I was chatting with my best friend yesterday on Facebook when he said, “oh, happy Woodstock 50 years ago”. Wwwwwhat! So, I did a bit of research and thought I would write about a music festival that still stands alone in the history of music as an indefinable, snafu-ridden, unique, LSD-laced, pandemonium of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Precisely what a counter-culture would/should/could and did order up.
Woodstock started out to be a rock festival for about 50,000, but when advance sales hit 100,000, the organizers scrambled to find a venue to hold that many people. A mere four weeks before the scheduled event, Max Yasgur offered up his pasture for rent, and more than half a million people came.
I heard about the festival in the spring of 1969; the ticket price was high, but the worst thing was the thousands of miles I would have had to hitchhike to get there. I followed news of the festival as well as I could as the roster of groups grew and grew and then shortly before Woodstock actually happened, I found out it would be free! I think my heart stopped and I’ve been kicking my own ass ever since for not even making an effort to go.
I was, like millions of other young people, especially in the US and Canada, there in spirit. The newscasts on TV were disparaging for the most part – the lack of general organization, food, sanitation, police; the monsoon rain, stories of drug overdoses (one death), traffic jams and so on and so forth. What I heard were snippets of fabulous music, and I saw smiles on soaking wet muddy hippies flashing peace signs for the camera crews, dancing and singing and robustly joining Country Joe McDonald in the Fish Cheer, a scathing chant against the war in Vietnam.
The performers that I loved the best include: Santana, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Paul Butterfield and Jimi Hendrix who scandalized the nation with his version of the Star-Spangled Banner on August 17, 1969, the last day of Woodstock. He would be dead in 13 months, followed two weeks later by Janis Joplin.
And the ones that were invited but decided to blow off New York State: Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, Moody Blues, John Lennon, Simon and Garfunkel, the Doors, oh, and Bob Dylan.
The now legendary Woodstock Music Festival inspired an Oscar-winning documentary and an album worth its weight in gold that I still love to listen to. The generation into which I was born stopped a war; we helped draft dodgers and deserters get settled in Canada as much as we could. We embraced sex, drugs, and rock and roll with a passion fuelled by our freedom to do so.
It was an extraordinary time in history, and I still defend two tenets from those days as close to my heart as my soul: Peace and Love.