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WOODSTOCK FESTIVAL, AUGUST 1969

Three Days of Peace and Music (yeah, right!!)

I am reprinting this article from a 2005 post since this month is the 40th Anniversary of the event. I was at the NY1 studios this past week being interviewed for a thirty minute Woodstock special that is supposed to air in about two weeks. I gave them my short two or three minute film I shot on an ancient 8mm camera. We'll see if my film or I make the cut.

Being that this month markes the 40th anniversary of this fabled event, I decided to unleash my recollections of this very famous and overhyped event. It's funny how an epic event such as the Woodstock Festival has been part of American folklore and Rock & Roll for decades. Ask any teenager today and even they have heard of it. Amazing.... I still don't know what the big deal is anyway. Keep reading and you'll hear it as I SAW IT! After all...isn't that what I do here anyway?

Queens, NYC August 1969

I couldn't believe the lineup. When the Concert information first began to hit the hot dirty stoned out streets of NY it was all anybody talked about. I had spent the later part of my teens seeing the best rock groups in the world right here in my little world. Central Park's Schaeffer Beer concerts in the summer, the Legendary Fillmore East, Madison Square Garden, 14th Streets Academy of Music and small Greenwich Village clubs.
THIS WAS DIFFERENT.....They were "All going to be there" All of them! Practically every famous rock group, icons and idols of this counterculture were slated to appear. Unbelievable. Thank you God for letting me live in New York because the festival was about two hours away by bus. The original plan was to have it in the actual town of Woodstock, NY but was changed after the residents freaked out over the freaks that would take over their acorn of a town. The new location, Bethel NY was even closer anyway. I forgot how much the tickets were but I bought one along with my friends Susan and Kenny Johnson. Talk about excitement! Everyone in my neighborhood was going whether they had a ticket or not. Even that drunken quadrapalegic Crazy Mary was going. As a matter of fact....most of the divided groups of the neighborhood were going. We had the Longhaired Rockers from Behrens Ice Cream Parlor, the Lithuanian Pillhead Jonas and his group of white shirt and tie wearing nodders who knew nothing about current rock music unless you could buy it with a prescription. The greasers were going led by Ritchie the Fish.
Even the collegiate crowd were going. They were the ones that wore saddle shoes or penny loafers (with the penny in the slot of course), madras shirts, chinos and lots of navy blue and maroon sweaters.

In other words....E v e r y o n e was going!!

Cut to the first day of the festival...
The bus left Port Authority and dropped us off right at the makeshift entrance gate to Max Yasgur's farm.
That day the weather was nice and there were a lot of people pitching tents on the side of the hill and settling in. Things looked very promising. Then we heard that a group of kids kept knocking down the wire fences that were built to keep out the non ticket holders and from now on it will be a free concert. Being a broke opportunist I quickly ran down to the entrance and when a group of newcomers spilled out of the next bus I started yelling "tickets here, who needs tickets?" In a matter of minutes I was able to unload the three tickets. Yay! now we can buy food!
Next stop....Water! We had brought a few canteens with us and now we need to find a water source. We found one. That's all there was...ONE! There was a pipe sticking out of the ground on a small hill and very long line of people carrying all types of jugs and containers to store the water. Curiously there was one hippy dude in charge of this makeshift oasis holding a small bottle and eyedropper of what he said was chlorine. As each camper filled their container, Mr Lord of the Water would squeeze a drop of chlorine into it..for our own safety of course.
Back to the tent now. Oh yeah, thats another thing, this tent. Being from the city and never having camped before, we hadn't a clue on proper tent pitching and survival in the wilds of a dairy farm. This was a two man pup tent and there were three of us....first mistake! We pitched it on a hill with only the grass and dirt under us and no tarp or plastic of any sort....mistake number two!
The hillside and the entire festival site soon became so crowded it was impossible to find enough ground space for even half a pup tent. We were lucky that we got there when we did. Still it was up to this point quite pleasant. There were many VW mini busses painted with peace signs and psychedelica everywhere. Shirtless freaks throwing frisbee's. Hippy moms in granny dresses breast feeding their babies while smoking a joint. Typical "afternoon in the park" activities for 1969.

We meet a guy on a motorcycle sitting next to us that just came back from VietNam and we adopt him. He wants to know where to get water so I volunteer to take him to the "pipe". I get on the back of his bike and as we start down the hill I start having out of body feelings. As hard as I try to hold on to the seat I keep letting go as if I were about to be lifted. I shake my head, force my eyeballs to stay open but keep falling backwards. Next thing I knew I was floating above the bike holding my own head as if it were somebody elses and I weighed nothing. I was like a flag attached to a hat....flapping in the wind. You know that fun feeling you have when you stick your hand out the window of a fast moving car and keep moving it in wavelike patterns? That was me.
CHLORINE? .... My ASS!!

Hours later, after an endless discussion about the uncanny similarities between Jesus, Jerry Garcia and Snoopy, it was time to head off to the stage area.
The sun was burning up the field where the multitudes gathered. The evil humidity opening every pore on ones body. There wasn't one guy who wasn't shirtless, sweaty and caked with dried dirt, grass stains or a sample of Mr Yasgurs prize cow offerings. Techies and roadies were climbing towers setting speakers, dragging miles of cable across the plywood stage floor and yelling alot. We sat on a patch of dirt and crushed brown grass directly in front of the stage. And waited...and waited...and waited. Are we having fun yet?

Sundown
Ahh the first act of the festival, Richie Havens. Now I always liked Richie but the trouble was....I've seen him a hundred times before. You couldn't go any free concert, demonstration or peace rally without seeing him!
Ok..he really outdid himself so all is forgiven. My memory is a shade blurry about the exact order but I think the next group was an unknown band that even after the festival remained unknown called "Quill".
John Sebastian did his usual smoked out "wow, man's" with complete yellow tie dyed jeans and tee shirt outfit.

On to the major discovery of the fest. SANTANA! Oye Como Va!!!!
Unbelievable...blew everyone away! No one back then had ever seen a combination Latino/Rock group before, and so diverse. Timbales, Congas, Drumsets, Organs, Freaky Mexicans, White Guys and Bro's with Fro's.
Word is that when the concert promoters asked San Francisco's Rock Czar and Fillmore owner Bill Graham for his permission to get the Greatful Dead, he agreed on the condition that they take a new unknown band of his, called Santana. I remember watching this very greasy and sleezy guitar player (Carlos Santana) and saying to myself "this guy is so fuckin ugly but man can he play that guitar!" As the story is told..Carlos wasn't supposed to go on till the night so he swallowed some mescaline and just when it hit him was told that they changed the schedule and he had to go on Now! WoooHoooo!

If this is getting too long for you (ADD/ADHD) readers out there I can stop if you like? No? Ok I'll finish then...

Then the Rains Came..
And kept coming....Horrific winds and horizontal jellybean rain like you wouldn't believe. The ground, after drinking its share of water was now full and would accept no more, so it turned the field into a giant sandbox filled with tons of M U D! Walking through the mire and muck really blew. Everyone lost their shoes and besides the raindrops and ear shattering thunder all you heard was the sucking sound the mud made with every attempted step towards the home base. People were falling into it and getting pulled under like quicksand. Although half the crowd was naked you couldn't tell anymore.
I remember thinking that I wanted to go home but that couldn't happen because the NY State Thruway was closed on account of the thousands of abandoned cars leading to the festival.

Back to our tent.
Hey, when they say it can't get no worse...They're full of shit. It can. It did! As I said earlier in this seemingly never ending post, we pitched the tent on a hill with no plastic under it. Well guess what? Our sleeping bags were now giant sponges. Tired, wet and hungry we laid down on our sleeping bags ignoring the squishy squish sounds our Coleman Sleeping Spongebags made and tried to sleep. The thunder and lightning were relentless. The real stoners were out and about dancing naked in it and now I had to take a leak Christ!!.

Porto-San
The festival brought in those portable telephone booth sized toilets that you see in parks and construction sites. Not anticipating half a million people there weren't enough. I think they probably would have been fine if the turnout was like maybe....oh let's say 200. There were of course long lines to use these facilities but the real fun was going inside one. Every one of them was not only filled to the top of the seat but actually overflowing. I was wondering why the flies I saw were as large as sparrows. I thought it was just the lingering effects of the chlorine I ingested..

Jefferson Airplane, Greatful Dead, Janis? Don't give a shit....wanna go home!!
I don't remember anything after that night except laying on Sponge Bob and hearing my favorite bands playing in the distance, knowing there is no way in hell I am going to trek through that mud and shit again just to have to sit in the mud and shit. I'm in my little patch of Woodstock now. In my tent, legs sticking out getting drenched. Don't Fuck With Me or I'll Fucking Kill You! (and your little dog, too)

Going Home
Just like Alvin Lee of the band "Ten Years After" sang 'Goin Home'.... so was I. The Thruway was now open again. The festival farm area looked like a giant garbage barge without seagulls, just those cute sparrow sized flies. We had about 2 miles to walk to where we could either hitch a ride or catch a bus back to the city. I really don't remember how we got home. On the way down this road was a beautiful fresh looking lake on the right side of the road. The sun was finally out again and starting to heat up the air again. I decided to roll up my pants and wade in the cool water to get a little taste of nature and to refresh myself. The rocks were slimy and slippery and I slipped and stepped on a piece of rock that resembled Armando's switchblade. Like a scene from Hitchcock's "Psycho" the clear water turned to blood and as I tried to get back to the waters edge I fell over and just laid there in the water laughing and screaming like an insane hyena.

Back in NYC
Apparantly the festival was big big news in the city for three days, showing coverage on every tv station. We were hero's returning from the battlefield. We were survivors. Everyone asked for the details. Now it's 36 years later and people still ask for details. You have seen one mans story out of 500,000. Find another Woodstock '69 vet and ask them what they remember. Don't forget to ask them about the chlorinated water.

Finis







This post first appeared on WoodstockGEN, please read the originial post: here

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WOODSTOCK FESTIVAL, AUGUST 1969

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