Tag Archives: Peter Gambaccini

Friday Flashback #200

Everyone remembers Woodstock. More than 50 years later, the music festival a couple of hours from here remains the poster child for peace and love (and sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll).

Who remembers the Powder Ridge Festival the next year, though?

Scheduled for 50 years ago this summer — July 31 to August 2, at the ski area of the same name just an hour away —  it too promised an outstanding lineup of musicians.

Eric Burdon & War, Sly & the Family Stone, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, Joe Cocker, the Allman Brothers, Little Richard, Van Morrison, Jethro Tull, Janis Joplin, Chuck Berry, Grand Funk Railroad, Richie Havens, John Sebastian, Ten Years After — all were advertised as appearing.

And tickets were just $20.

So why haven’t you heard of the Powder Ridge Rock Festival? Think of a more recent event: The Frye Festival.

Neighbors in Middlefield — worried about the impact of such a big event on their small town — got a preventive injunction days before it began.

A crowd of 30,000 arrived anyway. They found no food, no plumbing, dozens of drug dealers — but no entertainment.

They stayed anyway. The results were predictable.

Some of the crowd at Powder Ridge.

Westporter Leigh Henry was there.

“Basically without any food or music (with the exception of Melanie and a couple of local bands playing off the generator from a Mister Softee truck), there was nothing else to do but get high,” he recalls.

“It didn’t help that dealers had brought enough drugs for 500,000 people.”

Wasted in Middlefield.

“There were a lot of bad trips, he says. “And a lot of bad vibes.” That includes hostility toward the owner of Powder Ridge, Lou Zemel.

Who just happened to be Leigh’s stepfather.

Because the promoters had skipped town — “with whatever little money was in the kitty” — Zemel was the target of festival-goers’ anger.

That was although he had risked jail himself to defy the state injunction, Leigh says. “Think 1970 — he was ‘The Man’ that everyone was ‘sticking it to.'”

An angry confrontation (though not, this time, with Lou Zemel).

The hostility and frustration eventually led to a confrontation between Zemel and a group of New Haven Black Panthers who appointed themselves spokespersons for other angry attendees.

Fortunately, Leigh — who was there with his mother and sister — says that they reached an agreement. He thinks that Zemel offered Powder Ridge to the Panthers for meetings and rallies, and gave a speech to the crowd that “defused what could have become a violent outcome.”

“Eventually people ran out of drugs, patience and whatever food and fluid they had brought,” and left Leigh says — though it took a few days to flush out the final stragglers.

He spent the next week picking up a colossal amount of trash.

“That put a little dent in my 19-year-old hippie naivete,” he notes. “I was struck by how these presumably love-they-brother festival-goers did not seem to love their planet, or respect their brothers’ property.”

Fellow Staples High School grad Peter Gambaccini — fresh off seeing The Who and Jethro Tull at Tanglewood, and Jimi Hendrix and Mountain at Randall’s Island earlier in the month — headed to Powder Ridge with classmate Scott Beasley.

They’d heard it would “probably” be canceled, but figured something would happen.

What they found was an acid — not marijuana — scene. “Without music, people seemed bleak and dazed,” Peter recalls.

“Honestly, all of them. I don’t remember seeing a smile. It seemed “grim and post-apocalyptic.”

Hanging out on top of a ski lift pole.

They found Leigh in the ski lodge. Then they headed out to watch Melanie play, plugged into that ice cream truck.

Peter could not see her face. But, he says, “on that very quiet site on a summer night, she was what everybody needed.” She was “the hero of Powder Ridge.”

He had a lot less trouble finding his car than he did at Woodstock. He was happy to head home, and sleep in his own bed.

“Powder Ridge was supposed to be historic,” Peter says. “It was, I suppose, but not in the way it was intended.

(All photos/Leigh Henry)

“Did it mark the end of a chapter of American musical history? Perhaps. But I didn’t think about it much. I was going to London in the fall, and all I could think of was what I’d be able to see and hear at Royal Albert Hall and the Marquee.

“Which turned out to be plenty, including acts I didn’t get to see at Powder Ridge.”

COVID Roundup: Grocery Delivery; Justin Paul; Little Barn; NUTmeg Run; More


Weeks ago, in another world where kids and teenagers actually had to be driven somewhere, VanGo was gold.

The cleverly named app was an uber-Uber. It eased parents’ worries about sketchy drivers, because VanGo’s drivers were nannies, teachers, babysitters — and most of all, mothers.

In the COVID crisis, that market dried up. People still need to market, of course. But they can’t always get out. Or they don’t want to.

So VanGo pivoted. It’s now a grocery shopping and delivery service. Once again, those moms come in handy.

While many grocery service providers are staffed by a bunch of randoms, VanGo’s shoppers “shop like you would,” says founder Marta Jamrozik. And they guarantee next day delivery for orders placed before 3 p.m..

Shoppers text families if an item is out of stock. Drivers wear masks and gloves while shopping, and when dropping off groceries.

VanGo Grocery is available in Westport and across Fairfield County. To log on and order, click here.


Arts organizations everywhere have been hammered by the coronavirus. Plays, concerts, ballets — all are on hold, as theater companies, symphonies and other institutions struggle to survive.

A tiny silver lining has been the realization that the arts are helping us get through this time. Drama, shows, music — they help sustain and nurture us.

Justin Paul understands that. The Staples High School graduate and award-winning composer/lyricist (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”) articulates it wonderfully. And he does so in a great, insightful online interview with Music Theatre of Connecticut’s co-founder and executive artistic director Kevin Connors.

The 2 sat down yesterday (in their respective homes) for an MTC Live! webcast. You can watch it below.

I guess that’s one more slim silver lining: The pandemic has led to all sorts of intriguing online discussions like this. Click here for more on MTC.


Little Barn is back! They’ve reopened, and now provide contact-less take out 7 days a week (4 to 8 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays until 9). Order online through our website www.littlebarnct.com or 203-557-8501; then call again when you arrive.


Four decades ago, Westporter Peter Gambaccini ran from Thompson (in the northeast corner of the state) to Greenwich. A writer as well as a runner, he took less than a week to cover the 155 miles, then wrote about it for Connecticut magazine.

The 40th anniversary of the run is being celebrated with a NUTmeg Challenge. Running “nuts” of Connecticut — and anywhere else — can duplicate the former Staples High School track star’s run. There’s also the opportunity to raise money for local charities that desperately need help: Mercy Learning Center, Bridgeport Rescue Mission and the Connecticut Food Bank.

The virtual online challenge — because, of course, we’re still mindful of COVID-19, so you just run in your neighborhood, wherever in the world it is — takes places between Memorial Day (May 25) and Bastille Day (July 14).

There are 3 “routes”:

  • The Gambaccini Gambol (original route across the state; 155 miles, average a little over 3 miles a day)
  • The Shoreline Scamper (Greenwich to Stonington along the coast, 253 miles, a little under 5 miles a day)
  • The Border Boundaround (along the New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island borders, 328 miles, 6 1/2 miles a day).

T-shirts and medals will be mailed at the conclusion of the Challenge. (Everyone registering by June 1 is guaranteed a medal.) For more information and to register, click here. (Hat tip: MaryAnn Meyer)


Every day, it seems, someone sends me a photo of a rock. All across town, people are discovering them. They (the rocks) make them (the people) feel special.

Doris Ghitelman sums up the feeling well (and gathered them all in a nice collage):

“I’ve come across these rocks on my walks around the library, Compo and Grace Salmon Park. I’m not sure who’s leaving them. My guess is, different artists 😉

“Whoever it is or they are, I would like to thank them. Whenever I see one, I stop and smile. Sometimes they make me think. Some are in plain sight, others hidden.

“It reminds me that if we take the time to look, really look around us, we might just be rewarded with something good. This space in time is giving us the opportunity to do just that. Let’s enjoy it!”


When the Shubert Theatre planned Monday’s “Next Stop: New Haven at Home!” virtual celebration (Monday, May 18, 7:30 p.m.), it did not have to look far for one star.

Westport native and Staples High School grad Adam Kaplan will take center stage. He’s a Broadway veteran (“Newsies,” “A Bronx Tale”), was part of the New York Philharmonic’s “Show Boat,” and toured the US and Japan in “Kinky Boots.”

A $75 Next Stop: New Haven ticket includes a box of goodies (serving up to 2 people) from several of Shubert’s restaurant partners, and the 75-minute live program with musical entertainment, a cocktail-making class (supplies included), cheeseboard-making class, Broadway trivia, and a peek at the Shubert’s 2020-2021 Broadway Series,

The ticket supports the Shubert Theatre, its restaurant partners, and Frontline Foods New Haven, which feeds teams at Yale New Haven and the VA Hospitals.

Tickets are available through 5 p.m. today. For more information and to purchase, click here.

Adam Kaplan


And finally … one of my favorite movies of all time is “Stand By Me.” One of my favorite songs of all time is “Stand By Me.” These 3 minutes say it all:

Henry Wynne Won!

On Friday, “06880” previewed Henry Wynne’s attempt to break the world 4×1 mile relay. The former Staples High School and University of Virginia track star now runs for the  professional Brooks Beast track club.

The race was yesterday, in New York. Many Westporters were on hand to watch Wynne and his teammates not only beat, but absolutely demolish, the world mark. Peter Gambaccini — also a former Wrecker runner, now a noted track journalist — reports:

Westporter Henry Wynne and 3 Brooks Beast track club teammates traveled 3,000 miles and fulfilled their mission by shattering the world record for the 4×1 mile relay by almost 9 seconds on Saturday, clocking a 16:03.68 at the Dr. Norbert Sander Invitational at the Armory Track & Field Center in New York. The quartet broke the old record of 16:12.81 set 2 years ago by the Hoka One One NJ/NY Track Club.

“Winning this race and not getting the record wouldn’t have meant nearly as much,” said Wynne, who established a Connecticut high school mark of 4:05.04 for the mile while at Staples, and has since gotten down to 3:55.23 as a pro with the Seattle-based Brooks team. Wynne ran a 4:02 for the second leg of the relay and gave the Beasts a slight lead in what remained a tight race with the Hoka foursome, before anchorman Izaic Yorks pulled away to give his team a victory by more than 12 seconds.

An extremely animated Wynne bounced up and down on the track, shouting and gesticulating with his arms as he exhorted his last two teammates through  the efforts that gave Brooks the triumph and a world best time. At the end, there were plenty of hugs. Brooks Beast coach Danny Mackey’s observation that “Henry’s a team guy” seemed like an understatement.

Henry Wynne and his father, after the race. (Photo/Jeff Mitchel)

“This is just a starting point for what we want to accomplish,” said Wynne. Indeed, he and his 3 relay partners have all broken 4:00 for the mile, and Mackey had declared before the race that the foursome might go under 16:00. With the confidence Saturday’s race brings, that could well be achieved if the team returns to the Armory in 2020.

Wynne, who had a sizable and demonstrative personal cheering section on Saturday, attended the University of Virginia after his Staples years and was the NCAA Indoor mile champion in 2016. In his senior year, his athletic life was undone by a bout of pneumonia and knee surgery.

Mackey couldn’t really know what Wynne’s post-surgery prognosis would be, but was drawn to his personality and believed he’d be “a good fit” for the Brooks Beasts. “He gets the details. Right away, he bought into everyone on the team.”

In 2018, Wynne set career bests for 800 and 5000 meters and the mile. “I owe him a debt of gratitude,” he said of Mackey. “He believed in me when a lot of others didn’t.”

Healthy and again making progress, Henry Wynne can continue paying that debt with his next race: an individual mile at the University of Washington in Seattle in 2 weeks.