NOTE: I wrote the following piece circa 1989 and first published it on my web domain, ssor.net, in 1995.  With only minor grammar corrections, I left it as I originally wrote it, but I now have added italicized comments in this version to point out my memory errors and to expand somewhat on the original.

It was three A.M. August 11, 1969 and I was sprawled on my bunk in the barracks of B company of the 35th S&S Battalion in Ludwigsberg, Germany reading “A Clockwork Orange“, when the CQ* announced loudly from the Peace23hallway that I had a long distance call from “the world”**. I knew that any news coming at this hour was likely not good and when I got to the phone my fears were confirmed because it was my father bearing the sad news that my stepmother had died of a heart attack. After I got off the phone I quickly learned from the CQ that It is military policy to grant a 30 day emergency leave to soldiers who lose a member of their immediate family.  Therefore in a rather dazed condition and well before noon I had already been transported via “deuce and a half (A 2.5 ton truck), to Frankfurt Rhein Main Airport and was getting ready to board a plane bound for New Jersey.   After a short stop there I caught a flight to Syracuse and was picked up there by my sister and she drove me the twenty-five miles to our home in Auburn.

For the next two days I stayed with my family to help them greet visitors etc. The whole ordeal was particularly hard on my father,  who at the time was still in the process of partial recovery from having fallen off the roof and breaking his neck. He was devoted to Helen and was devastated by her death, both because they had a very close loving relationship and also because he blamed the stress of her having to deal with his injury and care for him being a factor in her heart attack(I did not go into greater detail about my father’s situation here, because this essay originally did not stand alone and was {still is} part of the memoir about my military experience I have been writing for the last twenty years “Army Life and Oxymoron” and a whole chapter in that deals with my father). After the funeral I went to visit one of my best and lifelong friends Jimmy Leinen and he showed me a mimeographed piece of paper that”this guy out by the lake”  had given him. It was all crumpled up, and the original had been handwritten in a somewhat sloppy hand. It was an advertisement for a rock festival scheduled for the following weekend just one day away. When I saw the list of artists that were supposed to play I said to Jim with a doubtful expression:

“Yeah right! Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Who, AND Jefferson Airplane?!? Who gave you this thing anyway?” I said waving the crumpled torn paper at him.

“Some guy in a far out VW bus was givin’ ’em out by the lake(Emerson Park yesterday. He swore that this was the real thing.”

“Probably a bunch of crap” I said.

“Oh yeah? Well what if it really happens and we miss it?” He asked with an indignant smile and then added seriously “besides, I just had a gut feeling he was telling the truth.”

“Maybe” I said with more than a little doubt showing in my voice and then on a brighter note I added, “sheeit man!   it would be fun to drive down there anyway, so let’s!”

Despite my initial doubts, on Friday August 15th, 1969 at about 9:30 a.m., myself, Jimmy, Frank Collela, and another friend of ours, Eddie Shanahan climbed in Frank’s car and started off on the close to 300 mile trip to Bethal, New York. Bethel is a small town near the artist community of Woodstock and the place the concert was actually held. The concert wasn’t in the town itself, but on a farm outside town owned by one Max Yazgar (the farmer of peace), as unlikely a person to foster such an enterprise as could be imagined.

Frank was the self-assigned leader on this mission and as it turned out, at least in this case, we were glad he was. He was the resident acid guru of Auburn’s version of the “beautiful people.”  and was well versed in the knowledge of all drugs and hippie philosophy, having majored in such at the University of Hawaii.  Read some of Frank’s experiences at that place on his blog here.

It was about 2:30 in the afternoon when we got as close as we could by car. We could see no evidence of the vent and one person we spoke to said it was about a 12 mile walk.  I do not know if it was twelve miles, but what we saw was that at the point where we had stopped, the  two lane country road was packed solid, four cars across as far as the eye could see – a giant immobile snake.   Fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars were mixed in with the rest, all at a total standstill, and most unoccupied.  Walking along the road on either sid of the road as far as we could see were knots of people heading away from us and toward the concert.

“Fuck this!” said Frank “There has gotta be a better way than walkin’ way they hell over there” and while he was saying this he was already in the process backing up and heading down a country road to the left and away from the throng of cars. He didn’t even think to ask for a vote, but even if he had, I think we would have all agreed not to take that walk even if it was less than 12 miles.

We drove down that road for about a mile and then took a right on another even smaller road, hoping to find a back way in. After about a half hour of weaving around on this very bumpy road, we came upon a farm on our right with a farmer standing next to his barn holding a pitchfork like a staff at his side, and wearing coveralls, like he was posing for portrait by Grant Wood. Frank got out and asked the guy if he knew a back way in the concert. The farmer said for $20 he did. We scraped that together among us, which took some scraping as none of us had much money and $20 was a lot in those days. Frank handed him the money and we proceeded to follow this guy in our car as he drove his tractor on highly inaccessible roads through farm fields, woods, around fallen logs for a good twenty minutes until suddenly there we were!  In our car in the middle of 500,000 people! Didn’t have to walk at all(Actually after having Frank read this essay several years ago, he pointed out that I had events wrong and I realized he was right — my memory of events had become quite distorted over the years. In fact, I did not see Frank at the concert until after Jimmy and I arrived in another car.  When we found him he was standing next to his{the only} car near the “lake” {farm pond – mud hole} and as soon as we saw him, he {with widely dilated eyes} told us the story of how his car got to this point pretty much the way I related above.  When I wrote the original sometime in the ’80s, I had already told and re-told the story so many times and in doing so I had morphed myself into that car with Frank and I swear I really believed experienced  the whole thing first hand, farmer and all).

   What really made Woodstock unique was that the authorities didn’t have any idea how many of us were going to show up.  In fact, since Woodstock was advertised by word of mouth or in the way I found out, most of the authorities did not know anybody was going there. They were thankfully not ready. That is why all other attempts at this type of concert afterward pale by comparison. At Watkins Glenn, which followed shortly in Woodstock’s wake for example, the authorities and the entrepreneurs  were ready to make people march to their tune, with a hoard of policeman “busting heads” and vendors to sell every kind of crap one can imagine. And then there was Altamont, where the ‘Stones‘ made the mistake of hiring the ‘Hells Angels‘ as security guards and “the Angels” idea of security was murdering concert goers who stepped out of line. At Woodstock people were free to do exactly what they wanted and there was no one to tell them they couldn’t use drugs, go naked, or publicly make love. I saw a guy with a huge hunk of hashish sitting on the back of his station wagon hairy from head to toe and stark naked, actively trading his wares while a policeman stood not 20 feet away watching this with astunned, powerless look on his face, like a little boy who has lost track of his mother at the grocery store(The music flowed to us all from one-hundred foot high speaker stands on either side of a huge stage sitting at the bottom of a Natural Amphitheater formed in the grassy farmland.  I never really made it down close to the music as humanity became more and more tightly packed the closer to the music one squeezed, so Jimmy and I did not venture there.  Jimmy, is paraplegic and has always utilized a wheelchair, so he certainly had no interest in doing so).  Besides, that was one hell of a sound system and you could hear the music just fine no matter where you wandered.
.

I am aware that we were pretty wild at that time, and our viewpoints were rather idealistic and oversimplified. We “love generation” people had no clue that our revolution would come to a grinding halt with the advent of AIDS twenty years later. Even considering the utter failure of free love, we still accomplished something significant in my opinion. We got together with 500,000 people for three days of peace and music. Put another way, we were a major city for three days. Two babies were born, and not one act of violence is recorded as having been committed. I certainly didn’t witness one. I challenge anyone to Find one city this size then find any three day period in it’s history that was violence free (Frank also pointed out my error here by adding the comment you can see below in comments “Also, I must remind you that there was at least one act of violence… I punched a guy, who was having a bum trip, in the face… you of all people should remember that since you sent that radio dude from Canada to interview me for a documentary he was doing… LOLOL”  The person Frank refers to had interviewed me after reading my piece in research for a story he was doing to celebrate Woodstock’s 25th anniversary.   In addiction to CBC, I was interviewed by the BBC and representative from a Japanese TV station at that time as well).

Actually, the most fun I had at the event was after the torrential rain storm soaked us all.  The grassy hills with troughs of water running down them made the best natural slip-and-slides possible and I took full advantage of them, resulting in my entire being being caked with mud.  When I finally saw the movie — ironically in a movie theater in Amsterdam where the imbibing of the same types of substances freely imbibed at Woodstock were also freely available — I hoped to catch a glimpse of myself sliding in the mud with the other manics out there, but I could not.  

When I got back to Germany after this experience and word got around that I had been to Woodstock,  I was the envy of all the hippies in all of the companies at our post and before long, I had acquired the nickname (that I did not care for) of “Woodstock”, which all my German friends of course pronounced “Voodstock.”

Oh! and one more thing.  We may not have ushered the world into a free-love panacea, but it is clear to me at least that history has shown that we were right about Viet Nam.

* CQ stands for Charge of Quarters.  Each company has a small office occupied by this person after working hours and all night every night.  This duty was assigned by roster and shared by all form corporal (E4) through Staff Sergeant (E6).  I was an E4, so I pulled CQ several times.

** I Remember well that by this time I was already tired of hearing this moronic derogatory GI term implying that Germany is not part of the world

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Comments
  1. well, I remember it a little differently… we took NYS RT17 to get there and ended up in a long line of backed-up traffic as we got close to the event. It was late afternoon or early evening (dusk?) and some “local” guy was driving on the the shoulder of the road, asking anyone if they were going to the concert and if they were willing to pay to be lead there via a “back way”. I can’t remember the amount we paid, but he did lead us (and several other daring souls) through some back roads and farm trails to the concert. It was pretty dark when we got there and there was a steady stream of hippies walking past our parked car and there was some great music coming from the bandstand (Joan Baez, I think). We walked up to the main crossroads (the center of “Woodstock”) and we could see the stage and thousands of camping fires on the surrounding hills… there were wild theories about how many people were there (anywhere from thousands to at least a million!) and the smell of pot was everywhere. All the water that was being passed around was loaded with acid and after my first “hit”, it is just a blur of “snapshots” and “sound bites” and totally perfect chaos for the rest of the weekend.

    I have one clear memory from that first night: we were sitting in and around my car, getting high (Ha!) and a small caravan came buy… it was Gracey Slick and the Jefferson Airplane!! They had their windows down and as they slowing made their way through the maze of cars, they stopped near us and we passed them a dobbie… WOW… totally blew my mind!!

    Also, I must remind you that there was at least one act of violence… I punched a guy, who was having a bum trip, in the face… you of all people should remember that since you sent that radio dude from Canada to interview me for a documentary he was doing… LOLOL

    And, I don’t think Aids destroyed the “free love” movement… it was the introduction of hard drugs (speed, coke, heroine, etc.) and the inevitable greed, fear and rip-offs that ultimately killed LOVE movement. for a more verbose commentary on that era, you can visit my blog @ https://fmcola.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/woodstock-revisited/

    • worldtake says:

      Actually Frank, We had discussed this and I know that my memory of events became distorted over the years. I just took the story I wrote about Woodstock from my domain where it has resided for the last twenty years since I wrote it and pasted it into a blog with only a few minor corrections made. I fully plan to write another blog explaining how you pointed out to me the problems with the way I remembered the event. For example: I was not in that car with you. You told me that story of how you got your car inside the concert after we hooked up at the concert and over time, as I related my experiences at Woodstock to people again and again, somehow my memory morphed me into being there with you. I really believed I remembered the whole experience.
      As for your act of violence. I never knew about that until just a few years ago when you told me about it. While I bet that you were not the only one to engage in a small act of violence such as your punching out of the “flapped out” acid freak, such events I am sure were few and far between as compared to any accumulation of humans this large anywhere else — ever.

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