- Posted July 29, 2009 by
Newark, New Jersey
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Woodstock: 40 years later
The experience of a lifetime
Someone in our group of friends mentioned that there was a rock concert in upper state New York one day. Details were sketchy but I went ahead and ordered two tickets for all three days of music. I spent $36 which, in 1969, was a fairly large amount of money for my girlfriend and myself to attend. We were probably one of the very few people that actually paid for tickets. Us being city folks from Newark, New Jersey we jumped at the chance to camp out and have our favorite groups play “our” music.
We also were experienced campers and fully equipped with food, tents, camping equipment, etc. So off we went late Thursday evening with two cars and 3 or 4 motorcycles. (Many years later we learned that my girlfriends Aunt, who was her guardian at the time, tried to put out an APB on her because she didn’t want her 16 year old at some “hippie” festival. The cops, however, refuse to do it due to the impossibility of finding her or something like that.) We arrived at Max Yasgur’s farm and drove near the stage area but took a right up a hill just before the stage area. We camped out on that hill which was almost directly behind the stage. People were friendly and turning you on but we were pretty tired by then and sacked out in our sleeping bags anywhere we could. The next morning we established a campsite and the PA system was playing something from Crosby, Stills and Nash. We all rushed down towards the stage to see if they were actually playing on stage. It was then we realized it was just record playing through the PA.
We watched with some amusement as the crowd grew by the hour. We witness Richie Havens open the concert and from there everything was a blur. The Who, Sly and the Family Stone, Hendrix and all the “main” groups of the time were there. A rumor circulated that Gracie Slick of the Jefferson Airplane was roaming around the area and that Hendrix was turning people on. There were nude people walking around like it was the most natural thing in the world and Johnny Appleseed’s passing out a variety of free drugs. Marijuana hung in the air. People would greet you with the peace sign and then offer you a “cigarette”. Of course down by the lake, nudity was the norm of the day.
Then the rains came and from our vantage point on that hill, it was fearsome sight to watch the black clouds rolling in as the winds picked up. To say the least the rain made a mess of everything. Motorcycles spinning their wheels in the mud and cars just plain stuck, not that we were going anywhere. But the rain had its affect on the concert as well. Light shows were canceled and they tried to do a light show “directly on your eyeball” but that didn’t work out too well.
Eventually there were medic tents for people OD’ing on drugs. I remember looking up towards the outer ridge of the concert area and seeing a truck with a pile of people that looked pretty spaced out. The truck was headed towards the medic tents. And then there was the drinking water problem. Yasgur had brought in water tanks because he was offended that his neighbors were charging people for water…..remember, this is 1969 and bottle water was not a common thing back then. Anyway, if you drank the water from the tanks they would put a few drops of chlorine in it just for safety.
We had a great time as a group and there were people from all over the country dropping by at your campsite sharing stories, food and whatever else they had to barter. I’ve always been proud of the fact that I was there. I still have my ticket which was never collected and the promotional booklet that few people have ever seen. It was the experience of a lifetime for me and my friends, a few of which have passed away but those of us that are still kicking share this bond. I did take pictures but most of them were lost to time or misplaced. The car in the picture above is my "ironhorse" of the time, a '65 Rambler American. I remember someone asking me what I was taking pictures of. I turned around and said "history", I'm taking pictures of music history.
Last year, in 2008, I went back to Woodstock to see if I could locate our campsite after 39 years but it seems that the landscape has changed because the hill behind the stage is no longer there. A house now sits on that land which slowly slopes up towards a road. Perhaps they graded the land to their liking or it’s not the real site. Maybe the years have fogged my memory cells and I'm not remembering right. I don’t know but someday I will go back to Woodstock with a friend’s picture collection and solve this mystery.
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair as it was officially called should be remembered just as it was promoted “Three days of Peace and Music”.