It's here, the big 50th year anniversary of Woodstock, and despite Michael Lang's best efforts, there will be no official encore.
This is without a doubt for the best, because while what happened in 1969 was a treasured moment in history, and one that we nostalgically look back upon even if we weren't born yet, it's not one that can be recreated. The stories of the 3-day festival bring you through a maze of brown acid panic, legendary performances from a lineup that could never happen again, naked pond swimming, and an epic clean-up effort, all amidst a backdrop of tents, lightning, rain, mud, and 20-miles of standstill traffic. You can picture it all, as Hendrix delivers a searing national anthem, booming out toward what was left of a stoned, smiling crowd.
The cinematic retellings, the visions of a bohemian utopia and freewheeling drug campground, that lineup... it's all part of Woodstock's strong mythology. The event that defined, in part, one generation, has been passed down to each generation since in glimpses, and branded T-shirts.
Before and after Woodtock. (Photo by Henry Diltz, courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery)
These three days of "peace and music" are all bundled up now in a package of perfect images and edited footage, and we all grasp on to this beautiful chaotic tapestry for the historic moment that it was. A festival in which to compare not only all other festivals, but life itself. Things were different back then, man. But... would you have enjoyed Woodstock? Was it even enjoyable? You know, in the moment. In the traffic, and lightning, and mud, when you were hungry and thirsty and the drugs were starting to take hold and drag you into some dark circus in your mind. When things appeared disorganized and acts weren't showing up. Would you have been like, "Great decision, SO GLAD I'M HERE RIGHT NOW"?
I fear I would have hated Woodstock. The stress of the scene would have fully strangled any enjoyment I would have gotten out of seeing those legends on stage (likely from miles away, while hiding under a blanket, gently rocking) or being part of this spontaneous community. But honestly, I would have never even made it to the actual grounds. More than likely at the first sign of traffic and chaos I would have turned around. "I feel like I 'get' it," I would tell my friends, "We can go now!" (But this may be my age speaking, because I have thoroughly enjoyed festivals and shows with similar traffic scenarios and chaotic vibes in the past.)
And of course, if circumstance had me in the upper left quadrant (in the photos below), hanging out with Janis in a nice, uncrowded woodland area drinking wine, well, that would have been pretty sweet. (Note: That photo was likely taken somewhere along the Bindy Bazaar trails.)
According to photographic evidence, at Woodstock you were either backstage drinking wine with Janis in a nice woodland setting, in the press pen, in a pond, or you took the brown acid and were hiding under a truck. pic.twitter.com/pnUEPw65Zk
— Jen Carlson (@jenist) August 15, 2019
So, would YOU have enjoyed Woodstock? As you explore this question in your mind, here are some notes from the scene to contemplate:
- There wasn't much food! Rosemary Forrest told HuffPo she expected, along with others, that food would be available on site. It wasn't. "Fortunately, a large group of macrobiotic hippies came prepared with brown rice and veggies and cooked up a mess of it and shared with all," and [Members of the Hog Farm] introduced a lot of suburban kids to granola." There were also $1 hot dogs floating around if you were willing to wait on a long line (originally Nathan's was going to supply food, but they dropped out).
- According to Smithsonian, there were Food for Love concessions set up, but their supplies quickly diminished as the crowd doubled in size of what was expected. And some "decided to jack up the prices—charging $1 for hot dogs when the going rate was a quarter... people angry about the wait and the prices burned down two of the concession stands."
- Smithsonian also reports there was eventually an airdrop at one point that included 10,000 sandwiches, water, canned goods, and fruit.
- There were always plenty of drugs though... one attendee told the Fayetteville Observer: "There was one stand selling LSD, one selling marijuana. They were having sales, offering two joints for the price of one, the police weren't interfering with it at all."
- About the police—there was barely any security—this is because it was largely going to be provided by off-duty NYPD officers, but just before the big show they were told off-duty employment was prohibited. Instead, some local police officers and Wavy Gravy and his "please officers" were helping patrol. All in all, it was peaceful event.
While History.com says "Woodstock is best described by Max Yasgur, the humble farmer who lent his land for the occasion. Addressing the audience on day three he said, 'You’ve proven something to the world… a half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music and God bless you for it!"... History.com also says, Woodstock 1969 was a "miserable mud pit." And indeed, beyond the legend and lore, there are likely many untold tales of a mediocre time... still, it was a wonderful thing to have existed.
Experiencing it all from afar is nice though! Head over to the Morrison Hotel Gallery (116 Prince Street) to check out their exhibit (running through Labor Day), Woodstock: 3 Days That Lasted 50 Years.