By the time we got to Woodstock … 48 years ago

Almost 50 years since Woodstock! Hard to believe. So much has happened since then, but while much of it has been forgotten, Woodstock hasn’t. Especially not by BoomerCafé contributor Alan Paul of Hawthorne, New Jersey. This is Part One of his two-part memoir, Going On Down To Yasgur’s Farm.

Alan Paul

It was August of 1969, arguably the most significant year in all of Baby Boomerdom.

Among the notable events: two men had walked on the moon; Nixon was sworn in as President, and essentially ended the draft; the Mets won the World series; the Jets defeated the Colts in the Super Bowl; the Stonewall riots in New York City gave rise to the gay rights movement; a Rolling Stones’ fan was tragically killed at that infamous concert in Altamont, California. And a little shindig in the pastoral farmlands of Bethel, New York, erupted into one of the seminal moments of the post-war baby boom fraternity. Named after the town where it was originally planned (until zoning regulations necessitated its relocation), the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, more than any other single event, defined our generation.

I attended Woodstock with my cousins Joe and John. I recall that on Friday afternoon, August 15th, as we inched slowly into White Lake, New York, a hamlet within the town of Bethel, there were townsfolk along the sides of the road announcing that the village was already bereft of food, water, and gasoline. We drove for a bit and finally stopped to pitch our tent, as so many others had, in the expansive front yard of some benevolent farmer who, along with his wife, dog, and several children, sat bemused on the front porch observing the spectacle.

Jimi Hendrix

Somebody nearby was talking about a pond deep in the woods across the road from where we were tenting, so we followed the crowd through the forest. After a while we came upon a pristine mini-lake filled with not-so-pristine contemporaries cavorting happily in the cooling water. Their clothes, strewn along the shore or hanging from random tree branches, added splashes of tie-dyed brightness to what had become a cloudy late afternoon. Of course we joined them.

Later that day, as we made our way slowly toward the concert grounds, I could barely contain my excitement at the prospect of mingling with the 40,000 or so hippies expected to attend for three days of peace, love, and music. Of course ten times that number actually showed up, and in addition to all that peace, love, and music, there were also rain, mud, and illegal weed in abundance. We found a spot high on the hill and waited for a long time until Richie Havens appeared and played and sang, it seemed, forever. It was many years later that I learned the reason why I only remember Havens on that first night: the other opening night acts couldn’t manage to get into White Lake on time. Havens transported all of us to Heaven for a few soulful hours.

Richie Havens at Woodstock.

At some point in the wee hours of Saturday morning the rain began. We were less than comfortable in our tent, since the four-man canvas structure had swelled considerably with several shelterless concert-goers, including a very pretty and seriously well-endowed young girl who proudly claimed to be a Playboy bunny. We didn’t have the heart to send her out in the rain, which had already rendered her Grateful Dead t-shirt virtually non-existent. It was still raining heavily after dawn broke on Saturday, so the three of us who came together reluctantly agreed to head back home rather than brave the deluge.

A relative lifetime intervened before I returned to Woodstock and Bethel. But I don’t live all that far away, and these days I visit both towns frequently, to keep the generational flame ever glowing. And because it’s so much fun.

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4 Comments

    1. Thanks so much, RS. Loved having been a small part of the festival 48 years ago, and enjoy returning to Woodstock and Bethel today. Thanks again for your feedback.

      1. You might enjoy Barney Hoskyns new book ” Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock. ” It’s a bit gossipy, but gives you a deep sense of how important the area was to rock and roll. Lot’s of discussion of the big festival, too.

        1. Thanks, RS. I just finished it; thought it was great, gossip and all. Currently reading his Hotel California, about most of my favorites from back in the day. Love the similarities between Woodstock of the 60’s/70’s and Laurel Canyon of the same era.

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