Three Days of Peace and Music…Memories of Woodstock
BY STEVE WINSTON
Reprinted from my blog at fiftyisthenewfifty.com
I can still remember that now-famous poster on my wall, that summer of ’69.
It was red, with a guitar slung across it, and a white dove standing astride the guitar. “Three days of peace and music,” the poster read. When I woke up each morning in that teenaged summer, it was generally the first thing I saw. And it called out to me, like some irresistible siren.
“Woodstock” was going to be held on a farm in the Catskill Mountains, in upstate New York. It was going to be the greatest rock concert ever held, with performers like The Who, Jefferson Airplane, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Joe Cocker, Richie Havens, Sly & the Family Stone, Joan Baez, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. It was a clarion call to what became known as “the Woodstock Generation.” And damned if I was going to sit home while the rest of the world – my world, anyway – went “up to Yasgur’s farm.”
Besides, the New York radio stations said, we wouldn’t be roughing it. There was plenty of food, plenty of bathrooms, and good sanitation. Don’t bother bringing food, the ads trumpeted…we have enough for 50,000 people!
So, on that day in mid-August, I fired up my Camaro convertible with the green body and the sleek black hood and stripes, packed it full of as many of my friends as would fit, and set out – along with two other similarly-filled cars – for upstate New York.
But, of course, 50,000 people didn’t show up; 500,000 did. I’ll never forget my first sight of what I came to call “the Monster.”
As we came to a hill, and then looked down into the meadow below, I saw a half-million people sitting in a meadow. Imagine, the population of Atlanta or Washington, D.C. sitting in a meadow. Which is why, by the time we had arrived in late-afternoon, and I had waited nearly an hour on line to use a port-o-potty, I realized there wasn’t going to be enough food. Or toilets. Or toilet paper. Or good sanitary conditions.
The food stands had already run out of food – and it was only the first day. So we survived as best we could the next three days…by grubbing, pleading, cajoling, and just-plain begging for food. But – even though just about everyone else was short of food, as well – there was still a wonderful spirit of sharing.
I remember when the music started. Richie Havens came on stage, singing “Freedom, Freedom.” And for a while, we forgot our hunger. Then It’s a Beautiful Day came onstage (remember “White Bird?”). And we allowed ourselves to just be taken away with the music.
And then the rains came. And came. And came. And turned that beautiful meadow into a thick, mucky swamp. And the half-million young people sitting in it into a soaking-wet mass that had come prepared for three days of peace and music – but not summer rains.
I honestly don’t remember a lot about the rest of the weekend. I remember being hungry. And being wet. And I remember the music. But I also remember thinking that this was a really miserable experience. And I remember, on the last day, being scrunched into my Camaro with four other guys, trying to make our way out of the mass. It was steaming-hot that day, and then it started raining again. It must have been over a hundred degrees in the car. But I couldn’t run the A/C…because we were stuck in traffic for hours, and in danger of over-heating.
I remember the three days of music. But I have a hard time remembering the three days of “peace.”
I met a business acquaintance in Denver a few weeks ago, and it turned out he had been at Woodstock, too. Like any two aging ex-hippies, we reminisced…and we smiled at the memories.
Funny how time has a way of making hard memories a bit softer.
Steve Winston (www.stevewinston.com) has written/contributed to 17 books, and his articles appear in major media all over the world.