Remembering Woodstock’s impact

  • Early morning, 16 August 1969. Route 17B heading toward the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Wikimedia Commons/James M. Shelley—

  • The Who was the penultimate band on Saturday's lineup. They performed early Sunday morning and finished around sunrise. This is that sunrise. Wikimedia Commons/James M. Shelley

  • Woodstock Wikimedia Commons/Mark Goff—

  • In this Aug. 15, 1969 file photo rock music fans sit on a tree sculpture as one leaps mid-air onto a pile of hay during the Woodstock Music and Art Festival held in Bethel, N.Y. To some Americans, the pivotal festival of "peace and music" 50 years ago was an inspiring moment of countercultural community and youthful freethinking. To others, it was an outrageous display of indulgence, moral decay and insouciance in a time of war. To still others, it was just a world apart from theirs. AP File Photo

  • This Aug. 17, 1969 file photo shows music fans seeking shelter is a grass hut at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival in Bethel, N.Y. where the sign above reads "Have a Marijuana." Woodstock will be celebrated on its 50th anniversary, but it won't be your hippie uncle's trample-the-fences concert. While plans for a big Woodstock 50 festival collapsed after a run of calamities, the bucolic upstate New York site of the 1969 show is hosting a long weekend of events featuring separate shows by festival veterans like Carlos Santana and John Fogerty. (AP Photo, File) AP File Photo

  • This August, 1969 photo shows Richie Havens as he performs during Woodstock in Bethel, N.Y. The photo is only one of hundreds made by photographer Mark Goff who, at the time, worked for an underground newspaper in Milwaukee, Wis. Some were published, but the negatives were filed away at his Milwaukee home and barely mentioned as Goff raised two daughters, changed careers and, last November, died of cancer. Dozens of Goff's Woodstock shots are being displayed 50 years later. AP File Photo/Mark Goff

  • In this Aug. 16, 1969 file photo, a young woman naps on top of her car while trying to reach the Woodstock Music and Art Festival in Bethel, N.Y. Organizers had sold 186,000 tickets; ultimately an estimated 400,000 people showed up for the festival on a 600-acre parcel of farmland. AP File Photo

  • In this Aug. 16, 1969 file photo, hundreds of rock music fans jam a highway leading from Bethel, N.Y., as they try to leave the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. AP File Photo

  • Jill Fenner and Stan Jaskolka's wedding in Northampton, five months after Woodstock. Contributed photo

  • Andy Castillo Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo

Published: 8/15/2019 8:18:24 AM
David Paulin of Greenfield

It was early Saturday morning, Aug. 16, 1969 when we (Tim Vielmetti, Jim Grant, John Purves and myself) left for the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival.

On the way, we heard over the radio that the festival had been declared a disaster zone and anyone headed there should turn around and go home. As we were most of the way there, we decided to continue on and check out the scene for ourselves. We stopped about a mile from White Lake, N.Y. I saw some people parking on a man’s property so I stopped and asked if we could park there also. He was very friendly and said we could. 

From there, it was a three-or four-mile hike to the festival. Cars were left abandoned on West Shore Road. They were so tightly parked next to each other that we could have walked the rest of the way on top of them.

At the festival site, we could not believe the size of the crowd. Never have I seen  so many people packed into one place. We had our tickets, but didn’t see anyone collecting them. By that time, it was a free concert.

Quill was playing as we looked for a place to sit. We found one fairly close to the stage and saw Country Joe and Santana, Canned Heat and Mountain. The crowd was packed in like sardines. At one point, I lifted my feet off the ground and didn’t fall. 

That night, we hiked back to our car and set up our tent. We awoke to pouring rain. We walked into White Lake, N.Y. to see if the concert was still going on and decided to go home. Later, we learned the music had started up again late Sunday afternoon and continued on into Monday with Jimi Hendrix closing the show.

I’m glad that I went. Woodstock was truly amazing. It was incredible to see the multitude of people getting along so well. We were well treated by the townspeople of White Lake. Woodstock truly was a cultural phenomenon.

Chip Ainsworth of Northfield

On a muggy night in midtown Manhattan 50 years ago, Colin Campbell bounded across the sidewalk and jumped into my car. Earlier that summer, my music-loving friend from our days at the Bement School had shown up at my house with a Crosby, Stills & Nash album. Now he wanted to watch them play at a music festival in upstate New York. Soon I’d be off to my freshman year in college, so why not?

If only I could write that I climbed the sound towers and made love not war at Woodstock, but it wasn’t to be. The revelers on Max Yasgur’s sloping hayfield were the front line, and we were the stragglers holding up the rear. During the short time we stayed, I never heard a note of music and the only buzz I got was from the swarms of mosquitoes and deer flies.

We parked on a side road behind an endless line of vehicles and blindly followed other latecomers through a dripping wet forest. It was morning and people were sleeping and quietly sitting around campfires. My sore throat made me decide to join them.

Earlier in the week my doctor had prescribed me penicilin, and it worked so well I left the pills at home. Now it was back with a vengeance and I could barely swallow. Colin kept going to the promised land without me. At least I think he did, I’m not really sure what happened to him, all I know is that I felt miserable.

I sat against a tree and fell asleep. When I awoke someone in the ragtag group gave me a can of baked beans. I popped two holes in the top and laid it on the fire, cautious from the time in Boy Scouts when my unopened can had exploded baked beans over everyone.

The food gave me enough energy to trudge back to the car. I think Colin was with me, because the two hitchhikers we stopped for sat in the back. They smiled and didn’t say much. One of them put his pouch in front of him, rolled a joint and lit it. We passed it around and a few miles later I was wasted, cooked, stoned … all of the above.

That weekend was the last time I saw Colin. I went home, and when the Woodstock album was released, I played it constantly. Alvin Lee’s frantic “I’m going home” — “by helicopter”; Gracie Slick waking everyone up saying “it’s time for some morning maniac music,” and my favorite of all, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and Stephen Stills’ famous utterance: “This is the second time we’ve played in front of people, man. We’re scared.”

When the movie came out I dropped a hit of mescaline and watched it at the Hadley Drive-In. It was virtual reality, but without the mud and the rain. Woodstock might have been three days of peace and love, but it wasn't the road to Damascus.

Jill Fenner and Stan Jaskolka of Greenfield

We were at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the summer of 1969.  

My roommate, Joan, had a big car. We filled it with friends, a military-style tent that we’d rescued from the Amherst landfill, lots of canned food and headed out to Bethel that Thursday night with Stan driving. Around sunrise on Friday, we hit the log jam on Route 17B. The two-way road became one way, with cars moving slower than a walking pace.

 A state police officer told us about a back road to the festival, so we came in behind the stage and set up camp in a clearing in some woods.  

The music, beginning with Richie Havens, was incredible.

With all the delays, bands would finish playing around mid-morning; then we’d have a break for four or five hours before the music started up again. People co-existed for three-plus days through the rain, the mud, the lack of food and drinking water.  Everyone shared what they had and local farmers and residents brought in food, too.  Even with more than 400,000 people in less than ideal conditions, there were no fights. There was no violence at all.  

The closest thing to that came when Abbie Hoffman got on the stage during the Who’s set and grabbed a microphone. Peter Townsend booted him off the stage.

The Woodstock Music and Arts Festival is very special to Stan and me.  We had known each other as friends for over a year and that changed during those three days of peace and music. We became sweeties there and married five months later. This year, we are celebrating not just the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, but also our own 50th anniversary.

Andy Rothschild of Greenfield

I attended the original Woodstock Music Festival. I know that I was there because I remember parking my car far away from the event and walking in the rain in a long line of other festival-goers. It was free by the time that my girlfriend at that time and I arrived. I also know that I was there because she reminds me of our adventure from time to time. Other than that, I don’t remember much. I can’t imagine why.

Jody Hall of Ashfield

I felt more excitement about Woodstock watching the PBS documentary than I experienced while I was there.

Ten years ago, the New York Times showed a number of home-movies submitted in honor of the festival’s 40th anniversary. I watched them all, hoping to glimpse my family’s Volkswagen bus, which we took to the festival — painted for the occasion like a Mondrian painting in big blocks of primary color. When it appeared I was ecstatic.

On the Friday of that weekend, my friends and I joined a line of vehicles driving at a snail’s pace toward the site. Finally, we parked the truck and walked. Nobody around us knew whether we were heading in the right direction, much less how far away the site was. Five miles? Ten miles? My friend and I were exhausted from running a camp for pre-teens in New Hampshire. On Thursday night, we’d slept through rain in and under the bus. We had no food, no sleeping gear, no tickets, and almost no money.

None of these limitations gave us pause.

We were heading toward the culmination of our youth — thousands of us gathering to hear the extraordinary music of the late-1960s. What made us turn around was the hundreds of colored pills we found all over the muddy ground. Somehow our exhaustion, the knowledge of one more week of pre-teens and the sight of mud and pills sucked the joy out what lay ahead.

We spent the rest of the weekend in a suburban house in Albany, parents absent, playing poker and listening to LPs.

Deborah Scalli 

Last Saturday marked the anniversary of the day I left for Woodstock.

I worked at Southern Bell in Atlanta — the night shift — and when I left around 3 a.m., I would hang out on the strip. On that night, a van pulled up and someone asked me if I wanted to go to Woodstock, a rock festival. I'd never heard of it but the driver said, “You look like a free spirit, get in.” 

I couldn't resist a challenge and got in.

Off I went wearing a tank top and jeans. In the back were the guys who built the stage. They did dope and slept the whole way. I sat in the front seat with a Vietnam veteran, who was driving, and a boy my age, 18 years old.

I was no hippie and I stood out. At one point on the ride, a girl in the back saw my bra strap and made me take it off and throw it out the window.

On arrival, I was alone.

I walked around the festival site constantly, on speed and mescaline and when people started arriving, I was told that if I couldn't pay for a ticket I had to work at a hamburger stand. When the rains came, our stand collapsed and my fellow workers and I laid under the roof to stay dry.

Some kid came along and asked if we had any money. We gave him the contents of the cash box because the revolution was here and we wouldn't need money. We were freezing cold and had lanyards so we got backstage.

I sat there all three days, met a lot of people and gave Janis Joplin my last hit of acid. She said Gracie needed it when she got offstage. I watched Janis kick some guy in the balls when she thought he disrespected them.

One of the Hog Farmers said I could borrow a jacket for one hour. A New York City cop tried to find a jacket for me and people gave him rags, a sleeve and a sock so he gave me his New York City police raincoat. The Incredible String band took me to the food area and gave me a piece of chocolate cake.

Finally, two of the Jefferson Airplane roadies took me to their truck to sleep. One promised to wake me up for Jimi Hendrix and when he couldn't, he carried me to the stage and laid me down in the back. We were among the first to leave.

Tom Almstead of Deerfield

With less than two weeks until my induction in the United States Army, I was looking for something fun to do. I heard talk of a music festival in New York and thought, “why not?”

So, I packed my brother's duffel bag and walked from my parents’ house on Thayer Road to the gas station across the road from Howard Johnson’s. I needed a roadmap to figure out how to hitchhike to this Woodstock place. Not finding it on the map, I noticed a station wagon with New York plates gassing up. A middle-aged woman, her young daughter, and a young man my age were going home after a vacation in New Hampshire. 

I asked if she knew where Woodstock was, her reply, “I live there, would you like a ride.” She brought me to her home, fed me some lunch, and gave me the home phone number in case of emergency. 

It took a while more to hitch to the festival site, but being Thursday, I got in before the traffic jams took hold. I had a great time at the festival and kept dry in the tent of some New Jersey festival-goers. 

As I was making a sign for hitchhiking, a guy with only the clothes on his back and a small bag on the end of a pole asked if he could use my marker so he could also make a sign. He wrote “L.A. Calif.”

I hope he made it.

Paul Jablon of Greenfield

On a Friday afternoon, my friends Jimmy DeLigio, Charlotte Miska and myself got into DeLigo’s late-‘50s Dodge with fins and a push-button transmission and headed up the New York Thruway to see the Woodstock rock and roll and folk festival that we had first seen advertised in the New York Times.

The thruway got more crowded as we got into the Hudson Valley and closer to the exit. One by one, each of the cars pulled onto the shoulder of the road.

Not having any idea of how far away from the site we were, we parked, grabbed our packs or bags and began walking. After a while, I looked to my left and literally did a double take. In front of my eyes was the back of the huge stage filled with speakers and a bowl shaped valley filled with more people than I had ever seen in one setting. Perhaps at that point there were already 200,000 people spread out across the whole landscape. There were to be more than 400,000 people by the time the weekend was over.

We walked on, looking for space to pitch our tents, not an easy job since the promoters had never planned for anywhere near this number of people. Eventually, though, we found open grass, pitched the tents and went out to the field to join the crowd.

Friday night was mostly folk music. I remember walking back to my tent as Joan Baez was finishing her set. In the middle of the night I learned why we found some empty lawn for our tents; it was the edge of the helicopter landing field for the musicians to come in and out.

We hadn’t brought food, since it was advertised as having many vendors. However, they were quickly sold out. I’d brought an extra ground cloth with me and traded that for food. It was a strategy I used successfully the whole weekend, especially as the mud got wetter and deeper.

Each band was better than the next. Issues with the revolving stage and getting musicians in and out by helicopter caused continuous delays, such that bands like Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and the Who played into the wee hours of the morning.

By Sunday morning, it had poured all night and there was so much mud everywhere it looked like a monsoon. It didn’t stop until the afternoon. Along with the sun came the start of more amazing music. I could hear Santana and other groups playing in the distance Sunday as I fell asleep, exhausted.

Much to my surprise when I awoke very early on Monday morning, there were still bands playing. Even a bigger surprise was that during the night my friends had taken down their tent and left without me. No big deal. I packed up my gear, put on my pack, and began walking out the road as Jimi Hendrix was starting his set. I hitched a ride back to the city and took a very long, hot shower at my parent’s house. It really was the start of a new generation in our country.

Woodstock was amazing.


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