This past week-end was the 50th anniversary of the original Woodstock in 1969 so I thought it might be interesting to share my thoughts and remembrances from the first one. There were 500,000 stories from that special day in August of 1969. Mine is one of them.
In 1969 I was attending college in Minnesota. My good friend Ed who I still see today was attending college in Boston, Mass. We wrote to each other. One day Ed sent me a letter saying there was going to be this big two day festival in New York State with all these rock bands who were the biggest names at the time attending. Ed said he thought I’d be interested in going so he got us two tickets and said I owed him $14. Yes, each ticket was $7 a day then. Hard to believe after seeing today’s prices for concerts.
During the summer they added a third day that was to be a folk music day with such artists as Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Joan Baez and others so we figured we’d get that ticket there. During that summer I worked for a big metropolitan newspaper called The Paterson News in Paterson, New Jersey as a reporter.
It so happened that three other reporters all had tickets to go there too and we conspired how to tell the editor that we needed that time off without him realizing he was giving us all the same time off. We each went in his office on different days and worded it differently why we needed that time off and we got it.
On Thursday after work, I called Ed and picked him up at his house and we headed out for Woodstock with my tent and sleeping bags and a little snack food as they said you could buy food up there. When we got on the New York Thruway it was bumper to bumper traffic, but there was a strange peacefulness about it. No honking of horns, no yelling or road rage and in fact people were talking to each other from their cars. We proceeded up the thruway until we saw a bunch of cars turn into a field and we followed figuring that must be the campsite. We got out and set up our tent in the dark and went to sleep until the next morning.
When we got up we saw all these cars in the field with tents popped up all over the place. We could imagine what people thought when they woke up seeing all these cars and tents on their property.
We walked over to the site with a bunch of other people. The site was a large bowl-shaped field and the idea was the stage would be at the bottom and everyone would sit on the sides looking down at the stage. While we were sitting there I said to Ed, “There’s no way they are going to collect ticket as this is so vast and open. Just then they made an announcement saying that if anyone didn’t have a ticket for Friday they should get them now at several spots they had. I didn’t see how they could make anyone buy a ticket and then some worker for them came around saying to buy tickets at the stand near us so we ventured over and bought our ticket which was seven dollars each.
At 4 pm the late folk singer Ritchie Havens opened the show. I’ve seen Ritchie in concert at least six or seven times and it was never to go see him. He always opened for someone I was seeing at the time. He was still a great entertainer though with his acoustic guitar and gravelly voice. Anyone who has seen the Woodstock movie knows of his famous ’Freedom” song.
After Ritchie, we saw a few more acts, Sweetwater, a folk group who was popular at the time, Tim Hardin who wrote the song “If I Were a Carpenter” made famous by Bobby Darin and Melanie. Melanie sang her song “Candles In the Rain” and it started raining. When she stopped singing the rain stopped. That was just one of the magical things happening there. The rain really started coming down so Ed and I decided to make it back to the camp thinking they were going to call the festival off. Little did we know then what it would turn into. I don’t know how we found our way back to the camp in the dark, but Ed must have had a good sense of direction as I had none.
During the night we didn’t get much sleep as the ground was soaking wet. The next day people were struggling to get their cars out of the mud in the field so everyone pitched in and helped one another push their cars out onto the road. It got to be a fun game after a while with ‘help me with my car and I’ll help you with your car.’
We sat in our cars for a while and then headed home. When we got home the TV said the concert was still going on. Apparently, it went all through the night with acts appearing on the stage at 3 a. m. in the morning. The concert ended with Jimi Hendrix at 10 a.m Monday morning.
When we got back to work the editor called us each into his office one at a time and said, “This was the biggest event all year and we had four reporters up there and not one of you wrote a story about it. We had to get it from the AP.” We told him that there were no phones up there and no way we could write a story and besides we didn’t think it would end up as it did so he got one of the reporters to write a story about it.
There have been several reunions and anniversary shows since and they now have a regular amphitheater stage for concerts and a museum there with a monument to the original concert at the beginning of the area where it was held.