Saturday, August 15, 2009

I Came Upon A Child Of God. . . August 16, 2009

. . .He was walking along the road.
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me.
Said I'm going down to Yasgur's farm
I'm going to join in a rock 'n roll band.
I'm going to camp out on the land,
I'm going to try an get my soul free.

Wikipedia on Woodstock

Ritchie Havens on the anniversary of Woodstock

Forty years ago today, I put on my purple suede, (made-by-me) fringed vest and matching purple suede miniskirt - as I recall, this ensemble contained a lot of paisley as well - and took off for what would become a weekend of mud, music, and fun.

We drove from Stamford, New York, where we had been running a hotel in the Catskills called The Scotch Mist Inn. We were stopped by troopers several times along the way who tried their best to talk us out of going. They said: no food!, no water!, no toilets!, don't go!, yada yada yada, we said: got tickets!!! They shrugged and said ok. Heh, good thing we didn't discourage easily.

When we finally got to Bethel, we left the car somewhere and walked for miles, a hippy pilgrimage, until we arrived at the gate - or what was left of it anyway. It was hot, blazing sun and high humidity, it hadn't started raining yet. The gate and entire cyclone fence on either side of it was a shambles. People were pouring over it like wildebeests on migration, in both directions, until it finally flattened out and you didn't have to scramble up it anymore to get in. Nobody was there to take our tickets, no surprise.

This whole scene was being guarded by a NY State Trooper with a "What, me worry?" grin on his face and a daisy sticking out of the barrel of his shotgun. It was a good omen.

We followed our ears past the Hog Farm food booths, the rows and rows of porta-potties, and the tie-dye craft booths until we saw the crowd. It was Mecca. it was breathtaking. Words can't describe the feelings one experiences being among a half a million people all under the age of 30, dirty, stoned, and LOOSE. We walked to the front of the crowd and sat down and stayed there for the rest of the weekend.
If you see the movie, that was me in the front. Look for muddy purple suede.

The stage was high and we had to look straight up to watch the rockers. The speakers were on waaay high scaffolding towers, back behind us in the audience, that swayed in the wind, back and forth, once the storm started and the wind and rain began. The announcers kept saying "stay away from the towers" or "get away from the towers" but people were climbing them to get a better view and the towers were in the middle of this humongous throng of people. There would be no getting away from the towers, especially if they fell.

Wavy Gravy - Chief of the Please Force - was the MC and the first person we saw as we settled in. I had seen him several times in the past; Love-Ins, Be-ins, I went to all of them. Wavy woke everyone up in the morning with this announcement:
"Good morning, what we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000!"

Now, Wavy Gravy owns and operates a kids camp in Mendocino County called
Camp Winnarainbow . He is a remarkable person, and maybe my most favorite person on earth. Look for the documentary of his life, debuting this weekend, called Saint Misbehavin'. Wavy achieved high immortality when Ben and Jerry named an ice cream flavor after him, and Paul Krasner said Wavy Gravy is the illegitimate son of Harpo Marx and Mother Theresa. Here is a great article about Wavy from the Maui News written by Jon Woodhouse. He also founded SEVA and is still on the board.

Soon the rain started. Everything turned to mud. We huddled under scraps of plastic and newspapers; thinking the performers would be electrocuted any minute, no place to pee, long lines for the rows and rows of porta pottys, and the Hog Farm, who had been providing food and security soon ran out of both. I remember the menu was some sort of brown vegie stew. Local Bethel women made and brought truckloads of sandwiches. I got tuna on balloon bread and was happy to have it.

The music line up was impressive - but hard to hear and the wind and rain prevailed. Joe Cocker looked like he had some kind of neurological issue, I remember being kind of creeped out. Most of the naked folks were down by the creek, I didn't see too many of them in the audience. Everyone was busy being groovy.

People just poured and poured in. Sitting in the front, we would stand up periodically and look back at the amount of people there and it would blow your mind. It was like one giant picnic. Everyone was cool. Later, they said there were amazingly no reports of fights or crime. Well, except for the giant cloud of cannabis smoke hovering over northwestern New York.

Wonder if it would be like that now, I think not. Drugs in those days were, pot and LSD, drugs today are crack, meth, and coke too and do not lean toward peacefulness and law abiding tranquility.
Helicopters thwop-thwopped overhead the whole time, bringing in rockers, bands and equipment and taking out ODs and other mishaps. I only knew of one death, the poor guy in the sleeping bag. We heard about the births, twins I think. I've always wondered what they named those kids. . .

Often people came on with reports and updates, one time they said we were "officially a city" and that was because we had had a birth and a death. I guess that's the criteria. They kept us informed with many announcements. We had the feeling we were an isolated city unto ourselves. They showed us the front page of the NY Times with the picture of all of us and we cheered. . .we were an easy crowd.
We were dependent on them for news from the outside world.

From time to time Wavy or someone would come on stage with scraps of paper in their hands and start reading: "Kilo, Sunshine and Trippy will meet you at the gate at 9." Or "Sammy, we are leaving, if you want a ride be at the Hog Farm booth before 6." And "Don't take the purple acid!"

I remember when Max Yasgur came on stage and went on and on about what good kids we were, no problems, no fights, happy and peaceful (yeah and stoned out of our minds!) he kept saying "You kids are great, and you've proved to the world that you can be peaceful!" He made a little chunk of money, and his land got TRASHED!!!!!!!!!! We liked him, we cheered and cheered him.

When it was over, the exodus back to the vehicles began. Of course, we had paid absolutely no attention as to where we had abandoned my friend's car. Finally we figured it out, nine miles later, after walking all that way in the wrong direction!!! A little slow on the uptake, we were.

We got a ride the 9 miles back to the festival site, I sat in the window sill of a car with about 25 people in it, there was barely room for my legs inside. Endless lines of cars on every two-lane country road in upstate NY, bumper to bumper, all going 2 mph. People were walking alongside, sitting in the windows and on hoods and bumpers, piles of people riding on roofs. We were
a colorful and hairy crowd.

The car was still there, and the long journey back to Stamford began, rich with memories, exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time, and soaked to the bone. Other than that, I don't remember a single minute of that ride. They say if you remember Woodstock you weren't really there. I remember one thing. . . it was the experience of a lifetime!

This is my REAL ticket for the Woodstock Festival, still intact and not-yet-framed after all these years.

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong.
And everywhere there was song and celebration.
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky.
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation.
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devils bargain.
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.
- Joni Mitchell


  1. Wonderful entry today Trailrunner!
    You were so fortunate to be there in your purple suede and paisley, the mud. What an experience to treasure forever.

  2. Wonderful entry today Trailrunner.
    Loved it.
    I can just picture lil' ol' you there in your paisley and purple suede.
    What an experience that must have been.

  3. Thanks, Kathi! It was almost as much fun writing it as it was to be there! Ummm, maybe not, but clean and dry is ok too.

  4. i always say i had a friend that was at Woodstock and you are the one! HEY "they say you can take the woman out of the 60's but you can't take the 60's outa this woman!" and as i quoted this to a class of gals taking a painting class from me this week end... i showed them my (in honor of woodstock )under wear! yup ...painted!! Wavy gavey would be stoked! great read Trailrunner!! a hui hou!

  5. OMG - you were at Woodstock!! Why did I never know that?? You are so very lucky to have experienced, miss TrainRunner!! I am soooo jealous!