The Woodstock Music & Art Fair— better known simply as “Woodstock” began on today’s date, August 15th in 1969 — 45 yeas ago. Billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music”, it came to symbolize all that that decade of youth and counterculture had come to symbolize… “peace”, “love”, or at least “free love” drugs, psychodelia, and all of that young yippie life. At least that’s what I think it was all about… I was only 8 years old at the time, and never quite understood the mindset. But it certainly was a kind of watershed moment for that generation, so I felt that it definitely should be mentioned here.
It was held at the 600-acre dairy farm in the Catskills belonging to Max Yasgur, near the hamlet of White Lake in the town of Bethel, New York. It lasted from August 15 to 18, 1969. The weather was pretty rainy through much of the festival, so one sees a lot of muddy hippies in the pictures from this crazy few days. 32 acts performed outdoors in front of 400,000 young people. And the list of acts reads like a “Who’s Who” of 1960’s musical popular acts, going form Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie on day one to Santana, to “the Grateful Dead” to “Credence Clearwater Revival” to Janis Joplin on day two to Crosby, Stills, and Nash to Jimmy Hendrix on day three.
“It was like ‘Alice in Wonderland'”
Iris Shapiro remembers: “We took our “stuff” (we really hadn’t thought about what to bring, just sleeping bags and a change of clothes) and started walking. The only thing I can describe it as would be a “pilgrimage to Mecca.” Everyone was heading in the same direction with various items of baggage.
“Finally, we approached the fence of the event itself. At the very point that we reached the fence, I witnessed the enormity of the crowd pushing forward. I saw the multitude actually trample the fence, pushing it over, and proceed through, like a stampede of cattle. Our tickets were no longer of any value. Of course, we followed.
“As the dark settled, the show began. Now my husband will find this abominable, but I don’t really remember the music! I was so involved with the enormity and diversity of the audience and the general scene that I felt like Alice in Wonderland.”
“I fell asleep to ‘the Grateful Dead’….”
A friend of Ted Kraver’s recalls:
” I remember Gabe Pressman, a local NY broadcaster, standing at the edge of the stage telling the camera about the terrible conditions—I wanted to yell “We’re having fun, Gabe” but he wouldn’t have heard me in any case. The festival was an eye-opening experience for a shy kid from the suburbs. I was very naïve about drug use going in and much less so going home. I saw more flesh than I ever had, though rarely from the girls I would most have enjoyed watching. But generally, I saw kids on the cusp of adulthood acting more like grown-ups—cooperating, helping each other out, dealing with challenging
situations—than the grown-ups I knew. Or the grown-ups we turned out to be, I’m sad to say. In the end, Woodstock was still about the music and that was overwhelming. I was a Buffalo Springfield fanatic so I went to see the unknown successor band, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. They were charming and sang brilliantly (though their guitars needed tuning). I heard the Band, my other favorite group, who were terrific. I fell asleep to the Grateful Dead and woke up to Sly Stone. The Who, Richie Havens and Santana probably made the strongest impression from the weekend. I heard Hendrix echoing through trees as I left for home. “
Hearing Crosby, Stills and Nash
From Greil Marcus of “Rolling Stone” Magazine:
“The band was very nervous. Neil Young was stalking around, kissing his wife, trying to tune his guitar off in a corner… Stills and Nash paced back and forth and tested the organ and the mikes… Finally, they went on. They opened with ‘Suite Judy Blue Eyes’, stretching it out for a long time, exploring the figures of the song for the crowd.. they strummed and picked their way through other numbers, and then began to shift around, Crosby singing with Stills, then Nash and Crosby, back and forth. They had the crowd all the way. They seemed like several bands rather than one.
“Then they hit it. Right into ‘Long Time Gone’ a song for the season if ever there was one; Stills on organ, shouting out the choruses, Neil snapping out lead, Crosby aiming his electric twelve string out over the edge of the stage, biting off his words and stretching them out – lyrics as strong as any we are likely to hear.
‘There’s something, something, something/ Goin’ on around here/ That surely, surely, surely/
Won’t stand / The light of day/ Ooooooohhh! / And it appears to be a long time…’
I have never seen a musician so involved in his music. At one point Crosby nearly fell off the stage in his excitement.”
“The Mammoth Book of Eyewitness History” Edited by Jon E. Lewis, Carroll and Graf Publ. Inc., New York, 1998