Were you there at the original Woodstock Festival in August of 1969? Can you believe it’s been FORTY years? Seems like just a few years ago and, a few lifetimes ago as well.
I lived in Narrowsburg, a small town only about 20 minutes from Bethel, New York which is where the Woodstock Festival actually happened. I think the organizers realized that the topography and size of the village of Woodstock, NY couldn’t handle even 50 thousand people and consequently,Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel (now the home of the Museum at Bethel Woods)was chosen but the name stayed ‘Woodstock’. I clearly remember my father standing in the living room and saying in his usual stern, don’t-even-think-about-questioning-me, tone, “I’d better not catch you even thinking of going anywhere near that place!” and as soon as he was out of sight, I was on my way there with several friends. It was after the rains, and even though most of the traffic jams were subdued, we had to walk for what seemed like hours just to get to the main site. And what a sight it was! A sea of mud-covered people, dancing, sleeping, playing, mostly stoned, mostly happy, sharing food, drinks and of course there was a haze of pot smoke to mellow everyone out, smoking or not.
It was not the most pleasant place to be… toilet facilities were almost non-existent, so basic human functions and the ‘organic’ nature of the entire event led to a not-so-charming guy releaving himself right on the back of my boyfriend’s pants! Grossed me out, but I was only 16 and this was just the beginning of a crazy new world. This was Sunday afternoon, think I heard Joe Cocker, several others, but it’s pretty much a blur between what I actually heard and saw and what I remember from seeing the movie. (Time to see it again too!) I think it was more real for me because with a few months in between, I could comprehend more of what had actually taken place. It was an entire city where before there was only farmland. It happened within the course of one week… a small upstate New York town was overtaken, all stores for miles around sold out of food supplies, basic necessities and ice. I vaguely remember people selling water and ice for outrageous prices. No one was prepared to feed the almost half a million people that swarmed over the beautiful rolling farm lands. It was and is still amazing that for several days MUSIC, people and their basic needs were the focus of this muddy, magical city. Peacefulness and sharing prevailed and it worked on many levels. I also remember going there a week or two after the event, and acres and acres of those beautiful hills were a mess. People were still there, many helping with the cleanup, many just staying because it had been such an incredible experience and they didn’t want it to end.
A few weeks after the festival, I heard that people from the hog farm had started a commune just across the river from Narrowsburg (named because of the location on the narrows of the Delaware River). And a few days after that, my sister and I were invited to visit the farm. Another new experience, an old farmhouse full of very colorful hippies, with many VW’s, paisley painted buses, and cars around the yard, dogs and kids everywhere, open doors, all sorts of people coming and going, all friendly and many hanging around looking very high. Someone offered us a glass of koolaid and I remember how quickly my protective, big sister genes kicked in. I’d heard about that stuff, electric koolaid spiked with hallucinogenic LSD or some other mysterious stuff. No thank you. We were young and we knew better, then got older and didn’t know much at all! The commune was the talk of the town for many months. Small towns, I was to learn, often have restrictive, concentric attitudes. People are comfortable within their own spaces and are quickly threatened, and fearful of change. Things did change and quickly. I left my small town the next year, and soon after headed south to Coconut Grove where we would hang out in a place called Peacock Park. Hari Krishnas chanted while handing out organic foods, bought a beautiful little white shepard puppy from some kids there, stayed about 6 months and it took me over 30 years to find my way back. Grove is different now, but still has something magical, like the village of Woodstock (lived there for a few years), and the original festival. For me, the magic is the arts connection, if you pay attention to how you feel, the creativity energy is flowing everywhere, in the streets, along the shore, in shops and restaurants, in the music, art, poetry, theatre. It’s a small town, but certainly not limited or restrictive, always active, creative. The times are always changing and that makes me happy and hopeful.
Visit the Woodstock Anniversary page at my CafePress Shop for Woodstock 40th Anniversary 1969 – 2009 Commemorative Designs – the Purple Peace Sign with Dalmatian, Dove and Peace Branch and the Peace Sign with a Red/Green Caladium nature’s energy reflection design, both available on over 2 dozen products. Prices start at less than $5.