"The whole thing is a gas. I dig it all, the mud, the rain, the music, the hassles.” – Young man known only as “Speed.” (Woodstock, 1969)
I was 12 in 1969 – that is, when I wasn’t 11. Either way, I was too young to get to Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York for that outdoor music festival people are still remembering.
I did have a good backup plan though – bike riding with my friends and eating fried bologna sandwiches.
The posters for Woodstock touted it as an “Aquarian Exposition – 3 Days of Music and Peace.” What’s not to like about that?
Over that long weekend in August, some 32 acts performed in front of 300,000 people; others say the number was closer to a half-million.
Creedence Clearwater Revival was the first band signed by the promoters – for $10,000. Some of CCR is supposedly still bitter about the experience because they went on at 3 a.m., and were edited out of the “Woodstock” film.
Big names like The Grateful Dead, Santana, Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker were some of the others that made it.
The Doors were scheduled to play, but cancelled at the last minute, probably because Jim Morrison disliked large outdoor venues. The band’s drummer John Densmore went anyway.
Led Zeppelin declined also. Their manager said, “We’d have just been another band on the bill.” Instead the group went to see Elvis in Las Vegas.
And Jethro Tull passed, reportedly saying he didn’t want to spend his weekend in a field of unwashed hippies. Somebody get him an aqualung.
Tommy James of Tommy James and the Shondells said, “My secretary called and said, ‘There’s this pig farmer in upstate New York that wants you to play in his field.’ That’s how it was put to me. So we passed.”
Bob Dylan was in negotiations to play, but pulled out when his son became ill. He also was unhappy about the number of hippies piling up outside his house near the originally planned site.
Joni Mitchell was also slated to perform, but canceled at the urging of her manager to avoid missing a scheduled appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. Based on what her boyfriend, Graham Nash, later told her about the experience, Mitchell wrote “Woodstock,” for Nash’s quartet.
Supposedly, promoters contacted John Lennon to discuss a Beatles performance. Lennon said that they wouldn’t play unless there was also a spot at the festival for Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band. He was turned down.
A more likely story came out when festival creator Artie Kornfeld met John Lennon. Lennon expressed that he wanted to play Woodstock, but was in Canada and having a hard time getting back in the country at the hands of Richard Nixon.
Remembering Woodstock, David Crosby said, “It was a hectic scene, and we were all kind of winging it. Behind us were Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone – all these bands – and we really wanted to be good in front of them. For me, the high point was going out and singing ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ and getting all the way through it and not screwing up. It was stoned and funny and fine.”
It all ended, surprisingly, with no violence, although two people lost their lives, one from a heroin overdose and one who was run over by a tractor while he slept. Four thousand more had injuries or bad drug experiences.
Open sales of drugs went on throughout the festival, despite continued warnings from the stage that impure and harmful drugs were circulating in the crowd.
Two babies were born during the course of the festival, one in a car stuck in traffic, on nearby Route 17B, and the other in a hospital after a helicopter flight from the site. Four miscarriages also were reported.
If you’ve ever seen the cover of the Woodstock album, then you’ve seen the couple under a blanket. Their names are Nick and Bobbi. They married two summers after the fabled weekend, and they still live less than an hour’s drive from the original concert site.
They discovered themselves on the cover while at a friend’s house listening to the album. First, Nick recognized the yellow butterfly staff in the left corner. “It belonged to this guy Herbie,” Nick says. “We latched on to him that day because he was tripping pretty heavily and he had lost his friends. After I saw that staff, I said, ‘Hey that’s our blanket.’ Then I said, ‘Hey, that’s us.’”
The couple, both now 62, wed in 1971 and are still together 41 years after their iconic picture appeared on the album cover.
Nick says: “To me that image is our generation.”