Category Archives: Looking back

Remembering Jim Conant

Midway through 6th grade, a new kid suddenly entered Burr Farms Elementary School. Our friend groups were well established, but everyone liked Jim Conant. He was funny. He was smart as hell. And — this is not something one generally says about almost-teenage boys — he was kind.

As we moved through Long Lots Junior High and Staples, Jim and I remained friends. Not best friends — we hung out in different circles — but we shared classes, senses of humor, and ways of seeing the world.

Jim Conant

Jim Conant

Jim always seemed to know who he was. I had no clue whatsoever. I admired his calm sense of self, even if I couldn’t describe it at the time.

Jim went to Princeton, and made a name for himself academically (graduating magna cum laude) and musically (he was a fantastic trumpet player). I went to Brown, still trying to figure things out. We shared a good-natured rivalry.

Jim then earned a master’s in electrical engineering from UCLA. He went on to work with radar, sonar and software. He held two patents.

I went on to do whatever it is I do. We lost touch, though he lived just an hour away in Brookfield.

Three years ago, at a Staples reunion, we reconnected. I told him how much I’d admired him when we were younger. He seemed surprised.

At the Staples reunion 3 years ago, I had a great time with old friends. From left: myself, Jim Conant, Steve McCoy and Fred Cantor.

At a Staples reunion 3 years ago, I had a great time with old friends. From left: myself, Jim Conant, Steve McCoy and Fred Cantor.

A few months later we met for dinner in Ridgefield. We caught up on our lives. He told me about his marriage and divorce, his 3 kids, his involvement in youth sports and a youth math program, and his civic volunteer work.

But Jim seemed distracted. A couple of months later, he called to say why. The afternoon of our dinner, he’d been diagnosed with ALS.

He relayed the news matter-of-factly. With his scientific mind, he’d already done plenty of research. Lou Gehrig’s disease sufferers generally live 2 to 5 years, he said. Before dying, they lose the ability to move their limbs, talk, swallow, and breathe on their own.

Their minds, however, remain fine. They know exactly what is happening to them.

At that point, he was in good physical shape. He kept active. His spirits were strong.

A couple of summers ago, Jim invited a group of old friends to his house on Lake Lillinonah. The setting was beautiful; the evening was fun. He was an animated tour guide as he piloted his boat across the water.

Jim at the helm of his boat on Lake Lillinonah. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Jim at the helm of his boat on Lake Lillinonah. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Our next dinner was at Rizzuto’s. He wanted to come to Westport. He didn’t get out much, but he could still drive. He apologized for having to prop his head up from time to time. His muscles were already weakening. But he talked about today and tomorrow much more than yesterday.

As with all ALS sufferers, his decline was steady. His preferred method of communication became email. A few months ago, he wrote that he had always wanted enough time to read and listen to music. Now he had that time, but for the absolute worst reason.

This summer, Jim emailed me that at some point — not then; in the future — he would have to make a decision about living life as a quadriplegic, or not. He described that choice matter-of-factly. Right now, he said, he was doing fine.

Jim Conant, his son Dan, and an unidentified family member at Jim's Brookfield home.

Jim Conant, his son Dan, and an unidentified family member at Jim’s Brookfield home.

On Friday, I emailed Jim:

I hope things are going okay, and you’re able to enjoy your surroundings. Your comment about having time you always dreamed of to read and listen to music – but not the way you wanted to – really resonated with me. It made a profound impact. So please know that – long after our elementary school days – you continue to influence my life, in very positive ways. For that, I am very grateful.

I am thinking of you.

Coincidentally, early on Monday, I saw on Facebook that Jim’s birthday had been Saturday. I had no idea.

Two days late, I posted a generic greeting on his timeline. Dozens of others were already there.

Jim never saw those good wishes, from his many friends. He did not get my email, either.

On Monday afternoon, his brother Scott sent the news.

Jim died Friday night, at home. His sister, son and a good friend were there.

One day before his birthday.

(A reception for Jim Conant will be held tomorrow — Friday, September 19 — at 10 a.m., followed by a memorial service at 12 p.m., at the Brookfield Congregational Church. He requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Massachusetts General Hospital ALS research clinic, the ALS Association, ASTDI or Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western Connecticut.)

 

Day On Bald Mountain

Jono Walker’s family — the Bennetts — settled in Westport in the 1700s. They lived on South Compo Road through the early 21st century.

Jono is in Pennsylvania now, but his roots here remain strong. The other day, Googling for background info on a piece he’s writing, he found a few “06880” posts about Bald Mountain. He sent along this excerpt from his longer story.

Skonk!

My snowball splattered the middle of another Redcoat’s roof. Not a bad shot.

Snow-packed Imperial Avenue was directly below the steep hill I perched on top of. It was harder than you’d think for this wily Minuteman, on his home terrain, to hit the hapless British soldiers. I’d been at it for half an hour, and hadn’t made a perfect shot — the driver’s side windshield — but the accuracy of my sniper fire on that blustery February morning was steadily improving.

The site of this ambuscade was Bald Mountain, a 90-foot promontory overlooking the Saugatuck River. The name always confused me. The rounded top of the bean-shaped hill was covered in towering hemlocks, looking nothing close to bald.

blog - Bald Mountain

From its summit I peered over the brow, at the Gault Field Little League diamond covered in snow. Directly across the river, red-bricked Bedford Junior High and gold-bricked Assumption Church gleamed in the morning sun.

Upriver, I saw the stand of trees surrounding the Woman’s Club and police station. Further away, just over the roof of the Fairfield Furniture Store on the far side of the river, was Old Hill. 200 years earlier 1,000 Minutemen dug in, lying in ambush hoping to wreak havoc on an advancing column of Redcoats.

The Gaults were just starting to gouge out the eastern perimeter of Bald Mountain in those days, felling trees and mining the moraine for sand and gravel. It would take 20 years to flatten the place, at which point they paved a road and built a dozen McMansions on the level ground that had been a rolling hill ever since the last Ice Age.

For thousands of years the Paugussett Indians maintained a fishing and trading post in the “faire fields” and salt marshes around Bald Mountain. They called the place Machamux (“the beautiful land”).

In 1661 the Paugussetts were hoodwinked into selling a portion of their lands east of Bald Mountain (today’s Green’s Farms) to the newly established town of Fairfield for 13 woolen coats, plus a little wampum.

A member of the Paugussett tribe.

A member of the Paugussett tribe.

It only took another decade or so for the rest of Machamux — from today’s Sherwood Island west to the Saugatuck River, and north to the Aspetuck River — to be appropriated by colonists. By the early 1680s all of modern-day Westport was settled by dozens of industrious freemen and their burgeoning families.

Among them were my ancestors Thomas, James and John Bennett. They were granted nearly 1200 acres. The land they “improved” ran on either side of today’s South Compo Road, from roughly the Post Road south to what was once called Bennett’s Rocks (the jagged granite outcropping now bisected by Narrow Rocks Road).

Within their property was a steep-sided hill rising from the marshy banks of the Saugatuck River. They eventually cleared it for pasture, and it became known as Bald Mountain.

At 10 years old I knew nothing about this history, beyond a vague awareness of that patriotic military action atop Old Hill. So there I was, armed and ready — a brave patriot using his insider’s knowledge of the local landscape to defend his homeland from the foreign invader.

Bald Mountain.

Bald Mountain.

The enemy approached: a bright red Studebaker negotiating the wide turn around the base of Bald Mountain. My snowball landed with a splatter more spectacular than I could have dreamed, right on the driver’s side of the windshield.

The car skidded along the snow bank. Out sprang the driver, scanning the hillside. He was a surprisingly young soldier — and mad. When he spotted me high above him he shook his fist, swore, dashed across the road and up the hill.

But — like his hapless forebears — this man’s entire military strategy (and his attire) were ill-suited to the wilds of the new world. The enemy was angered and dangerous, fully capable of rendering me to shreds, yet dressed in slippery business shoes, he was completely outfoxed.

I watched his 3 vain attempts to scale the formidable redoubt. Then I calmly turned, melting into the deep and shadowy woods, unbowed and ready to fight another day.

 

Jono Walker, back in his soldiering days.

Jono Walker, back in his soldiering days.

After Nearly 50 Years, The Remains Come Home

The last time the Remains played in Fairfield County was 1966. The legendary rock group was a few months away from opening for the Beatles, on that legendary band’s final tour. Now they were at Staples High School, the alma mater of half their members: guitarist/vocalist Barry Tashian and keyboardist Billy Briggs.

Rock critic Jon Landau had already described the Remains as “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.”

That 1966 gig was to raise money for the Orphenians’ — Staples’ select choral group — upcoming tour of the Virgin Islands.

Westporters and Remains Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

Westporters and Remains Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

After that Beatles tour, the Remains broke up. Rolling Stone magazine later called them “a religious totem of all that was manic and marvelous about mid-’60s pop.”

They reunited a decade later, for a few dates. But Tashian joined Emmy Lou Harris’ band, and moved to California. In the 1990s, he and his wife — 1964 Staples grad Holly Kimball — formed a Nashville-based duo.

Then, in the mid-’90s, a promoter invited them to play in Spain. They were up for it — and so were their rabid European fans. They played a couple of dates every year since.

In June 2013 they rocked the Bell House in Brooklyn. They were excited about their half-century return to this area: a gig in Fairfield this past April.

But in February, drummer Chip Damiani died of a brain hemorrhage.

In January, Chip Damiani attended the Fairfield History Museum's opening reception for its rock 'n' roll exhibit. He posed in front of posters of his legendary band, the Reamins.

In January, Chip Damiani attended the Fairfield History Museum’s opening reception for its rock ‘n’ roll exhibit. He posed in front of posters of his legendary band, the Reamins.

The loss of their “brother” — whose pounding drums helped drive the group to cult status in the 1960s, and who still played as energetically 5 decades later — stunned the 3 remaining Remains.

But the show must go on. In August — the day after Holly’s 50th Staples reunion, where she and Barry (SHS ’63) played and sang — the band auditioned new drummers. They chose George Correia, who played with Clarence Clemmons and, Tashian says, “locked right in to what we do.”

On Friday, September 26, the Remains return to Fairfield County for the 1st time since 1966. They venue is the Fairfield Theatre Company (7:45 p.m.), and they are as amped as when they played with the Beatles (and Bobby Hebb, the Cyrkle and the Ronettes).

The Remains, back in the day.

The Remains, back in the day.

“When Chip died, we really understood the saying ‘You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry,” Tashian says.

“Losing Chip makes us appreciate what we have even more. We look at each other and say, ‘How could it be 50 years?’ But it is. And we’re committed to each other — to our brothers — totally. We’re spread across Massachusetts, New Jersey and Nashville, but we really are a family.”

In just a few days, they’ll see plenty of Westport fans who for years have been part of that Remains family too.

(For information and tickets to the Remains’ September 26 show, click here.)

Positano’s: The Prequel

Peter Jones posted a fascinating photo on Facebook today (and David Pogue provided some touch-up magic to it):

Cafe de la plage - Pogue touchup

It shows the corner of Compo Hill Road and Hillspoint, during Hurricane Carol in 1954.

What is today Positano’s was then called Joe’s Store.

Peter wrote: “Notice the waves hitting Old Mill Beach. After Hillspoint Road was washed out, the town rebuilt and enlarged the jetty at Schlaet’s Point and reinforced the embankment at Hillspoint Road with HUGE boulders, creating sort of a Stonehenge effect.”

Darlene Bora added: “My mom always told me the pillars had been cut down at the bottom of Compo Hill Road (she grew up on Sterling Drive). I never saw them before today.”

Joe’s Store was there in 1954. Cafe de la Plage was there in 1984. Positano’s is there in 2014.

Now though, there’s no telling what that corner will look like — in good weather, and bad — in 2015.

An Advertising Executive Commutes Every Day To New York City!

The other day, alert “06880” reader Rick Davis was poking around the interwebs.

He found a site run by Yale University. It’s filled with photos from around the country, taken in the 1930s and ’40s.

They’re pretty mundane. But their very ordinariness tells a fascinating story about life in a different, simpler era.

A group of shots taken in September, 1941 by John Collier shows the morning routine of an “advertising executive in Westport, Connecticut, who commutes every day to New York City by train.”

Apparently, that daily commute was worth noting.

Check out Collier’s photos. And think about how different — and similar — the commuting life in Westport is, 73 years later.

The home of the Westport adman. (Photo/John Collier)

The home of the Westport adman. (Photo/John Collier)

John Collier Yale archives 1

“A family breakfast at 7:15 a.m., just before the head of the house dashes for the 7:40 commuter special from Westport, Connecticut.” (Photo/John Collier)

A last cup of coffee before leaving for the train. (Photo/John Collier)

A last cup of coffee before leaving for the train. (Photo/John Collier)

The commuter leaves home. (Photo/John Collier)

The commuter puffs on his pipe as he leaves home. (Photo/John Collier)

"Westport commuter arriving at the station for the train to New York City." Not a bad parking spot! (Photo/John Collier)

“Westport commuter arriving at the station for the train to New York City.” Not a bad parking spot! (Photo/John Collier)

 For more from the Yale Photogrammar archives, click here.

Westport At The Crossroads

Fred Cantor is an alert “06880” reader — and a talented researcher with an eye for intriguing stories about Westport’s past.

The other day, he sent 4 clippings from the New York Times. All were from 50 years ago. Westport was in the midst of a historic transformation, Fred said, as the town’s population rocketed skyward.

On February 2, 1964, 1st Selectman Herb Baldwin announced the formation of a Development Commission. The aim was to attract light industry, thus broadening the tax base.

“The move grew out of a recent fiscal seminar where concern was voiced over the town’s high bonded indebtedness, principally due to school construction,” the Times reported. The debt was approximately $12 million.

On June 26, the Planning and Zoning Commission tightened restrictions against new apartment buildings — despite acknowledging the need for apartments serving “older people and young married couples.” The previous day, the Zoning Board of Appeals denied an application for construction of a 48-unit apartment on the site of the Tennex factory on Riverside Avenue.

Many of today's familiar Riverside Avenue buildings were once factories.

Many of today’s familiar Riverside Avenue buildings were once factories.

On October 4, 1964, the Times said that a group of Greens Farms property owners were  “aroused by a proposal to build a department store, a supermarket and a parking lot for 617 cars in their midst, two miles east of the town’s center.” The centerpiece would be an Arnold Constable store.

Opponents cited a traffic hazard for students at nearby Green’s Farms Elementary School, and destruction of the “rustic charm” of the area. One person said, “We don’t want to turn Westport into another Rye or New Rochelle.”

Proponents countered it would add “sorely needed town revenue. They say the chief reason the town has sunk into debt over the last 20 years is that it has resisted business growth.”

The 7 1/2-acre property — bounded by South Morningside Drive and Church Street — would add between $40,000 and $52,430 a year in taxes.

Years after it was proposed, a shopping center was built near Greens Farms Elementary School.

Years after it was proposed, a shopping center was built near Greens Farms Elementary School.

Two months later, the P&Z proposed action to reverse the “hodgepodge” and “visual mayhem” — town officials’ words — of the Post Road. Fifteen properties along busy Route 1 would need special permits for development. New zones would be limited by “natural boundaries, such as topography, existing streets or similar barriers.”

Included was the Greens Farms tract. It took a number of years, but the shopping center — anchored today by Barnes & Noble — eventually was built.

Half a century later, some things haven’t changed. Westporters still debate property taxes and affordable housing.

But we no longer argue about shopping centers. They’re here, they’re there, they’re everywhere.

There’s nowhere left to put a new one.

Sand And Silt In The Saugatuck River: The Sequel

A recent “06880” post on the Saugatuck River sand and silt buildup drew many comments. Longtime Westporter Dick Fincher reached deep in his memory bank, and added these thoughts:

The river channel, from the bay to the Post Road bridge, was last dredged by the Corps of Engineers in 1969. That is a firm date, because we had just moved here. We were living in a rented house at 165 Riverside Avenue, right on the river.

In theory the Corps is supposed to keep the channel dredged on a regular basis. But in fact it has not, since the river is not considered an essential waterway for commerce and/or extensive pleasure boat traffic.

I believe the Saugatuck dredging had 2 forks, about 300 yards south of the Post Road bridge. One went straight up the channel. The other bore over to the quay more or less in front of the library, then alongside it to the bridge.

This no doubt was because in the old, old days the commercial channel actually went right up to the backs of the buildings on the east side of Parker Harding, before it became a parking lot.

Until the mid-1950s, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores. Construction of the Parker Harding parking lot changed the river's currents substantially.

Until the mid-1950s, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores. Construction of the Parker Harding parking lot changed the river’s currents substantially.

Despite not being dredged, for many years — probably into the early 1990s or thereabouts – the lower portion had a good channel (almost to the Bridge Street bridge) because Gault got regular barge deliveries to their dock. Barges with 8-foot draft scraped the channel clean every time they came in or went out.

I would venture that the shallowness your contributor saw in the upper river (unless he just happened to see it at extremely low tide) is exacerbated by the fact that the lower river is also silting. There are spots even in the lower channel that at low tide are barely passable in the middle of the channel, right by Stony Point.

I know the folks at Earthplace take regular readings on the river’s health. Perhaps they can shed some light on this.

Dick’s insights reminded me of a romanticized version of the Saugatuck River’s traffic. A number of years ago, when commercial brokers were trying to market the gruesome glass building on Gorham Island, they ran a big ad in the real estate section of the Sunday New York Times. It featured a drawing of the building — and right next to it, way upriver of the Post Road bridge, was an enormous schooner. As if.

(Photo/Scott Smith)

The Saugatuck River at low tide. (Photo/Scott Smith)

Finding Westport Heroes At The Fallen Firefighters Memorial

Douglass Taft Davidoff is a Staples grad from a notable Westport family. His late father Jerry was, and his mother Denny still is, longtime civic volunteers, in areas ranging from education and politics to religion. Doug is now a Massachusetts-based writer, editor and marketer.

He writes:

Several weeks ago, near Bradley International Airport north of Hartford, I noticed a sign for the Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial. It pointed down a road leading to the back of the airfield.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

I wondered if I would find anyone from Westport, so I followed the road. I did not know that I would find one of the most beloved figures from my childhood. In fact, I did not know if Westport had anyone remembered at this memorial. I had no idea whether Westport had lost any firefighters in the line of duty.

The road led to the Connecticut Fire Academy. The area is heavily wooded. Despite being next door to New England’s second-busiest jetport, it is serene and quiet.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial features a call box, from back in the day.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial features a call box, from back in the day.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial, located beside the Fire Academy, is a plinth with panels inscribed with the names of state firefighters lost in the line of duty. A polished marble slab carries the state seal, the memorial’s name, and a depiction of firefighters designed by a New Britain firefighter.

The names on the panels are randomized; they are not in alphabetical order, name of municipality or year of death. This forces visitors to appreciate many names of many fallen firefighters from many communities before coming upon the firefighter or community for which they are searching.

Five Westport firefighters from 2 deadly Westport fires are memorialized in this place.

Four of the 5 died together on May 2, 1946, when a truck exploded on the Post Road, near Sylvan Road: Frank L. Dennert, Francis P. Dunnigan, John H. Gallagher and Dominick Zeoli. You can read about the disaster here and here.

But I was stunned — and then I wept — when I discovered the name of a Westporter who meant a lot to me growing up during the 1960s and 1970s. I had no idea that George H. Cardozo had died of a heart attack during a Dec. 2, 2000, house fire on Marion Road. Nor did I know that he was honored on the state firefighters’ memorial.

George Cardozo's name, at the Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

George Cardozo’s name, at the Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

George, a commercial photographer, photojournalist and volunteer firefighter, lived with his wife Marion and their 2 daughters on Meadowbrook Lane, off Long Lots Road. The Cardozos and my parents socialized often and sailed together. The Cardozo daughters were babysitters for my brother and me. George was also a cousin of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo.

George was the photographer for the Westport Fire Department. Details of George’s death are here and here. The Westport Fire Department remembered its fallen members from the 1946 and 2000 fires on Memorial Day 2007.

I left a stone on top of the panel for George, and a stone on top of each panel bearing a name for Firefighters Dennert, Dunigan, Gallagher, and Zeoli.

And then I left a stone on the Fairfield County bench — right in front of the memorial — to remember everyone in the fire service, and all public services, who have given their careers and their lives to make Westport and its neighboring communities so special.

Stone left on the Fairfield County bench. (All photos/Douglass Taft Davidoff)

Stone left on the Fairfield County bench. (All photos/Douglass Taft Davidoff)

The Big Five-Oh

“06880” is fair game for just about every story — so long as there’s a Westport angle. 

I try to avoid missing-pet posts — though I did cover the expensive, long-running search for Andy, the lost corgi — and I turn down nearly every request about a Staples High School reunion. Trust me, I say to myself: No one cares about your little get-together. (My official response is more tactful.)

But Staples’ Class of 1964 reunion last weekend merits a mention. For one thing, the 50th is a Big Deal.

For another, it was a kick-ass class that came of age at an important time in Staples — and world — history.

For a 3rd, I gave a tour of the new Staples building to nearly 100 reunees. They truly loved what they saw, and appreciated the school they’d attended. They returned to Westport with the wisdom of adulthood, and the enthusiasm of teenagers. I had a blast, but they had an even better time. 

The Staples Class of 1964  included many outstanding actors, singers and athletes. Two members -- Paul McNulty (2nd from left) and Laddie Lawrence (6th from left) are back at Staples now, coaching lacrosse and track respectively.

The Staples Class of 1964 included many outstanding actors, singers and athletes. Two members — Paul McNulty (2nd from left) and Laddie Lawrence (6th from left) are back at Staples now, coaching lacrosse and track respectively.

So here — thanks to Barbara Range Szepesi, Arline Gertzoff and Bill Martin — is their report.

Many of them more than 100 members of the Class of ’64 who gathered last weekend were reunion first-timers who faced the experience with trepidation, deferring registration until the last possible moment. Others came only because another class member promised to be there. While many members of the class live locally, others came from all over the country: California, Florida, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee.

What happened was nothing short of amazing: the rekindling of friendships and more after 50 years of separation, the mixing of a vast cross-section of class members who might never have interacted during a normal school day, the bonding power of shared experience then and 3 days now.

The celebration kicked off Friday night, August 8, at SoNo Brewhouse. Gordon Hall, a beloved history teacher at Staples, reminisced with students he fondly remembered and just had to see.  Jack White, a pillar of education in Weston, shared memories with pupils who once were bused to Staples (there was no high school in the then-small town).

On Saturday morning, a large cohort toured the new Staples, so very different from the California-style campus of 50 years ago. Astonishment at how much the school has changed mixed with the realization of the great education we received there. We were the class that started senior year traumatized by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and seeing the “Ask not…” plaque from our class in the new courtyard only heightened our remembrances.

When the Class of 1964 entered Staples, the school consisted of 6 separate buildings. Walking between them was often an adventure.

When the Class of 1964 entered Staples, the school consisted of 6 separate buildings. Walking between them was often an adventure.

The gala reunion dinner was held at the Red Barn on Saturday night. Classmates feasted and were entertained by members of their own class. Eric Multhaup, Melody James, Sylvia Robinson Corrigan and Bettina Walton updated songs of the ’60s for today. Mike Haydn played both Mozart and an original piano piece, accompanied by Bill Reardon on the drums. Bill Briggs and Linda Clifford performed a duet. Holly Kimball Tashian and husband Barry Tashian (’63) played selections from their Nashville repertoire.

As memorialized in a poem written for the occasion by Josh Markel, it was a time for reflection and celebration. So much changed in the course of 50 years, not the least of which was hair color (or lack thereof). We had married or not, had children and grandchildren, sometimes divorced and started over again.  Careers spanned law, medicine and teaching; drama, art and music; business, social work, and beyond.

On Sunday classmates socialized at Compo Beach, a favorite haunt of 50 years ago. There, before a final class picture, quietly singing “Amazing Grace,” we approached the water and tossed 43 red roses into the Sound for the classmates we have lost and still hold dear.

Everyone stayed until the day ended with handshakes, hugs, and the hope to meet again in 5 years.

43 red roses honor members of the Class of 1964 who are gone.

43 red roses honor members of the Class of 1964 who are gone.

JP Vellotti’s Woodstock

Alert — and multi-talented — “06880” reader JP Vellotti notes that this weekend is the 45th anniversary of Woodstock.

The Westporter wasn’t there in 1969 — but 20 years ago this weekend, he was. Sort of.

JP was a stage photographer at Woodstock 1994, a festival produced by Michael Lang 25 years after the original. JP thinks it was billed as “Two More Days of Peace and Music,” but suggests a more realistic title: “A week of mud, poor sanitation and no sleep.”

Pepsi had a special promotion, with special labels on 2-liter bottles. "Who the hell would keep a plastic bottle at a 3-day concert?" JP Vellotti asks. "They were all discarded and mushed up." Some can be seen here. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Pepsi had a special promotion, with special labels on 2-liter bottles. “Who the hell would keep a plastic bottle at a 3-day concert?” JP Vellotti asks. “They were all discarded and mushed up.” Some are seen here. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

But he was 21 years old, and it was a golden opportunity. He’d worked for a while at CamerArts downtown. He’d freelanced for Brooks Newspaper, and became the 1st staff photographer at the Minuteman.

Along the way he met Joe Sia, a rock photographer who lived in Fairfield. Joe took JP under his wing. “Although he never helped improve my technical ability,” JP says, “he certainly showed me the ropes of how to get into a concert, with or without credentials.” Woodstock 1994 was no different.

Joe was a stage photographer for the original Woodstock. His photo of Joe Cocker made the cover of Rolling Stone.

Henry Rollins played an "angry" set, JP Vellotti says, "and got the crowd going. It rained, and he encouraged the crowd to throw mud at us." (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Henry Rollins played an “angry” set, JP Vellotti says, “and got the crowd going. It rained, and he encouraged the crowd to throw mud at us.” (Photo/JP Vellotti)

At the last minute — desperate for an all-access pass — Joe and JP decided to try a magazine outside the traditional music press. JP suggested Glamour.

Joe convinced them it would be an interesting story, showing who was “fashionable” that weekend. They took the pitch. All Glamour wanted was 20 prints a week later.

These 2 were waiting for Metallica to perform. The crowd had written things in mud on the barricade. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

These 2 were waiting for Metallica to perform. The crowd had written things in mud on the barricade. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Joe and JP finished the assignment in an hour — and had the whole weekend to do what they wanted.

The crowd shot is one of his favorites. “You generally face the stage,” JP explains. “But suddenly, I turned around. Never having seen 300,000 people before, I can tell you, in a term genuine to 1969: ‘It blew my mind, man.'”

Woodstock 94 crowd - JP Vellotti

“We thought Glamour would hate the photos because everyone was muddy,” JP adds.

“But they loved them. I think ran about 10.”

The Red Hot Chili Peppers came onstage dressed like light bulbs, and rocked the hell out of the crowd. Later, they dressed like Hendrix. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

The Red Hot Chili Peppers came onstage dressed like light bulbs, and rocked the hell out of the crowd. Later, they dressed like Hendrix. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

JP Vellotti, in front of a guitar signed by all the Woodstock 94 performers. (Photo/Joe Sia)

JP Vellotti, in front of a guitar signed by Woodstock 94 performers. (Photo/Joe Sia)