Going to Woodstock

When I was 16 in the summer of 1969, I asked my parents, probably my father, whether I could go to this concert in the Liberty/Monticello area, a direct bus ride from Binghamton on Route 17. It featured Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and a whole bunch of other people. He said no, and that was pretty much it. I was OK with that until it became “Woodstock”; then it ticked me off a little. If I were a little older, like Walter Cronkite’s daughter Kathy, I would have just gone on my own.

So, when the Woodstock movie came out in the spring of 1970, a bunch of my friends and I rushed to see it. Using more current lingo, we were gobsmacked. It was so wonderful, so fascinating that we sat through a second showing of the film right after seeing the first (for the same admission price, BTW, something that just doesn’t happen now). I have this specific recollection during the second viewing of watching the projection light colors changing; Sly & the Family Stone was bathed in purple, as I recall. And no, I wasn’t stoned, I was just enraptured.

Of course, I bought the soundtrack – a TRIPLE album! – and listened to it incessantly, so much so that pieces of dialogue (Arlo Guthrie’s “The New York State Thruway is CLOSED, man!”; the passing of the “kosher bacon”) bubble up in my mind unbidden from time to time. Woodstock, the movie and album, is where I really discovered Santana and Richie Havens; discovered in new context (John Sebastian, formerly Lovin’ Spoonful; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, from their respective groups); and got to hear live some of my favorites (the Who, Sly & the Family Stone).

I was nostalgic enough that, five years ago, my wife, infant daughter and I went to the New York State Museum to see Spirit of the Woodstock Generation: The Photographs of Elliott Landy.

Yet, right now I have no need, no desire to go out and get some expanded version of the movie or the soundtrack – not that, if given them, I wouldn’t watch and listen – because I don’t need to try to experience what I missed. I think the reason I actively avoided going to those concerts called “Woodstock” in 1994 and 1999 was that they seemed like desperate calculations to try to recapture a magic that just defies re-creation. If I go to the http://www.bethelwoodscenter.org/ Woodstock museum in Bethel, it will be as a matter of curiosity rather than wish fulfillment.

CBS had a piece this past week on the large festivals trying to recreate the Woodstock vibe, and maybe they can. But my favorite recent story is that the couple on the album cover above are still together, married two years after the festival and community minded.


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