A special section – Woodstock Nation. First of a three-part series. Part 2 | Part 3
August 16, 2009 – The Woodstock Music & Art Fair began 40 years ago this Friday afternoon at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y. I had seen an advertisement in the July 27, 1969 Sunday New York Times Arts section, and ordered tickets — $18 for all three days, Aug. 15, 16 & 17, 1969.
Twenty years later, I was lifestyles editor of The Providence Journal, and the task of doing the 20th anniversary package fell to me by default, since I’d been there. I interviewed 50 other Rhode Islanders who were also there, and published a 3-day series on the concert.
Two years ago, these stories became part of a college history textbook, Time It Was: American Stories from the Sixties, published by Prentice Hall.
There’s a lot of Woodstock revisionism going on now, so long after. The facts haven’t changed.
Here’s Part 1 of that 1989 series. Parts 2 and 3 will publish Saturday and Sunday.
A special section – Woodstock Nation. First of
a three-part series.
BY SHEILA LENNON
Journal-Bulletin Lifestyles Editor
The rain of Friday night had turned Max Yasgur’s dairy farm to cowdung mud, and now the August sun was pumping it back up as steam. In little puffs it rose to meet the cloud of marijuana smoke hovering over the sweaty people drawn here by the promise of three days of peace and music.
“The sun was beating and beating with the rhythm of the ‘copters,” says Dottie Clark, one of the many from southeastern New England who answered the call. “It had a jungle look.”
Since the night before, tiny helicopters had been dropping musicians and their instruments behind the stage. The drone was familiar. But now big green Army choppers, the same Hueys that strafed Vietnam on the nightly news, were sweeping in behind our backs, loud and low.
“Nixon could wipe out the antiwar movement in one fell swoop here,” murmured a voice behind me, setting off a nervous ripple in our neighborhood. “Paranoia from the sky,” recalls Jim Edwards. A rustle spread over the peaceable hillside, a wrinkle of bad vibes.
“Everybody looked up. I was just gripped with fear,” remembers Mel Ash. “I was 16, but I was actually thinking about my death.”
From the stage, the deep velvet voice of Chip Monck boomed, “Ladies and gentlemen, the U.S. Army . . . Medical Corps,” as the choppers’ red crosses came into view.
All weekend, the National Guard would drop sandwiches and blankets and performers and instruments, evacuate casualties and laboring mothers, and assault us with fire hoses to cool us off.
Sunday, as we stood 6 inches deep in mud, a tiny private plane swooped down to spray us with daisies, a gift from Festival organizers.
Welcome to Woodstock. These are our war stories.
Rumors of The Woodstock Music and Art Fair had been in the air all summer.
Joe Landry ran a folk club in Cleveland at the time, and hung out with musicians. “Everyone was hyping it as the happening of the century. They were gonna make it as big as they possibly could,” he remembers. “Of course they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.”
By late July, bright posters with a whimsical logo of a dove perched on the neck of a guitar began popping up on telephone poles throughout the East. The magic words were “3 days of peace and music.” It was like broadcasting a radio signal, and anybody tuned in would get it. Somehow they’d find White Lake, N. Y.
This festival was fielding a band list that read like the course description of Rock ‘n’ Roll 101. If we were typed by the music we liked, all kinds of people would show up here, fans of Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Tim Hardin, Richie Havens, The Incredible String Band, Ravi Shankar, Sweetwater, Keef Hartley, Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Mountain, Santana, The Who, The Band, Jeff Beck, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jimi Hendrix, Iron Butterfly, The Moody Blues or Johnny Winter.
With a lineup like this going on in his backyard, it seemed likely that Bob Dylan would drop by and sit in. What the heck, maybe the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, too.
By surrounding the music with an art show, music and craft workshops, a bazaar, food booths and hundreds of acres for camping, festival organizers guaranteed that nearly everybody under 30 except Tricia Nixon would want to be there. Coming together seemed long overdue.
Rhode Island’s ‘beats’
” Woodstock Nation was pre-Vietnam,” says David DelBonis. “There was a beatnik culture on Thayer Street. The guy who lived next door to me in Johnston – Richard Carbone – used to take me to the Tete a Tete coffee house, to Jone Pasha’s. He bought me e.e. cummings’ poems, at 7, 8 years old. That changed my whole life. I knew there was an alternative.”
Jack Kerouac explained the “beat” attitude as “a weariness with all the forms, all the conventions of the world.”
“They were nice people,” DelBonis said of Rhode Island’s beats. “They had their own little business and their own little community and they played music. They were much more sensitive than the people I knew in Johnston. They didn’t want any part of the ‘commercial’ world. They were interesting, and they were interested in art, they traveled and enjoyed the things of the world. Everybody can’t be that way or we couldn’t function, but I saw a whole other world.”
Pop art, Eastern religious ideas, John Kennedy’s Peace Corps and Bobby’s idealism, Dylan and the Beatles, anthropology courses on cultures that ate “magic mushrooms” and peyote buttons for spiritual visions were absorbed along with Buddy Holly, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, Percy Sledge and Hermann Hesse’s mystical novel, Steppenwolf.
At Hope High, Shelly Lynch decided a beatnik was something to be. She went to NYU’s theater department in Greenwich Village. “We were gonna grow up and live in a little white house,” she says. “Then the ’60s happened.”
When the ads appeared in the underground press and the New York Sunday Times Arts section July 27, the response was overwhelming. At $7 a day and a pricey $18 for the weekend, the official expectation was a crowd of 150,000. But before the festival opened, Woodstock Ventures had sold 200,000 tickets, and had requests – but no more printed tickets – for 100,000 more.
The festival was almost held in the ominously named Wallkill, but the town balked. Less than a month before the festival was to happen, Yasgur, a prominent citizen of Bethel, agreed to rent his cow pasture, a natural amphitheater, for $60,000 for three days.
In Hebrew, Bethel means a holy or consecrated spot. A good omen. With the help of 80 people from the Hog Farm Commune in New Mexico, a staff who were into the music and into the lifestyle, Woodstock Ventures began to build a city.
By Wednesday night, 50,000 people had already come to Bethel. In Providence, WBRU was announcing that Woodstock would be a free concert. There hadn’t been time to build the gates.
The road to Woodstock
Hope High senior Joseph Caffey and his friends took the bus to New York City, planning to catch a bus to the festival. There was no bus, but there were 250 kids. They improvised:
“We rented U-Haul trucks and hired bus drivers to drive them,” said Caffey, now director of rental rehabilitation for the City of Providence. “We chipped in, collected from everybody and headed up to Woodstock.” The trip was a metaphor for what was to come, physically uncomfortable but high-spirited. At one point they were stopped by police for having the back doors open, and had to finish the trip in the hot, stuffy darkness of the box.
“The water pump went and the truck broke down 20 miles away,” says Mike Kaprielian, who had joined the Navy two months earlier rather than be drafted. “We knew something special was happening, because when we piled out of that truck and stuck out our thumbs, 50 cars must have lined up to pick us up.” They couldn’t get closer than 10 miles, “so we walked in the rest of the way. I had just finished basic so I was in shape,” Mike recalls, “but Joe was huffing.” Five minutes after getting to the field, they got separated and didn’t see each other again for 19 years.
By Friday, thousands of people had converged on the Port Authority terminal at Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street, lining up under signs that read “Woodstock Festival Load Here.” Among them was John Rossi, who had seen an ad for the Aquarian Exposition in Providence’s underground newspaper, Extra. Rossi, 38, now works for the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C., as a computer systems software specialist, devising ways to ensure the security of top-secret information, but at the time he had just graduated from Mount Pleasant High School. The atmosphere of the “party bus” set the tone for the weekend: He recalls a camaraderie never experienced before or since. Rossi’s bus stopped within a mile of the field.
After the festival, the Short Line bus company ran ads featuring pictures of the drivers who manned the party buses, along with little quotes such as “We have a lot to learn from them about getting along together,” “They don’t look at the public the way the public looks at them,” “I don’t understand why they wear long hair but now I don’t care . . . And they’re the most no-griping, no-complaining, patient and generous, respectful kids I’ve ever met. Come on kids and ride with me. It’s a pleasure driving you.”
A bit later in the day, the bus carrying Dena Quilici of Providence, then 19, gave up three miles away. Meanwhile, her future husband, Jim Edwards, who worked at India Imports of Rhode Island, was driving the company van towards Woodstock, accompanied by anybody he knew who needed a ride. He didn’t know Dena.
He found a dirt road and followed it. It led directly to the festival grounds.
‘The endless vans’
Friday morning, the New York State Thruway was jammed with cars, long hair streaming out of every window, peace sign decals on back windows and Make Love Not War bumper stickers. Most amazing were the psychedelically painted vans and school buses with faraway license plates – California, New Mexico. The communes had come East flying their colors.
“The endless vans,” said Dottie Clark, “were kitchens, bedrooms, dance floors.”
Near the site, traffic slowed, and people with guitars, bongos, flutes, pan pipes, whistles or bells clambered up on hoods and trunks, serenading the bumper-to-bumper traffic. There was dancing on van roofs, and anticipation in the air. People tired of walking hopped on your hood and rode with you for a while. These were, as John Haerry of West Greenwich put it, “the days of high hippiedom.”
At the White Lake exit, one lone policeman had closed the ramp, but cars crossed the median strip and exited from the southbound lane onto the gridlock of Route 17. Complicating the mess was a junkyard of overheated cars by the side of the road. Amateur mechanics swarmed over them. If they couldn’t be restarted, their passengers were scooped into any vehicle still moving, and the beat went on.
Michelle Keir of Warwick recalls tossing a deli pickle to the car behind her, never dreaming how precious that pickle would seem the next hungry day.
Chris Heinzmann of Pawtucket, who had piled into his father’s International Travelall with his two older brothers and five friends, remembers that “everybody was yelling back and forth, having a good time.”
Cheri Light spent Friday night in the woods 10 miles away. Saturday she walked and rode to the site on the hood of a car behind a giant moving van. When traffic jammed, the back doors opened up and four bikers zoomed down a ramp and up the road.
John Sousa of Rumford remembers that “When cars got stuck (on the already wet dirt roads), people would literally lift them up. We were spontaneously working together.”
The traffic jam was fun.
Cars were ditched at whatever point their drivers decided this was as close as they were getting. These pioneers circled the wagons and cordoned themselves off in the center of a parking lot with a 10-mile radius.
Rental is right. It a housing job.
Dennis Lemoine parked in a field where he could hear the music. “A farmer came up on a John Deere with a shotgun,” he says. They moved, and the woman who owned the second field came out and said, “Please don’t make a mess, and don’t keep us up all night.”
By Friday night, police blockaded the main roads. Most people who heard what was happening Friday and tried to crash the big party were just too late.
David Del Bonis, who arrived in Bethel on Wednesday to pitch in, watched the crowd swell. “If all the people who were blocked out had gotten in, you would’ve had a mess, from sheer numbers and from the partiers who were trying to get there,” he said. “The people who came early enough to get in were a different kind of people. The authorities did a great job. They blocked it at the right time.
“You had a good balance: The people who were there ahead of time had already gotten into the feeling of the whole thing and the helping and the sharing, and then enough people came to give you the masses. So the powers that ran it had already set the tone, and that’s why it never got out of hand.
“Security was just to keep people mellow,” he added.
For those who did make it, the long walk in the company of thousands made an indelible impression. Dottie Clark, who had parked about 5 miles away, thought the road “looked like an old movie of refugees leaving Berlin.”
Friday, the people who lived by the roadside couldn’t help enough. One middle-aged woman urged me to take oranges and drink from her hose. There had been radio reports that residents were charging a dollar for a drink of water, and she was outraged. “We’re not that kind of people,” she said.
John Sousa remembers families on the lawn flashing peace signs and, amazingly, police doing it, too. “It was the first reassuring element,” he said. Others would follow: A farmer who milked his cows and gave away milk, and hoses that ran constantly.
Six or so abreast, we streamed up a country road lined with streetwise types quietly muttering the menu, “Acid, hash, grass . . . Owsley acid . . . Afghani, gold weed . . . sunshine, blotter . . . red Colombian . . . Vietnamese . . . Thai stick.”
(“New Yorkers,” says David Del Bonis disgustedly. “Hard-core New York City people came up and that’s where all the drugs came from.”)
We exchanged sidelong glances. The dealers were being discreet only in the volume of their voices. The police were directing traffic, discussing crowd control, returning peace signs, accepting flowers, smiling and being polite.
We weren’t in Richard Nixon’s America anymore.
Colors on top of a mountain
Blue and brown were the colors of Woodstock. Blue jeans and sky, tanned skin and mud and bare stage.
Coming up the road and over the hill behind the stage, the first view of the festival field was stunning. Many of our brains could not process what our eyes saw.
The hillside was seething with moving bumps as far as I could see. Cheryl Godek Curran saw colors on top of a mountain. We each asked our friends, “What’s that?”
“That” was rows of densely packed heads stretching to the horizon.
How many of us? The respectable conservative estimate is 400,000. Ty Davis, who was at both Watkins Glen (which officially drew between 600,000 and 650,000) and at Woodstock, says Woodstock was bigger. There was no way to know. Little festivals were going on wherever the traffic stopped. Some people who never heard a note report having a wonderful time.
To Phil Kukielski, it was like “walking onto the set of a Fellini film. I had a sense of what the world would be like if it were run by people 18 to 25.”
Freedom in the air
The concert that came to be called Woodstock began a few minutes after 5 p.m. Friday, August 15, 1969. Black folksinger Richie Havens was tapped, simply because he was available and no other bands were. Woodstock Ventures had rented every helicopter they could book, but the ferrying process was way behind schedule. When the helicopter came for Havens, he was the only performer available who didn’t come with complex equipment that would demand a time-consuming sound check. Havens’s acoustic guitar set could be the sound check for the evening.
The crowd, growing by the minute, was happy it was finally underway. There had been a false start earlier when Swami Satchananda took the stage and talked about peace, but that had merely been the invocation.
Havens sang every song he knew, including Here Comes The Sun and The Universal Soldier, which drew cheers from this group who were facing a test of their core philosophy: make love, not war. Then he made up Freedom, the song on the album, on the spot, because he felt freedom in the air, and nobody was ready to follow him. Woodstock, the concert, was off to a fine start.
‘What’s it spell?’
Country Joe McDonald was near the stage when Havens came off. McDonald’s band, The Fish, wasn’t around, but Michael Lang asked him to kill time with an acoustic set. What happened next is one of the few Woodstock moments everybody who was there remembers. Everybody. It was called the Fish Cheer.
After a lackluster 20 minutes, Country Joe (nobody called him McDonald) was dying out there. With nothing to lose, he called out, “Give me an F. . .”
Well trained by football cheerleaders, the crowd came to its feet and followed along through four letters that don’t spell fish.
Then “What’s it spell? . . . What’s it spell? . . . What’s it spell? . . . What’s it spell? . . . What’s it spell? . . . What’s it spell?”
“Country Joe, like Abbie Hoffman, seemed to understand we had a tendency to take ourselves too seriously,” said Jim Edwards.
Chris Heinzmann recalls, “Half a million people didn’t say that word in public at the same time.”
John Sousa, a member of the Rhode Island National Guard at the time, remembers, “It felt great. I felt free. The F word is horrifying for some people to hear. This was freedom of speech.”
Besides, “The F word was common in basic training.”
With the sound of the liberated word still vibrating in the air, Country Joe segued right into the catchy little ditty called I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag. The audience picked it up, singing along and dancing merrily. It was fun.
If there’s a collective memory for our deathbeds, a song that took permanent root in the consciousness of a generation, this is it. This ditty became the de facto anthem of Woodstock:
. . . Now come on mothers throughout the land
Pack your boys off to Vietnam
Come on fathers, don’t hesitate
Send your sons off before it’s too late
Be the first one on your block
to have your boy come home in a box
And it’s one, two, three,
what are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam
And it’s five, six, seven,
open up the pearly gates,
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We’re all gonna die
The cheers and whistles rocked the night. For a moment, time had stopped for me. I was stunned. Looking around in midchorus, I realized that some of these joyous, vital young men around me would indeed come home in a box, as had so many before them. The horror of war usually brings the message home, but war had never seemed so senseless to me as at that lighthearted, macabre moment.
Country Joe soon found it hard to get bookings, perhaps because booking him was not only political, the Fish Cheer might be part of the package. The IRS audited him. He suspected his phone was tapped. His career stalled. He had become identified with one song that summed up an era people would soon try to forget.
The veteran whose Woodstock performance is burned in our brains says he never said they wouldn’t fight; he just wanted to know – and still does – “What are we fighting for?”
John Sebastian followed Country Joe. He had just left the Lovin’ Spoonful – the San Francisco band that sang “The magic’s in the music and the music’s in me” – but was not booked for Woodstock. He had just come to hear the show, but couldn’t resist the chance to play this crowd, despite having just swallowed God knows what chemical compound. He wore tie-dye from head to toe, and sounded spaced out and hokey – hippie-dippie – to me. But Cheryl Godek Curran felt the combination of Country Joe and John Sebastian left the crowd feeling unified against the war.
Tim Hardin, who wrote If I Were a Carpenter and Reason to Believe, seemed too fragile for this population. I liked his songs, but he played a disappointing set.
Chris DeLuca especially wanted to hear the Incredible String Band, a Scottish band whose work is described as avant-garde folk. They had played at Newport, opened for for Judy Collins and Tom Paxton, and were riding a crest after a lovely album entitled The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter.
But “the audience was unresponsive to them,” says a disappointed DeLuca, who heard rude comments about their performance in his neighborhood.
Nobody seems to remember Bert Sommer, a folksinger who had been in the Broadway musical Hair, which introduced the notions of the Age of Aquarius and hippie nudity to the masses in 1968.
The long road to the stage passed by a pond full of unself-conscious skinny-dippers. Most of this multitude of middle-class kids had never seen groups of people of both sexes take their clothes off together. It was apparent that we were about to examine our taboos.
Most of the nudity that so shocked the older generation about Woodstock came as a result of being mud-crusted and ripe-smelling, hot and miserable. Bathing in their birthday suits became, for many, the lesser evil.
Several people we talked to volunteered that they were among the nude bathers. But the 1980s, like the 1880s, are Victorian enough that we present their comments without attribution, to spare them both their good names and obscene phone calls.
* “I remember going swimming, washing up. I took my clothes off to wash up and cool off. No one watched. Everyone did things at their own pace,” said one woman.
* “I was taking a bath. That’s all it was. I would rather be nude than dirty,” said a practical man.
* “I was naked, or maybe wore just underpants. I felt completely at ease – as if skinny-dipping with best friends. I didn’t feel I was naked among half a million strangers. It was truly wonderful.”
* One festival worker had been standing all day in the hot sun, and was getting sunstroke. She was ordered by a festival honcho to get cooled off.
* “You took your clothes off and went in the pond because you didn’t want to get your clothes totally wet. That was basically the nudity, except for isolated incidents. When the sun came out, some women took their blouses off, but it wasn’t craziness. We didn’t even pay attention to it. It didn’t mean anything.”
Although it seemed important to passers-by to be nonchalant, different things were going on inside them.
“I didn’t see anybody getting intimate together, but I did see a little bit of nudity,” Chris Heinzmann says. “Being 14, I thought it was great. I wasn’t gonna take off my clothes, but I thought it was neat. There weren’t that many people doing it.”
Phil Kukielski wasn’t shocked. “It wasn’t lewd. There was a gentle, nonpredatory ambiance to it,” he recalls. “It was a celebration, an expression of being comfortable enough to take off your clothes without embarrassment, like brothers and sisters.”
Susan Vogler saw some bare-breasted women, and remembers walking over people making love. “I was embarrassed, but I thought ‘Good for them.’ I couldn’t do it but look at them – that’s what everything was about. Be free, don’t worry about what the future brings.”
John Haerry’s first response was, ” ‘Wow, naked women]’ But after a while,” he says, “it was ‘Hey, nice pond, chuck your clothes and go swimming.’ “
Al Puerini says he “felt like a voyeur. We’d look in amazement, shake our heads and say ‘This is unbelievable.’ They were totally self-unconscious.”
John Sousa remembers “one guy doing cartwheels in the nude all the way down to the stage.” His was perhaps the only way to get all the way from the back of the crowd to front, and quickly, too. He was roundly cheered.
All this freedom didn’t really lead to “Why don’t we do it in the road?” It depended on who you were, how old you were and with whom you had come.
Certainly, lovers who had been intimate at home probably found a way to be so at Woodstock, but without a tent, it wasn’t easy. Maybe on the West Coast people were freer, but making love in the mud surrounded by a half-million people trying not to step on you was not most people’s idea of a good time.
Joe Landry was 29. He spent a lot of time at Woodstock with the people from New Mexico’s Hog Farm Commune, who were older and much less conventional than the college students still living at home. David DelBonis, who also hung out at the Hog Farm, said “The Hog Farm people were totally outrageous. They were in another universe.”
“There was a lot of love going on,” says Landry.
But “free love” didn’t mean a free lunch.
“I got turned down by more women at that time,” DelBonis chuckles. “I don’t think the ’60s were as wild as everyone thought they were. People made easier attractions, maybe. I never thought of it as a sexual revolution.”
Mike Kaprielian, who was 19, says, “I went to Woodstock a virgin, and I left a virgin.”
“It wasn’t the type of environment that was conducive to forming really close personal bonds,” said John Haerry. “A lot of people came with a group they were hanging out with, and they tended to stay together and keep an eye on each other. Other contacts were just ships passing in the night.”
People were constantly roaming, all day, all night. “Everyone was so friendly to each other. It was a constant movement of people, hooking up with a group of people for a while, sharing with them, then moving on,” says Dena Quilici.
Cheri Light remembers, “There was never a pass the whole weekend, not even a suggestion of it. Men walked up and talked to me, but it was just friendly people making conversation.”
Friday night, Woodstock almost felt like a pretty normal outdoor concert. Jim Edwards remembers actually buying a hamburger (from an ad hoc group of New Yorkers misnamed Food For Love who, the day before the concert, threatened to pull out unless they could keep all their profits, and threatened the promoters enough that they called in the FBI. By Saturday, their staff was trading burgers for anything useful, then giving them away.)
Then it began to rain hard during Ravi Shankar’s set. Phil Kukielski, who had come with his future wife just for “folk night,” was holding a wool blanket over their heads as an umbrella. As the rain soaked in, “The blanket got heavier and the smell of wet wool got stronger, to the point of misery,” he remembers.
The rains whipped for about 15 minutes, and then died. The concert resumed, with everyone wet and a mountain chill in the air.
Then Arlo Guthrie came on, and his cheerful good humor changed the vibes. He goofed on how many freaks there were, on how the New York Thruway was closed – something most of us didn’t know. We were unaware of the million or so people trying desperately to get to the exact spot where we shivered miserably.
“Arlo made the crowd totally relax. It was like, ‘Thank God, he’s funny, we can relax.’ If all those people ran, you knew you’d get trampled,” said Dena Quilici.
Troubles went away
“All those troubles kind of went away once you just settled down and started listening to the music,” Ty Davis says.
Sweetwater came and went, leaving no mark on the memory of anyone we spoke with.
About midnight, Kukielski, who lived not far away in Newburgh, N.Y., left the festival. During the long walk to his car, the mud sucked his shoes off his feet. He drove barefoot, taking whatever passable road seemed to lead away from the site.
He pulled into a field and slept in the car with his girlfriend under an airplane beacon that revolved all night with a bright white light, and went home in the morning. After hearing the news reports, his parents hadn’t expected to see him for days.
A new kind of freedom
The only real taboo at Woodstock was violence. Hundreds of thousands of people roaming the woods at night could have meant real trouble.
Despite an atmosphere which John Haerry describes as “The only rule was that there were no rules other than what people established for themselves,” there was no real trouble. The announcers, the bands, all said “We’re in this together. It’s up to us to make it work.”
“You knew you really had to cooperate with the people next to you,” says Dena Quilici.
Kathleen McDevitt remembers, “It was a little bit frightening to have such freedom, like another world where you could do anything, say anything, be anyone, nobody would stop you. It was hard on all of us having that much freedom, it could have gone the other way and been really dangerous. The balance was unnerving, and everybody at the end said, ‘We did it.’ “
“It would be so embarrassing to (be violent) in a sheer crowd that was obviously enjoying itself and full of good feelings. There was a feeling that you were among a select group of people who could gather in such huge numbers without any problems,” said Stephen Shechtman. “We probably thought that half a million of our parents couldn’t get together and do as good a job with it.”
“I knew something could go wrong, but I didn’t feel that it would, same Chris Heinzmann, and about a dozen others.
Points of light
From the stage, announcer John Morris asked us each to light a match, just so we could see how many of us there were. At first, the response was slow but then little lights appeared, far, far away, and we began to get the idea. The cynicism faded. Your light was a gift to everybody else, and marked your place in the big picture. All along the hillside and into the woods as far as you could see were tiny fires.
Michael Craper lit his match and just watched in awe. “I had never seen anything like it,” he reports. “I was mesmerized for about an hour.”
Melanie was on stage next, and and all this incendiary business went on during her set. She later wrote a song about Woodstock called Candles in the Rain, and audiences lit matches whenever she sang it. Now, flicking one’s Bic is a polite way to request an encore.
Joan Baez finished it all off, pregnant and sweet.
Dawn Jabari-Zhou had earlier met someone who knew of an empty chicken coop she and her friends could sleep in. They followed him into the woods, where there was an abandoned coop that didn’t smell. Rain poured in. She rolled her bag out on a plank that was probably a former chicken roost. “Back then, we trusted each other completely,” she says.
Woodstock, Day One, was over.
Bid goodnight from the stage with a solemn reminder that the person next to us was our brother, hundreds of thousands of wet, tired people crept off to the woods, under or into vans, or stayed on the field, sleeping where they had roosted.
Tens of thousands of others, too keyed up to sleep, milled all night by firelight. This convention of the unconventional had just begun.
There were easily 500,000 points of light in Woodstock Nation that night.
By Sheila Lennon. Source.