*Well, some of us, anyway.
Earlier this month, I put out a call to “06880” readers: Send in your Woodstock memories.
Sure, many of you were not even alive 50 years ago this weekend. (One or two of you may have been conceived there, though.)
But plenty of you were around then — either at the historic festival, or somewhere else and heard about it.
Whatever your age, sit back. Relax. And read these Woodstock tales. I don’t vouch for 100% accuracy — but this is how some readers remember it.
Peter Gambaccini, former Westporter, journalist: I used to estimate that about 50 Stapleites had been at Woodstock on that August weekend 50 years ago. As I heard more tales over the years, I figured it must have been 100. Now I’m convinced there may have been 300.
Whatever the number, I’m wondering how many of those Westporters (and Westonites) had a very strong scene of deja vu as Richie Havens took the stage on a sunny afternoon.
Havens, with just his acoustic guitar, was ready to go when the other headliners were delayed by weather, traffic snarls (many ultimately arrived by helicopter), and equipment issues. He began his typically electrifying performance, walked off to the back of the stage, played and sang some more, walked off and then came back again, ultimately running out of material and improvising “Freedom,” which became his best-known song.
For what by some estimates was 3 hours, Havens kept the festival multitude entertained, occupied and sufficiently distracted. I didn’t make the connection at the time — and probably no one did — but in the Staples auditorium we’d been witness to precisely the same situation 2 years earlier.
The concert headliners, the Blues Project, were running extremely late at a recording session in New York, and were not going to make it to the show on time. Someone had to be dispatched to the Staples stage to keep the teenage crowd from getting too restless and ornery.
That person arrived, in the form of Richie Havens. He saved the evening in much the same way he’d save the afternoon in front of a few hundred thousand people in ’69.
There was an expanding youth counterculture by 1969, of course, though few would have dared estimate how large and influential it would prove to be. Everyone I knew who was there went because they’d seen the lineup of performers, far surpassing in quality and quantity anything we’d seen to that point.
We went there for the music. Period. We didn’t think about any possible hardships, like having to abandon and retrieve cars, getting drenched in the rain, and having very little to eat.
We watched Santana, a Bay Area band almost unknown in the East, make perhaps the most colossal breakthrough from obscurity in one single afternoon that any rock band has ever made. Sly and the Family Stone seemed magical and superhuman; I couldn’t fathom how they accomplished what they did. The Who, already my favorite concert band, reached a new peak. And with the sunrise we were prepared for, and rewarded by, what the Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick accurately called “morning maniac music.”
That sunrise, after sitting absorbed (and pulverized) by heavily amplified sounds for 18 hours. That’s the memory I treasure most deeply. From the hillside, we saw an expanse of acres and acres of darkness behind the stage. But as morning came, a part of the New York State countryside that must have been miles away suddenly became lighter. And bluer.
One section of horizon and the sky; it must have taken more than two hours before it fully illuminated Grace Slick. I can’t say how many of my 400,000 new best friends were affected like I was. It’s up there with my moments in a rural Swiss train station on a winter morning, and my emergence through the Canadian Rockies into Lake Louise, or my first glimpse of the domes of Yosemite. It endures, and it’s deep.
I’ve written several Woodstock articles over the years, and the one thing I strive to do each time is to correct the impression that the weekend was some kind of horrifying disaster. Even as this 50th anniversary approached, I was seeing reports to that effect.
I was 19. My brother Phil, who was with me, was 17. We could handle a couple of days of torrential weather, and a night (or two) without much sleep. We’d be able to get our cars out when everybody else wanted to get their cars out. I ate very little but have no memory of ever being hungry. Somehow I got an olive loaf sandwich and a bowl of granola. Both were new experiences for me. One was never duplicated.
We were not connected by communications with the outside world (I suggest try it sometime). When stage announcers read newspaper accounts of how Woodstock sounded like Pompeii crossed with Sodom and Gomorrah without a meal plan, it all sounded like fiction to us. This was not a disaster. The word never crossed my mind.
We got along. We all smiled. I don’t recall one single instance of a lack of consideration in 3 days. I didn’t even hear a cross word all weekend. No one got visibly angry, except when The Who’s Pete Townshend clobbered Abbie Hoffman with his guitar because Hoffman got to the microphone and kept ranting about antiwar radical John Sinclair’s legal problems in Michigan. We were antiwar, we loved Abbie, and those who knew about Sinclair liked him, too. But this was about the music. Shut up, Abbie.
The other impression I always hoped to correct is the notion that these were just a bunch of “hippies” gathered outside to get blasted on drugs and otherwise misbehave. Yeah, some of that happened. And I like hippies. But I really believe that by and large, Woodstock Nation was comprised of suburban teenagers (and early 20-somethings). One was my own class’ valedictorian. If they’d all been hippies, why were there only about 50,000 of them left when Jimi Hendrix took the stage, hours late, as the final performer?
We had jobs to get back to. Somehow, Phil and I got our car out of the quagmire. I was back on time Monday morning for my summer gig at the Westport News. When I walked in the front door my colleagues, who’d been following TV and newspaper accounts of the Woodstock adventure, told me they really hadn’t expected me to be back in the office that day.
A bit chagrined by the underwhelming reception, I proceeded to my typewriter and wrote one of my many articles about Woodstock, which ran with Phil’s pictures. Someday I have to find that story.
John Gilbert Plantinga, former Westporter: It was a hell of a summer.
A month before Woodstock, I was at the Newport Folk Festival when we landed on the moon. On Sunday afternoon Joni Mitchell was in the middle of her set when someone came on stage and whispered in her ear. She announced we just landed on the moon. The crowd booed.
They weren’t booing her. They were booing NASA and nationalism. Joni finished her set, and we went home.
I don’t know how I got home. I was living part time at the beach, but I ended up at my girlfriend’s house in New Canaan. I was 17.
So here’s how I got to Woodstock. I was hanging out at Compo Beach, probably playing the guitar and smoking pot, when 3 people came up the boardwalk. They said they were going to Woodstock, and showed me their tickets.
I hadn’t even thought about going. A few minutes later, I walked away. A while later I was back on the boardwalk. I looked down in the and, and saw the 3 tickets. The 3 people were nowhere to be seen.
I picked them up. “I’m going!” I thought. I figured when I got there, someone would need the other 2 tickets.
Wednesday morning I woke up early, packed my duffel bag, walked to Roseville Road and put out my thumb. I don’t remember my rides, but I got to the other side of the Hudson and made my way toward Bethel. I never had to use the tickets, because the gate wasn’t built yet.
I had my Martin guitar, my sleeping bag and some clothes. I was comfortable with my thumb out. I had been a runaway. I just wanted to get the fuck out of Westport with a guitar.
That night there was a campground set aside for people to build the stage and get everything going. There was a kitchen under tarps in case it rained. The Hog Farm was serving free rice.
Ken Kesey was there with his Merry Pranksters. Other school buses had also been set up like a circle of wagons. People were playing music.
More and more people showed up. Thursday night someone gave out free hits of psilocybin. I think it was the Pranksters.
Then a band started playing. It was the Grateful Dead.
By Friday morning you couldn’t get to the festival site. I probably dropped acid before noon. The daytime concerts I remember were Sly & the Family Stone, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Country Joe, Richie Havens and Melanie.
At some point I ran into Liz Yoder, who had been my girlfriend during the school year. We spent the rest of the weekend together.
I never got too far from the stage once the concert started. I was in the middle of the hill. People came around with food and big jugs of Almaden wine. You had to go to the top of the hill to use the Port-a-Potty.
Then it rained. It got really, really muddy.
At some point the Who played. I think it was Saturday night. During their set Abbie Hoffman got a mic, and started politicizing. Pete Townshend kicked him, and shoved him off stage. It was the only violence I saw all weekend.
I woke up Monday morning soaked, muddy, filthy. I heard a guitar: Jimi Hendrix. I made my way as close as I could to the fence in front of the stage. He played “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a solo, then the Band of Gypsies came on with him for an awesome set.
Jimi was done at 9:30 a.m. Iron Butterfly came on. “In A Gadda Da Vida” didn’t cut it. I started figuring out how to get home. I can’t remember if I was still with Liz.
Then I ran into this guy Zang from Norwalk, who’d worked with bands in Fairfield County. To move them, he had a decommissioned ambulance (still red and white). He gave me a ride back to Norwalk with a bunch of hippies. I hitched the rest of the way home.
Then it was time to go back to Staples. I was bored. I had done the same stuff sophomore year at Pomfret, then again before dropping out junior year.
The draft lottery was coming. I graduated, and got accepted as a math major at Ithaca College. That summer of 1970, I headed west in a van with friends. I won a quarter in the slots, and bought a paper to see my lottery number. I was 336. I wasn’t going to war.
My friends dropped me off in Berkeley. I had no money, no plan, just a duffel bag and a guitar. I called my parents and said, “Tell Ithaca I’m not going. Sorry about your deposit.”
I went back home, worked, got drunk and acted like a jerk.
Bruce Salvo, Westport architect: Driving back from Boston in my orange Beetle, I picked up a young woman hitchhiking to Woodstock. She changed clothes from her backpack right there in the front seat. Later she changed back to original outfit, right next to me.
Dropping her off as I headed south, she begged me to come along to the festival. Square that I was, I declined. She got out and continued hitching. I drove home.
Pat Workman, longtime Westporter: My husband Jim and I just got back Bethel, New York. I was feeling nostalgic. I wanted to see the museum at the Center for the Arts, and visit the hill where I sat for 3 days.
My first journey to Woodstock began with hearing advertisements on a New York radio station. I bought 2 tickets for $18 each, a new camera, and asked my boyfriend (now my husband) if he wanted to go. He turned it down; his music was country (and still is). A friend of a friend of a friend offered to drive n exchange for the ticket.
I was 22. I wore my trendy puka shell necklace, but I was not a hippie. I was just a girl from Westport.
We arrived Thursday, before the roads got clogged, and parked in a field. The plan was to return after each day of music to sleep, and eat the food we brought.
That never happened. Once we walked a short way to the hill, we never left. We realized if we didn’t claim a spot then, when the concert began Friday afternoon it would be impossible to return.
My camera stayed in the car. So did the food and sleeping bag. We didn’t even lock the car!
We were way up on the hill. It was a bowl, so no matter where you were you could see the stage.
It rained the first night. Plastic arrived from someone nearby.
Food didn’t exist. The Hog Farmers did their best, but the lines were long and they ran out of provisions quickly. Every once in a while oranges and apples were passed around. But we were there for the music.
I don’t even know if used the bathroom facilities. The lines were very long, and they were way up on the hill far from our spot.
Mud was in great supply. We still had grass around us.
Everyone got along. We were all in the same situation. Stories were shared while we waited for the next band. No one complained.
We left on Sunday afternoon, missing so many more performers. I arrived home to find my mom was worried I wouldn’t make it out of there.
In the days that followed, newspapers printed stories about things I never knew had gone on: tents, drugs, swimmers, children, etc. Most of that happened if you left the concert site and walked through the woods. I’m glad I stayed in my spot for 3 days.
And I’m glad to have been part of such a historic event that can never be replicated.
I’ve come a long way. Today I’m a preschool teacher at Greens Farms Nursery School, mother of 3 and grandmother of 7.
I recommend the easy drive to Bethel Woods Arts Center. I was thrilled to walk onto the hill and find what I think was the very spot I occupied. Standing there, looking down where the stage was, I could almost hear Richie Havens singing “Freedom.”
Carl Shea, former Westporter: Your request inspired me to dig out my little black book, which I miraculously found in my basement desk. I had made notes in it about my trip home from Vietnam.
I left my unit (327 Signal Company, Long Binh, about 20 miles from Saigon) at 10:30 a.m. on August 15, 1969. We left Bien Hoa airfield at 5:23 p.m. local time. Given the 11 hour time difference, that was 6:23 a.m. on the East Coast.
We stopped in Okinawa and Wake Island, which we left about the time Richie Havens took the stage to begin the concert. Then on to Honolulu, and San Francisco/Oakland (3:30 a.m. local time), where we exchanged our fatigues for new dress uniforms.
About 12:15 on August 16 (3:15 p.m. EDT) I boarded a plane for New York. I arrived around 8:45 p.m. My parents and sister excitedly told me about half a million people at some concert on a farm in New York, and how the New York State Thruway was closed.
I was unimpressed — or unconscious, since it was 45 hours since I’d left my company in Viet Nam.
My response was: “Great. Can we go get some pizza? I haven’t had pizza in a year.”
I missed the moon landing too. War is hell.
Hedi Lieberman, former Westporter: We lived very close to Woodstock. My mother made 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Temple Sholom Sisterhood. My father — principal of Monticello Middle School — opened the building for emergencies.
My brother, who was 11, was helicoptered back and forth to help with overdoses, and to bring people to the schools where my BFF — whose father was a local dentist — helped with child care.
I was not allowed to go. I was stuck making sandwiches with my mother.
Eric Burns, former Westporter/author/media critic: I was living in Boston. Five of us packed into an old Pontiac one Friday morning. We never made it.
We still had another 10 miles to go when traffic on our 2-lane country road came to a dead stop. We couldn’t go forward, couldn’t back up. We took shifts in the front seat because the air conditioner couldn’t reach further. We were starved and thirsty.
Finally, it seemed that help was on the way. People living along the road poured out of their houses with food and beverages for us poor, stranded wayfarers. Or so we thought.
It wasn’t what it seemed. They were not Samaritans; they were capitalists. A peanut butter sandwich went for $10. Margarine sandwiches were $5. The Wonder Bread was stale. A small cup of water was a dollar; so was each refill. When we finished, we had to return the cups to be used for the next customer.
By the time my friends and I pooled enough money for a few bites and sips, the traffic opened up a few feet. We executed a u-turn, and headed back the way we came.
We never heard so much of a measure of music from Hendrix, Joplin, the Who, the Dead, Creedence or Crosby, Stills & Nash. Instead we rolled down the windows, blasted the radio, and sang along with the Archies to “Sugar, Sugar.”
Marcia Wright, retired Westport teacher: I remember how polite everyone was. Legions of tatted-up bikers carefully maneuvered their bikes through throngs of people, saying “pardon me.”
There was lots of nudity. People casually walked around butt naked, enjoying life and music. Few gave them a second glance. Many rinsed off in Yasgur’s pond. Lines for the Porta-Potties were impossibly long.
The wafting odor of marijuana was everywhere. And the mass of individuals was so dense it actually changed the acoustics. Even though we were outside, it sounded like inside.
It rained a bit, so we used our motorcycle to secure a tarp.
I gave my pictures of Woodstock to the Staples social studies department in the 1980s. I imagine they are long gone, the victim of construction and time.
David Barton, native Westporter: I wanted to go to Woodstock for months. The DJs on WNEW made it sound like if you didn’t, you’d be a loser who could never look at your friends again.
The only problem was, I was too young to drive. And none of my friends’ parents would let them go. I whined, pestered and eventually bribed my college-age brother Artie to drive me there.
We left totally unprepared: no tickets, directions, sleeping bags or food.
We followed the traffic toward the Catskills, and parked in a farmer’s field 4 or 5 miles from the site. Artie says we coincidentally parked next to fellow Westporter Pete Gambaccini.
We joined the procession hiking to the concert. Almost every male wore army fatigues and jeans. Local residents handed out cups of water. In retrospect, they were incredibly tolerant. I even used someone’s hose to cool down.
We arrived just as the music started Friday afternoon. I think it was Richie Havens. That’s the last music I remember. My brother says Santana was great. I have to take his word for it.
We sat on the lawn close to the stage. Our neighbors passed around water, food, beer and lots of pot. I didn’t smoke anything the entire weekend. I don’t remember anyone passing around acid or pills. Maybe we were in the PG section.
I was quite a bit younger than most of the crowd, but didn’t feel out of place. Everyone was happy and friendly. A lot of frisbee tossing and balloon swatting.
One thing does stand out: I was a barely 16-year-old Westport kid surrounded by lots of topless college girls. I pretended it wasn’t a big deal. Of course, it was.
The first day was the best. After the rains hit, it wasn’t quite the same for me. After the announcers told us to stay away from the light towers, as everyone rushed toward them to get shelter, my memory is largely of lots of mud, and lines for the bathroom.
We got a few hours of rest (not sleep) back at our car at one point, but we were pretty sleep deprived the 2nd day, which is why I don’t remember the music. Also, we moved further back and to the side, for more room to play frisbee and toss a football. That’s what I would do in front of the Staples cafeteria during lunch — except now there were rock bands.
By the end of the 2nd day I was hallucinating — not from drugs, but lack of sleep. We decided to head home after it rained again. It was so muddy we had to be towed by a tractor out of that poor farmer’s field. I hope we paid him something.
My only regret is not seeing Jimi Hendrix play “The Star Spangled Banner” on the final day. Woodstock seemed like a really big, most fun, party to me — not a generation-defining sociological event. Maybe I was too young to know better.
Fred and Kathy Fassman, longtime Westporters: In 1969 Kathy suggested going to Woodstock, to see what it’s all about. We bought tickets, and loaded our car with a tent, 3 friends and a dog.
No problem camping at a state park a few miles away, and driving to the site on the first day. Five of us and a dog fit into a 2-man tent just fine after a day listening to amazing bands and enjoying the atmosphere.
Day 2 was a bit different. We had to park a distance away, and find our place on the hillside among so many happy people.
Walking through the woods to the site was an event in itself. There were lots of makeshift tents, people dancing, singing, smoking. The second night the rain started, but nobody moved. All was peace, music and rain.
We had jobs waiting for us in New York, so we left to be at work on Monday. That’s when we found the news, and most people talking about the most amazing concert and event. Who knew we would be a part of history?
Ann Chernow, Westport artist: In the early 1970s, we and our best friends bought a walk-up studio on the East Side. It wasn’t beautiful; it was burglarized 3 times; we endured our next door neighbor who was in scream therapy. But for 10 years, every other weekend we enjoyed New York’s shows, museums and restaurants.
When I could no longer climb the stairs, we decided to sell. We took out a few ads and spread the word. After no takers for several months, we decided to spruce up the room. Although none of us were at Woodstock, we were big fans of The Happening.
My partner had purchased an original Woodstock poster that we hung on the wall near the front door. The first prospective buyers took one look around. Instantly they said they were buying, because anyone who would hang a Woodstock poster near their front door was cool and must enjoy life.
Their only caveat: We had to leave them the poster.
Nomi Meltzer Jacobs, longtime Westporter married to a Westporter: I was 16 when I went to Woodstock with Kevin Buckley, Tullio Ferri and another girl way too young.
We left on Thursday, and hit the traffic jam 10 miles before the site. It took 8 hours to go 10 miles. It was a party the whole way. We ran into Tim DeHuff and Geoff Ferguson on that road.
We finally put down our tent. We saw a lot of Richie Havens, because nobody else could make it through the traffic.
None of us had tickets. It didn’t matter, because the fence surrounding the concert area was torn down.
The next day w saw a lot of nude bathers and the Pig Farm bus (kind of like the Merry Pranksters).
Saturday we saw everyone that played. But there was not food — or not enough, anyway. Someone threw pears to the crowd.
Of course, I hadn’t been allowed to Woodstock. So I ran away. My father called my older sister, who worked at Carvel’s, and said he was going to call the police. My sister laughed, knowing the police would do nothing.
I was in deep trouble when I got back. It was worth every memory I have now.
Jim Grosner, former Westporter: August 16, 1969 was my 23rd birthday. I was a year out of the Navy, and had just purchased a blue Harley Davidson. I found this photo of me and a friend on that Sportster on the Woodstock 1969 video.
Woodstock was absolutely amazing…the parts that I can remember.
Matt Murray, longtime Westporter: When I went to work at the Mediasound recording studio in the mid-70s, I learned that 2 of the partners — Joel Rosenman and John Roberts — had put together the funding for Woodstock, and hired the production staff.
Being a gofer for the studio, another guy from shipping and I were sent across 8th Avenue and 57th to get some office furniture. In the storage area was a stock of Woodstock posters. We asked if we could have a few. They said sure. I still have my 2.
For a Christmas party, they had unused Woodstock tickets as drink chits. I should have saved those, and bought my drinks.
(The studio opened a couple of months before Woodstock. They took a financial beating, but the movie and record offset the losses.)
Dan Woog, longtime Westporter, blogger, soccer coach: My friend Neil Brickley and I were planning to go. We hadn’t thought much about logistics. We just thought the music would be cool.
I never made it. A couple of weeks before Woodstock, I got grounded. For good reason: I wrecked my parents’ car. So even if I was not grounded — which, I must emphasize, I well deserved — we would have had to figure out alternate transportation.
A few years later, I was cleaning out stuff at my parents’ house. I came across my Woodstock ticket: forgotten, unused, and in pristine condition.
“Hmmmm — that’s interesting!” I said to myself. And promptly threw it in the trash.
I had no idea collectibles were ever going to become a thing. If I had held on to that $18 ticket for a few years, I would have been able to pay for many, many car repairs.
Even at today’s prices.