The music was about to begin. Notes were already spinning inside my head. The whirl of the amphitheater below me was a caldron, deep and wide, enough to hold the music and the crowd together—to make it an electric one. The sky wanted to cooperate, but the weather wouldn’t let it. I didn’t care, at least at this point. As long as it didn’t rain so hard and drown out the performances. I doubt that it could. And anyway, I had my friends with me in a magical setting.
Friends, those kindred spirits you spend time with, those who give meaning to your life—they are the true ones. Even when they depart, which ultimately happens, whether it be in death or moving away, they remain true to you. We all change and go our own ways and, in these changes, you change alongside your true friends in much the same way they do with you. Those are your brothers and sisters for life. Not many make the cut.
I haven’t been back to Woodstock since those five days I spent there with friends. How many years ago? It’s hard to remember, but not to calculate. Yet I can recall what I did in those moments at the festival—with a little help from my friends, of course. A bridge has remained open to me, a bridge of friends, to cross over the cascade of years that fall away. Sven and I have always stayed in touch, and luckily we now live an hour away from each other, so we occasionally get together and rough it up. Live like we did in the old days, trying to regain our youth. Mostly through recollections and stories. Time allows you to do that, too. Instead of climbing up the ladder into old age, you can always go back, if you so desire. And it’s always better to return to that place, lit by a joint or a glass of red wine, an old friend helping you along.
I’ve seen countless photographs of the amphitheater before, during and after the festival. The earth can, indeed, swallow up most of man’s footprints, cover it over so it appears nothing transpired there. But history can be excavated, even if it happens inside your mind. The damage lies underneath the surface, or above in the atmosphere—as in climate change. I prefer the term global warming. Why not call a spade a spade? Visit a WW1 battlefield in France, or return to the Civil War at Gettysburg. The landscapes are similar: pristine, bucolic, calm. But as you walk through the fields, you can see the scars of the trenches, or come upon unexploded bombs. There are plenty of graves laid out in perfect rows, populating vast cemeteries, bronze statues of great generals on their horses attesting to man’s folly. Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
The morning was drowsy with drizzle, slow and lugubrious; chilly, probably in the forties pushing fifty, but what did I know? I put a jacket on. Wished I had brought gloves. You could see your breath in front of you. It was August! Some thought the Feds were seeding the clouds, said they’d seen planes dropping stuff into the sky. They pointed up. But I couldn’t see anything. Wasn’t stoned enough yet. On our tiny transistor, the forecast was for rain off and on all weekend with wind. Oh well. I’d sit through a tornado, if that were humanly possible, to hear the music I was about to hear. Fortify myself with some Ripple and a whole lot of Panama Red. And, of course, the Orange Sunshine.
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After a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs and homemade hash-browns cooked by Haggis, we all hung around the truck and took it easy. We watched the people stream in, the crowd growing larger by, what seemed to me, the minute. I never realized how many hippies there were. How big the movement was becoming. It was a revelation. The counterculture was growing. Something powerful was happening here. But I was smoking and joking, lounging on the couch inside our tent, able to gaze, stoned-out-of-my-mind, out the front door. The first performance wouldn’t begin until 5 PM: Richie Havens, someone I knew little about.
I had some time and needed a bath. The temperature was rising and the humidity was getting higher. Like me. Rain and heat, what a mix! It would be like that all weekend. Manic depressive. Up and down. I heard from some passersby that there was a lake nearby where I could go for a swim. They were on their way, all I had to do was follow. Join in. And so I ended up at this lake with no name. When we rounded a copse of trees, I was struck by all the naked people. The place was filled with buck nakedness. Squeamish? Me? Actually, I’d never been nude in a large gathering before, but what the hell? So many frolicking in the water. So, why shouldn’t I? The more the merrier. Still, it took me a few minutes to get up my courage and strip out of my ripped, bell-bottom blue jeans that were at least a hundred years old, and throw my t-shirt on the ground. Then, with a whoop, I ran into the lake and belly-flopped into the water. It was freezing to the point that I wanted to jump out. Turning blue in the cold. The rain started to come down, then stopped. The sun came out. A woman flower-child about my age handed me a joint and I took a soggy drag. Then someone else handed me a beer. After that, a jug of wine was passed around. I was feeling good. I was getting used to my nakedness. A good way to get started for the music.
Around four we got our foul-weather gear together and headed down into the bowl of wet fun in search for Norman and Pink Bear. Haggis had brought a huge roll of plastic to protect us from the elements. He was always prepared. He knew weeks ago there might be rain and, he was, of course, right. Roger walked beside us like a ghost who wasn’t really there. Only in spirits did he come to life. He carried a bottle of Scotch. That was his spirit. One of these days, he’d open his mouth and talk. He didn’t like crowds, and this crowd was massive. His dog shuffled along behind us, staying in earshot, whining. He didn’t need a leash. Stayed close to Roger. Must have liked Scotch, too.
It was absurd to believe we could find Pink Bear and Norman, but we did. It took almost an hour of stumbling through the crowd, which pressed in around us. At times I felt like I was in a shoebox. There were so many bodies, and not enough real estate. The spot they’d saved wasn’t as close to the stage as I would have liked, but close enough. Dead center, about halfway up the hill. At this point the grass—slightly wet and spongy—under our feet had not yet turned to mud. But I could see it coming. They had chosen this spot because here the grass was thick, and wouldn’t rip apart so easily in the rain and the trample of feet. Now, if we could only hold this spot for the duration of the festival. Someone would always have to stay and guard our position. We took our places next to Pink Bear and Norman. There was movement on the stage. I could hear a mic check. The music was gathering ahead of the storm clouds. It was about to begin and never end. I had my friends with me. What more could I want? Hey, pass that joint, will ya?