Thursday, August 20, 2009

Obligatory reminiscing

Y'know, as a self-confessed "aging hippie" I suppose I should have said something about the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, especially since, um, I was there. Really. I was.

I suppose I didn't because I didn't want to come across as wallowing in nostalgia but I've realized over the past few days of various remembrances that a few of the things that stick out in my memory aren't among those commonly cited. (In fact, "the mud" seems to be the common thread - but "the mud" didn't really happen until after the big thunderstorm on Sunday. Before that, there had been some rain, but it wasn't that bad. And there was a hot sun to dry things out between.)

So I'll just tick off a couple of things I recall that haven't figured so much in the "a look back at" coverage:

- One that couldn't make the coverage 'cause it was purely personal: My friend Craig (first referenced here) and I - who had tickets, dammit - drove up the back roads, avoiding the Thruway and Rt. 17 and thus the multiple-hours-long traffic jams. We parked within 5 miles of the site.

- Coming into the site the first day, there was an entry road and a small rise a few feet high. You went up that rise and looked down at the pasture and OH MY GOD! THERE ARE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF FREAKS! DAMN!

- Foolishly, we left that night to stay at a campsite shelter for hikers on the Appalachian Trail (which proved to be full, forcing us to sleep outside) - and the next day we would up having to park nearly 13 miles away. Walking in the hot sun among the crowds heading to the site, I saw where a family had turned their hose on to offer water to the walkers. I heard the woman telling someone that they originally had intended to ignore the whole thing but when they heard that a neighbor was charging $1 for a glass of water, they were so shocked that they thought they had to do something. "Charging these kids money for water!" she said.

- I was totally blown away by Ravi Shankar.

- I remember Abbie Hoffman announcing from the stage that we were page one of the New York Times.

- I remember the minutes-long standing ovation given to Max Yasgur and him saying something about how it should be a lesson to his generation how "400,000 young people can come together for three days of peace and music and have nothing but peace and music." (Yes, of course, there was other stuff going on and there were a few incidents, but fundamentally, he wasn't far off.)

- Craig noticed and alerted me to the big and amazingly black thunderclouds several minutes before the announcement was made from the stage.

- There is a point where you're wet enough that frankly it doesn't matter anymore, y'know? And you just give up all attempts to stay dry.

- A while after the storm had passed, a number of National Guard helicopters hovered over the crowd. There was sufficient paranoia among the counterculture at the time (not entirely without justification; as the saying goes, "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you") that it caused a little ripple through the throng. What's this? What's going on? The doors are opening. What's happening? And out of the helicopters come thousands and thousands of - daffodils! The National Guard is showering us with daffodils! I tried to catch one but it bounced off my hand and fell into the hands of a small girl next to me who probably wouldn't have gotten one otherwise, so that was cool.

- My favorite memorabilia from the event was not the uncollected tickets (which I might still have somewhere but which I think are now buried in the sands of time) but a newspaper ad that came out later: The long-distance bus company that served the area took out an ad expressing how impressed its drivers were with the patience, kindness, and friendliness of the concert-goers stuck on the buses for upteen hours due to the traffic.

All of which raises that Ultimate Question that always gets asked: Will there ever be another Woodstock?


The thing is, what made Woodstock Woodstock, what made the whole experience what is was, was that it just happened. It wasn't anticipated, it sure as hell wasn't planned (the organizers were prepared for a crowd of up to 50,000, not 10 times that many), it wasn't something anyone set out to create. It just happened.

So no, there will never be another Woodstock. I'm sure that at some point there will be a [blank] or a [blank] and maybe later a [blank], but each of those will be what they are, existing on their own terms, something that - well, that just happened. And it'll be great. But it won't be Woodstock - it will be itself.

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