I was sixteen, pampered and fearless. I took my mother’s car and drove to Woodstock, Dylan’s hometown in beautiful up-state New York, to a Music and Art Fair, an Aquarian exposition. How great did that sound? It was a happening. I folded my coolest clothes, placed them into my backpack, tucked my pillow with its starched white cover under my arm and set off on an adventure.
Anyone who went to Woodstock would probably not describe it as the best time of their lives. It rained enough to make you miserable. The bands were delayed. The sound system was inadequate, guitars probably warped from dampness and it wasn’t even in the town of Woodstock.
The traffic crawled, Leona at the wheel and the rest of us walked along side. I have a vague image of Mom’s shiny Buick passing the poorly parked hippy vans and beat up cars, a blur of happily tie dyed people giving peace signs and policemen who were surprisingly friendly, considering that most of us were openly breaking state and federal drug laws.
Miraculously we parked at the base of the hill, slung our back packs over our shoulders and hiked up the path. We arrived as they tore down the fences, gave away posters, the classic ones with a bird on the guitar and the original Aquarian water bearer. If we’d had any brains we’d have taken those precious items back to the car with our tickets intact but distracted by the outrageous level of coolness and the scent of marijuana we moved on.
I do not remember the first sight of that stage that made history. I do remember when my middle-class teenage-girl-mind identified the feeling of hunger and my first sense of lack. There were no burger stands, no ice cream or funnel cakes, no soda. We had plenty of cash in our pockets but, like most of the kids at Woodstock, we were completely unprepared.
A primitive water line assured us we would not die but we had no canteen. So, without food, water or common sense we forged onward, through masses of stoners to get as close to the stage as possible (which still seemed a lightyear away) and we claimed a patch of land.
Richie Havens sang “Freedom” and someone handed me a bottle of wine, I took a sip and passed it on. Someone gave me a gritty brownie I took a bite and passed that on. Magically food appeared from every direction, and magic food it was. One bite made us larger and one sip made us small. Soon a collective level of mind alteration permeated the field as we partook in unknown quantities… mostly psychedelic… and by that time, we didn’t much care.
Rain of every kind was reported but I clearly remember seeing the stars that first night. Dancing hippies everywhere, young people made love in the open and nobody was offended. Masses of wandering lost found new homes with temporary families.
There were announcements, mostly about our extraordinary coolness. We had closed the NY Thruway, were declared a disaster area and “Welcome to the first Free City in the World!” A Swami had blessed us and helicopters flew over, anti-war messages shouted and everyone agreed politically.
They flew the bands in, ferried them across the sky. Music was everywhere. It was a night that a half a million young people took a collective sigh and melted into the hillside on Yazgur’s farm. Whatever came our way at Woodstock, we best relax and go with it.
With souls I’d never met I felt loved, cradled in the bosom of dear ones. They fed me, gave me drink. Should anything happen to me, this new family would care for me, tenderly as well as they possibly could… probably not very well but they would care for me… and there was a feeling of belonging to something, something much bigger than myself that made me almost tearful.
I folded my white pillow case and put it away when it rained. My quilt was soaked, my pillow ruined and I carried a bag of very cool clothes which I would never wear.
By half past Arlo Guthrie we realized that the need to pee was of greater importance than our land or this family we loved. We’d lost the people we came with, they’d disappeared into the crowd. Not losing Leona became paramount. She was the only one I knew from home and she had the keys to the car. We said good-bye to our loved ones and wrapped in muddied blankies we set off to find a bathroom and a place to sleep.
Clearly our first big problem at Woodstock was the simple act of relieving ourselves. The port-o–potty’s were soon to become their own disaster areas so we peed in the cornfield and relaxed between rows. I’d piled my coolest clothes on top of me for warmth and Joan Baez sang us into semi-consciousness.
Then the rain began again. The story gets worse, I promise.
To be cont..
Watch next Thursday for “Woodstock, the Dawn of Day Two”