My Woodstock Story

Scene: My Woodstock Program Magazine from 1969.

I loved going downtown to this magazine and newspaper store by the train station when I was young to look at the publications and to buy the Village Voice.

I was reading the Village Voice in the summer of 1969 and read about the Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music, taking place in August.

My friends, Billy DeMichele and Larry Robinson, knew about it too. We decided to go with our parents permission. We were some of the youngest pilgrims.

So, on Thursday, August 14, we met at Larry’s house. Mrs. Robinson drove us as far as she could in her red Volkswagen Beetle. The influx of attendees to the rural concert created a massive traffic jam. We then got out of the car and were walking along the road with the masses coming from every direction.

Arriving at Bethel we continued to walk to Max Yasgur’s 600 acre dairy farm surrounded by the Catskill Mountains. The diverse attendees descended to the legendary event which later was known simply as Woodstock.

It was a pivotal moment in popular music history, defined a generation, and became synonymous with the counterculture movement of the 1960s. The zeitgeist of my generation.

My vision of the event was like a high school football game, spectators on the bleachers and musical entertainers in the middle of the field. I never expected such a huge gathering. We planned to buy our $24.00 tickets for three days when we got there.

But, by the time we got to Woodstock people started arriving a couple days ahead of the concert. The fencing, gates and ticket booths still weren’t ready.

Billy asked this guy how far it was and he said “You see that brown area over there” Yes, that big hill, Billy said “That’s not a hill man, that’s people” he said. We walked and stopped at the top of the slope and saw with amazement a half a million strong, and everywhere there was song and celebration.

It was the brainchild of four men under 27, according to Michael Lang, one of the four, in an interview with The Telegraph, “You do everything you can to get the gates and the fences finished—but you have your priorities. People are coming, and you need to be able to feed them, and take care of them, and give them a show. So you have to prioritize.” With no efficient way of charging concert-goers, Lang and his partners decided to make Woodstock a free event.

We set up the pup tent to the left of the stage about half way up the slope. My mother gave us enough chicken cutlet sandwiches that I shared them with the surrounding spectators. They loved it, and yes my mom was a great cook! She was born in the States and her parents emigrated from Italy. And you know about those Italian mothers — eat, eat, mangiare, mangiare. And we still had enough in the cooler for the coming days.

The festival was off to a shaky start on Friday, August 15 — several hours after the scheduled kickoff time, not a note of music had been played. Richie Havens was moved up to the opening performance slot after Sweetwater were stopped by police en route to the festival and other artists were delayed on the thruway. Organizers convinced Richie Havens to go on stage alone with his guitar. At around 5:00pm he took the stage and played. Each time he tried to finish his set, he found himself being talked into going back out. But after two hours and 45 minutes of playing, Havens ran out of material. So, he improvised. Over the intensely rhythmic strum of his own acoustic, Havens composed a festival-inspired song called “Freedom” on the spot.

Havens was followed by an unscheduled blessing by Sri Swami Satchidananda.

To follow was Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Harden, Ravi Shankar, and Melanie who performed during the rain. As the rain continued, starting off Saturday was Arlo Guthrie at around 12 midnight, and Joan Baez, who was six months pregnant, and sang until 2am.

Earlier we met some girls, a platonic relationship. After the performances and after the rain we all went to the hillside away from the crowd. We laid in the grass looking up at the stars and talked about the universe.

On Saturday morning I went to find a phone behind the stage to call my parents before the performances started and I finally found one.

In a box by the phone booth I found several program magazines. The photos in this post are from it. I called my parents and they immediately said — get home now! But, I stayed until the very end. And I didn’t get in trouble when I returned home. No one expected the magnitude of this gathering, including my parents.

We went to the top of the slope to the food area where they were giving food out for free. There were only oranges left so we took some. There were rows and rows of motorcycles and the Hells Angels. An example of peaceful coexistence which the festival promoted and it was demonstrated by all of the attendees. Dr. William Abruzzi, the festival’s chief medical officer said “There was no violence what so ever which is remarkable for a crowd this large. These people are really beautiful.”

Sunday around 12:30am Creedence Clearwater Revival played, who were the first to sign up for this concert. Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, and The Who played through the night until 6am. Jefferson Airplane performed next from 8am – 10am. It was difficult to stay up through the night and morning, but I did. I slept until 2pm when I heard the voice of Joe Cocker and The Grease Band. After his last song “With A Little Help From My Friends” the thunderstorm disrupted the event for several hours.

While it rained we stayed in our tent and smoked some pot, ate chicken cutlet sandwiches, and played cards. I also went to the stream while it rained, water, very free and easy. We didn’t go sliding in the mud like others did.

At 6:30pm it picked up again with Country Joe and the Fish. Through the evening and the night the musicians were Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winters, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Paul Butterfield Band, and Sha Na Na which ended on Monday morning at 8am.

At 9am Jimmy Hendricks and his new band Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, was the last act to perform. The two-hour set included his psychedelic rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” after which he segued into “Purple Haze”. Hendrix was wearing a blue-beaded white leather jacket with fringe and a red head scarf.

Under the sun, under the stars, and in the rain we listened to 32 amazing musical sets during our stay.

Happy that my parents gave me the freedom to go and get my soul free and to get back to the garden. It was a joyful and historic experience that I will always cherish and talk about.

We were attracted by the music, but we found more — love, peace, and unity. It reminds us during these times of the nearness that love, music, and shared experiences can elicit. We are stardust, we are golden. I found the garden.

And then we hitchhiked home.

Please note: Most of the the phrases in italics are lyrics from “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell. Exceptions are the song title “My Generation” by The Who, and “Freedom” by Richie Havens, “water, very free and easy”, lyrics from “Wooden Ships” by Cosby, Still, and Nash which all were performed at this epic event. Mitchell composed the song based on what she had heard from her then boyfriend Graham Nash about the event. She had not been there herself, since a manager had told her that it would, instead, be more advantageous for her to appear on The Dick Caveat Show. She composed it in a hotel room in New York City, watching televised reports of the festival.