My Week at Woodstock 1969


As I am wrapping up edits on my fifth book in the Alexa Williams series, the humidity in the air brought me back to my second book, Dead of Summer, in which my companion story drew from my real experiences at the original Woodstock that occurred last week sixty years ago. Some of you may already know that I went to Woodstock in 1969. My friends and I were there for five days and came prepared with food and tents. But, who would have expected half a million people to show up? In this time of Covid and national unrest, a peaceful gathering of so many people -- some of them with little food and no shelter -- in a weekend punctuated by pouring rain seems like an impossible feat. Was it just a more idyllic time? In reality, that era was one of turmoil too JFK and Martin Luther King were assassinated; there was rioting in the streets at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; protests raged over the Vietnam War and four protestor were killed at Kent State. I could go on. But at Woodstock, a huge group of hippies and music lovers decided to co-exist peacefully, get high, and appreciate the outstanding music --even when the site was declared a disaster area. It would be so wonderful to recapture some of that hopeful peace. I have to admit some of my recollections of Woodstock are hazy. It was a long time ago. And, there's an old statement: "If you say you remember Woodstock, you were never really there."

Two of my most vivid musical memories were Santana, a fairly new band at that time, which played on the second day. Every time I hear "Soul Sacrifice," I think of Woodstock. And, I was just six feet back from the stage that night for Janis Joplin's set. Amazing.

The bottom right picture in the collage above is me in my hippie days. Unfortunately, I have no photos of me at Woodstock in full hippie garb. One of the guys in our group did take a lot of photos. He put them on slides, which was fairly common at the time. He loaned those slides to me while I was at college, and someone stole them from my dorm room -- his only copies.To this day, I still feel terrible about it. They would have been classic photos, and, more important, a lasting memory of our small group of concert-goers' experience. Three Days of Peace and Music in 1969. The tickets that many of us bought in advance were never collected when attendance swelled to half a million. The concert organizers threw up their hands. Concertgoers tipped over the fences. And, on stage, they announced that Woodstock had become a free concert. The roads were jammed. The crowd far exceeded infrastructure capacity. Intermittent rain turned everything into mud. And, the Governor of New York issued an emergency declaration that the concert site was being designated a Disaster Area.

Meanwhile, most of the crowd was having a wonderful time hearing all the world class music. On the last day of the concert, we were having breakfast outside our tents when Jimi Hendrix made history with his unique rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.

In closing, I'll leave you with a song from songwriting legend, Joni Mitchell. Mitchell didn't attend the festival; she had another obligation. But, she heard about it from her then-boyfriend, Graham Nash, and composed this tribute to the event. By the way, I did see Crosby, Stills, and Nash perform. It was 3:00 am, very dark. The ground was so wet and muddy that we stood for most of the performance. It was their second public performance as a group.

Here's wishing you peace, love and rock and roll:

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