Today marks the third day of the the 53rd Anniversary of the Woodstock Music And Art Fair. To commemorate this legendary event, today and tomorrow I am re-posting the blog posts I first published in 2014 and 2019. That I was lucky enough at the age of 19 not only to attend the festival, but work there, I felt that it might be enjoyable to share my memories again. It has been said “that if you remember what went on at Woodstock you probably weren’t really there.” I beg to differ. I really do recall quite a lot of what I experienced there. I was kept very busy during the 50th Anniversary commemoration in 2019 doing various newspaper, radio and television interviews. Something I could never have imagined at the time. As I write this today I am 72 years old and am often asked what has stayed with me from Woodstock over the past 53 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…
DOWN ON YASGUR’S FARM ~ PART THREE
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…
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair Festival Poster
An aerial view of the festival before it turned into a mud bath. Photo © Levine
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