Saturday, October 29, 2011

I Remember, I Remember, the Wondrous Woodstock Fair

Of course, they say if you remember it, you weren’t there - but let me assure you that I was in attendance in its entirety.  I merely forgot to write a blog post about it on the 42nd anniversary in August.  (Blame the kittens).

We had been regulars at the Newport Folk festival for several summers, and we had attended Mariposa in July of that year, so it seemed only natural to send away for tickets to this Woodstock festival when we saw the ad (probably in Rolling Stone).  It sounded like an amazing event and the line-up was too good to be true.  We had seen a number of the performers before, but all in one place over one weekend:  Jefferson Airplane, The Who, the Grateful Dead, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Joe Cocker, Country Joe and the Fish, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Ravi Shankar, and more!

Three of us went in our then-new Volkswagen Mini Bus (aka Marsha the Enormous Mother).  There was my wasband Paul and this guy George from Montreal who we had met in a coffee house in Hamilton.  George went by the nickname Windy.  (Windy  was later famous for gifting us with our notorious pet raccoon, Rocky.)  We were all set for camping in the bus, with a mattress and a camp stove.  We brought foodstuffs with us, like carrot sticks and Kraft dinners, bread, peanut butter and hot chocolate.  We naturally assumed that we would just “go to the store” and buy other needed items such as milk and butter.  Hah!

I don’t remember any of my wardrobe except water buffalo sandals.  I imagine I was wearing bellbottoms and little tops or a bikini most of the time.  (Ye gods, what a long time ago that was!)  We were also equipped with army surplus ponchos and one metal canteen.

We arrived on Thursday evening and were fortunate enough, finally, to find a parking spot at a little tavern fairly close to the festival grounds.  No campgrounds were to be found and no bathrooms, much to my dismay.  The men had little problem with this but I remember being extremely relieved (!) when the tavern allowed us to use their facilities the next morning.  Lines for both the mens room and the ladies room snaked out the door and into the parking lot.  I will never forget the designations on the doors of these rest rooms:  Pointers and Setters.  I thought this was hilarious but the country cleverness seemed to baffle most of the city kids.

We packed up our back packs (Paul and I shared one small olive drab army surplus pack and Windy had a massive pack with God knows what in it) and headed over to the festival.  Paul and I were old hands at standing in lines, being herded like cattle between chain link fences, handing in our tickets, finding a place to sit and watching the concerts.  We were astonished to find no lines and trampled fences, no gate, no ticket takers!  I distinctly remember feeling peeved that we had paid “all this money!” (I recall the tickets costing $15 each) for a weekend ticket and here there was no one to hand it to.  We threw those tickets away (and now they are worth a fortune!).

They were still building the stage when we arrived on the festival grounds.  This was more than a little dismaying, but we found a place to spread our blanket and plunked ourselves onto the ground.   We were high on the hill, well above the stage which looked like it was miles away from our distant vantage point.  It seemed to me that many hours passed before the concert struggled to a start.  But the sun was shining, the crowd was peaceful, we did not care.  We passed around our carrot sticks. 

Two distinct memories - the crowd booing at an Army helicopter (flying in to help us) and the thrill of saying “that word” aloud for the first time in my life when Country Joe led the crowd in his legendary “Fish Cheer.”

Towards the end of the first day’s concert, Windy and I decided to return to the mini bus and Paul decided to stay and catch the next act.  What we did not know is that both Windy and I had no idea where we were going and consequently headed off in the opposite direction from where the bus was parked.  Plus I left my sandals in the pack so I was barefoot.

Windy and I walked and walked and walked some more - it was dark and I remember walking through a cow pasture, trying not to step into anything disgusting or on anyone sleeping there, we crossed a stream by walking over a slippery mossy dam, we walked and walked until we reached a road and then we walked some more.  Because we were virtual strangers to each other, Windy and I were extraordinarily polite to one another (Paul and I would have been at each others throats, but Paul was possessed of a remarkable sense of direction so he would never have gotten lost in the first place).  Windy and I were like Alphonse and Gaston,  helping each other over and around obstacles in the darkness.  “After you.”  “No, after you!”

Once on the road it seems we walked for miles (me ouching along on the hard gravel on the shoulder), traffic was creeping by bumper to bumper.  As the sun came up, a kind soul offered us his trunk to sit upon and another rider passed a bottle of wine over to Windy, who took a slug.  We were just settling down, and really appreciating the sitting part, when I happened to glance to the left of the highway and there, oh blessed gods, was our little tavern and Marsha the Enormous Mother!  I shudder to think where we would have ended up had I not turned my head in that direction.

Paul had just gotten up and was making some breakfast and casually inquired, “Hey, where have you guys been?”

We never saw the Hog Farm, the art exhibits,  or any vendors (well, except one memorable one!).  We catnapped at the bus and at the site, catching some acts and missing others completely.  The changeovers between acts seemed to take forever (not like the stage crew at current festivals when they can go from a solo performer with one mic to a full-fledged rock band in about five minutes). Paul and I were really tired after staying at the concert all the second night and we left just as the sun was rising in glorious technicolor.  I will never forget this moment as long as I live.  Jefferson Airplane was onstage and Gracie’s voice was soaring into the air as we trudged out and lo and behold, there was an ice cream vendor with a little cart.  For breakfast that day, I had the best Fudgsicle I have ever eaten.

I do not remember which day it was that we happened upon the infamous pond.  It did not take us very long to decide to go skinny dipping because the pond was so churned up and muddy it seemed a shame to get our bathing suits dirty.  That pond was memorable in more ways than one.  ‘Nuff  said.

From where we were sitting when The Who performed, Roger Daltry and his wonderful white fringe appeared to us to be about an inch high.  Luckily, we got to see them perform Tommy at Kleinhans and had a much closer view a few months later.  The following weekend we saw Ravi Shankar at Stratford and he was sneezing and apologized that he had caught a cold at Woodstock.

I don’t remember when the rains came - the Woodstock in my memory was mostly sunny.  Maybe because I have been a “rain or shine” festival goer for so many years that the rainy part of Woodstock did not register.  I cannot speak for Windy and the contents of his marvelous back pack, but Paul and I were completely “straight” at the festival.  I remember seeing bottles of wine passed around and maybe a few joints, but these somehow seemed unnecessary, because we had the music and we had the atmosphere.  Everyone was as just mellow as we were, sprawling in the sunshine or crouching in the rain.

Other than Wavy Gravy’s reports from the stage, we had no idea about the problems the festival had caused the Great State of New York.  We had no mobile phones so we did not know our parents were beside themselves with worry.  Many years later, when I mentioned to my former mother-in-law about how worried I had been when my parents’ plane was late coming back from Europe because of some political disturbances abroad, she laughed.  I was about to be highly insulted by her laughter, but then she said, “Well, now you know how we felt when you were at Woodstock.”