had a girlfriend at that time who lived with her parents in Alexandria, so I called her up and we met the next day, Sunday afternoon, and spent a few hours together. I was bubbling about going to see The Band and adding that there was even a rumour that Dylan himself might make an appearance. And of course there were going to be a lot, an awful lot of other great groups over the three days. I got back to David and Susie’s apartment in time for dinner and we all sacked out shortly thereafter, intending to get out on the Interstate ramp real early to beat the Monday morning rush hour traffic. It was going to be a long haul from D.C. to upstate New York and we were hoping to cover it in one day. I had one last quick shower, and after breakfast David and Susie’s Mom drove us out to the Interstate ramp and wished us good luck. It wasn’t long before someone stopped and picked us up, giving us a lift to a truck stop about half the way to Baltimore. Ah, Baltimore. Visions of my childhood came into my head as I remembered living in Aberdeen and driving with my parents down old route 40 into Baltimore to the Farmer’s Market in the late 1950’s. A really strange bloke stopped and picked us up at the truck stop exit and drove us to Baltimore. All the way into deep, dark Baltimore. For whatever reason this asshole ended up dumping us out in the middle of one of the city’s worst ghettos. So there we stood three white faces in a sea of African-Americans and the longer we stood there pathetically trying to thumb a ride the more heavy the vibe became. We were getting really bad looks from an ever larger crowd that seemed to be gathering around us. At the last possible moment some kind soul stopped and we jumped into his car with audible sighs of relief. Mean looks followed us as we drove off down the street. He wondered how the hell we had ended up in that particular place and once we explained how we had gotten there and where we were heading he took us back out of the city and to the Interstate heading north. We thanked him for the timely rescue and stuck our thumbs out again. After that we had a succession of good rides up to New Jersey and then into New York State without further incident. Once we got closer to our destination I made a sign that said “Woodstock N.Y. Pop…” which seemed to help us get rides.
It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached White Lake and began to notice that we weren’t the only ones headed for Bethel, which was the nearest town to where the festival was located. As we stood on the outskirts of White Lake trying to catch a ride holding our sign and not having much luck, all of a sudden a big police cruiser comes rolling down the street, pulls over and stops. I looked at David, he looked at me and we both looked at Susie, who is grinning like the cat that ate the mouse. Wouldn’t it just be our luck, I was thinking, to almost make it to the festival and now get hassled by the heat? Inside the car sat the local sheriff, complete with his Smokey the Bear hat. He rolled down the window and asked us if we are headed to the festival. I answered in the affirmative and a large smile brightened up his face. “Well, I’ll give you kids a ride there. Hop in,” he said. The three of us looked at each other. Unreal. So we got a ride from White Lake to Bethel and out to Yasgur’s farm in the sheriff’s police cruiser. Now that was getting to the festival in style, almost like having a police escort. He explained to us as we were rolling along, past a lot of other kids trying to hitch or walking, that his daughter was hitchhiking somewhere and he figured it would be good karma for her if he helped someone to get to where they were going too. Unreal. We headed down a country road and then he pulled to a stop. “The farm is just down that road and over the hill,” he explained. “Now you be sure to be careful and have a good time,” he told us in his upstate New York accent as we climbed out of the car and he drove off.
We stood there for a few minutes and watched his car recede down the road and then, along with other kids slowly trickling towards the site, we walked up the hill and gazed down at the pasture and the stage, upon and around which there was a lot of activity. Behind the stage we could see a pond. I thanked them for their hospitality and their companionship along the way and parted with a promise to meet up again at some point over the next few days. I never saw David or Susie again. I wandered around a bit checking things out and then looked for a good spot to bed down for the evening, preferably where some serious smoking was going on. After that long trip I need a good buzz. I joined a group of kids at the edge of the pasture who were passing a few joints around and settled down for the evening. Stories were exchanged, dope and drink were shared and at some point, under the stars, I unrolled my sleeping bag and crawled in for the night. It had been a long day.
It was mid August and the nights in upstate New York were beginning to get a bit chilly. I woke up on Tuesday morning and, although my old army surplus sleeping bag had kept me warm, when I crawled out the air was fresh and crisp. As the world around me slowly came to life again, the reality of my present situation began to dawn on me. Here I was at a rock festival without a ticket and with a rather limited amount of financial resources. I hadn’t seen any evidence yet of any serious fences or crowd control, so I figured that I’d play it by ear and see what developed. But it was obvious to me that I’d have to do something to keep myself fed and stoned. As I wandered around the site getting my bearings I realised that it might be possible to make a bit of money by finding some work at the site. When I asked about jobs down at the stage one long haired fellow told me to go up to one of the trailers at the top of the slope and ask there. And that is exactly what I did. I ended up getting hired by a company called Food For Love, who were going to run the concession stands at the event. They were going to pay me $2.00 an hour to basically do manual labour. Plus I was given the most valuable thing one could possess, a Staff Pass for the festival. That wasn’t bad at all. Plus I got to sleep in one of their trailers at the top of the hill with a bird’s eye view of the whole area and the stage. So for the next three days I helped put up fences around their supply trailers to keep people from sleeping under them, which was dangerous because some of them were tilting and threatening to fall over in the soft ground of the pasture, and then I basically helped finish building their hamburger and drink stands. Now Food For Love would have been more aptly named Food For Cold Hard Cash and their story I will go into in more detail later on, but for now I was happy. I had a job, free food, a trailer to sleep in and…I was at The Woodstock Music & Art Fair. I spent the next three days working eight-hour shifts and my nights getting loaded and generally having fun.
And now it was Friday morning and the festival was about to begin at some point in the afternoon. All sorts of rumours were being passed around about how entrance to the festival would be controlled but by Thursday it was obvious that with the masses of people flowing in that there wasn’t going to be much anyone could do to control the entry to the grounds. Because they had to move from the site that was originally intended for the festival the promoters had made the decision to put all their efforts into getting the stage ready in time and gave up on building the fences. What fences existed were taken down on Thursday night. At that point they knew that they were going to take a massive financial hit. On Friday afternoon as the festival was getting underway it was announced that it had been declared a free festival and no one gave any more thought to the issue of collecting tickets. My job too was morphing from being a hired hand and gofer into having to work security, first specifically for Food For Love, but as the festival progressed, just generally making sure that people were safe and not putting themselves into dangerous situations. I went from working a normal eight hour shift to working eighteen hour stretches. But I am getting ahead of myself.
At around 5:00 PM that afternoon it was obvious to the folks putting on the music that Sweetwater, the first group scheduled to perform weren’t going to make it on stage on time. They had been delayed. So they asked Richie Havens to go out and play the first set. When he went out and opened the festival no one, least of all Richie himself, had any inkling that when he got to the end of his set list and went on to improvise a version of “Motherless Child” turning it into the incredible rendition of “Freedom,” it would become one of the defining moments, not only of the festival, but of rock music itself. I had the evening shift, my job now being to keep an eye on Food For Love’s complex of stands and truck trailers so I was watching his performance while making my rounds. He was followed by Swami Satchidananda who gave a ten minute invocation for the festival. In rather rapid succession Sweetwater played a 40 minute set, followed by Bert Sommer and then the amazing Tim Hardin who did a quick 25 minute set. By the time Ravi Shankar got on stage to do a 35 minute set it had started to rain. And I had my first serious problem. We had a bloke flipping out on some bad acid flailing wildly and requiring restraint. It was imperative that we get him over to the first aid tent, which, unfortunately, was clear across the area in front of the stage where everyone was sitting. Since he wouldn’t or couldn’t walk someone decided to pack his ass in one of the cars the company had up on the hill and drive him slowly straight through that audience. Along with another colleague it was my job to clear a path through that mass of people to get this guy to the doctors. In the rain. Now, I don’t know what poor Ravi Shankar might have thought, but throughout his performance, as we worked our way through the spectators, people in front of our procession were rising, clearing out of the way and then sitting back down behind us after we had passed. That in itself was noisy and then added to that we had to shout at them to get them to move, so I think that he might have noticed the disturbance. At any rate, we got the poor fellow to the first aid tent and trudged back through the crowd. The rain eventually let up and Melanie came on around 10:50 PM and was followed by Arlo Guthrie who lauded the crowd telling them “That’s far out man…lotta freaks!” Joan Baez took the stage at around 1:00 AM and did an hour long set wrapping up what had been an amazing day of music. My shift over, I had wandered down to the side of the stage and saw her do the last few songs up close and even got to listen to her talking to a small group of people and exchanged a few words with her as she was leaving. I had always liked her music, but listening to her talk about her anti-war efforts impressed me even more. She was, and still is one fine performer and human being.
Now I don’t recall exactly when he started, but some time earlier, on Wednesday or Thursday, a long haired bearded fellow wearing a knee-length leather coat started to show up about once an hour, making the rounds of our trailers with a huge pipe, always filled with opium and proceed to get everyone really ripped. He wasn’t selling it, although he would hand out little white speckled pieces of this sticky black opium and continuously fill his pipe. He maintained this hourly routine each evening for the duration of the festival. Bless his sweet opiated soul. He had come by late on Thursday night and got me righteously zonkered before I crashed. And, after I wandered back up to my trailer following Joan’s set, he showed up and once again I blissfully collapsed into a peaceful opium induced sleep.
To be continued…
© 2019 nightpoet all rights reserved
~ Alfred Lord Tennyson ~
© 2019 nightpoet all rights reserved
~ Albert Camus ~
© 2019 nightpoet all rights reserved