Bringing it Home
A light, misting rain drops like a waving curtain out of a gray sky as I drive my Chevy Cruze to work. I switch on my windshield wipers, which swipe the detritus of a week’s grime precipitated by the heat to one side. Fifty years ago to the day I began my travels, Living the Blues – goin’ up to the Country – from Denver in a plumber’s truck filled with my living room furniture and my good friends. Driving to the Woodstock Festival for five days of love and peace, music and fun. When I look back, my memories fade in and out, but come into high, stoned relief when I hear the music again. The music brings it home. Fifty years after.
Get it Together Now
We have got to get it together now. There was something in the air. Rebellion against the old ways. We were sick of the generation that came before us. We wanted something new, something perfect. No War, Racial Equality. Yes, we were idealists, and even though idealists don’t rule the world they can point the way to a better life, one we can live without war, without abject poverty, without raping the environment. Yes, we have to get it together before it is too late. Will greed and hate always rule the day? We will rue the day we let the upper crust take the world, let it burn and fall like a meteorite into the sun.
Of course, nothing in this world is perfect. Woodstock wasn’t perfect. Woodstock was Woodstock, a miracle of its time, the perfect time. The luck of the draw. An event that will never be duplicated, replicated, redamnanated. There were other festivals that came before, the Newport Folk Festival, the Monterrey Pop Festival. But they didn’t rival Woodstock, although they were damn good. There were festivals that came after, most notably Altamont where the Stones had to vacate after a riot broke out near the stage and a person was knifed to death, while the Hells Angles circled like killer bees. 1969, yeah, that was the year it all happened. Woodstock was as good as it got. Nothing rivaled it. In fact, this August, the fiftieth reunion of the event was supposed to have happened. But plans fell through. The original promoters couldn’t get it together. Even if they had succeeded they never would have been able to recreate that which happened back in August 1969. I tell you, it was one-of-a-kind. I was there.
Conversely, music today is big business, a huge business, an industry. Back then, the burgeoning rock scene was in its infancy. At Woodstock the performers, many of them famous, got paid pittances (compared to today) for their performances. Hendrix got the most: 18,000.00; Joplin received 10,000.00; Jefferson Airplane 7,500.00. Others less. After the first day, when the crowds outside the gates swelled to unbelievable numbers, the organizers let everyone in free. Instead of forty thousand that were expected to show up, four hundred to five hundred crashed the gates and tore down the fences. Consequently, the promoters took the proverbial bloodbath. They, of course, recouped their losses over the next years, bringing out CDs and a film of the event. They are still doing it today with a reissue of a CD set that cost around eight hundred dollars. Don’t know about you, but I sure as hell can’t afford that. Not many can. I have memories, though. That’s enough.
A Simpler Life
In the ‘60s I remember going to the Denver Family Dog, a nightclub where you could listen to bands like Cream, Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, Canned Heat, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors, among other notable groups that became famous. All this for three bucks a head to get in the door. Yeah, you heard that right. Three bucks. The scene back then was easy and free-flowing. The club sold no liquor, but that mattered little to us as we were appropriately stoned up to the hilt when we filed in to hear these innovative artists.
A Ticket to Ride
So, when Woodstock was announced I immediately got tickets. Tickets to Ride. The Beatles. Yeah, I was one of those who paid. Sucker, you say when most got in free. But no, I was just thrilled to death to be there, money or no money. It was money well spent. I was in good company. I was with my good friends and we all had the adventure of a lifetime, one we’ll never have again as long as we live.
We set out with our living room jammed into the back of the truck. It took us three days to get there. We were on the road. Like Kerouac. I’d read the book. I was impressionable. I wanted to do what he had done. We got there a day early to find a camping spot and missed the huge traffic jams on the country roads that lead to the venue. The five days that followed had their share of problems, but nothing earthshaking we all couldn’t solve. We seemed to be all one, all five hundred thousand of us. I never saw a fight. Too many drugs? Maybe. And yes, it rained and, by the looks of things on camera it looked a mess, with Fresh Garbage strewn everywhere and people in disarray. Standing in mud. But we all held together, helped each other. Booths were set up and food was handed out, free. There was medical help, also gratis. Many of us helped pick up garbage left behind after the festival was over. We tried to make a better world. It was our duty.
We lived in a simpler time back then. We were off-the-grid all of the time. No cell phones to track our every movement, no email to check, no Facebook to put your face into and ignore your friends. We talked in an open manner, without phones in our hands, in front of one another. We listened to the music together, no phone-cameras held up annoyingly to take pictures. How can you take a picture of the sound of music when you’re there, live. In living color. Paying attention and not holding up some device to record a memory that is already brewing inside you. I don’t know. Even though I own a phone I don’t go to a concert and take pictures of the band so far away on stage. Too much static. Put your phone in your pocket. Listen with your ears and see with your eyes. You don’t need a phone to do that for you. We didn’t back then. Even though I was stoned most or all the time, the memory resides inside me clearly like a dragon’s fire licking at the gates of my mind. I can still see and hear it far better than a camera ever could.
An Ocean of Swells
The sound system wasn’t perfect either, not set by today’s standards. During the stormy period much of the sound cut-out and was distorted by the lightning and thunder. We covered ourselves in tarps and raincoats, listening, not so much caring, swaying to the rhythm and beat of drums, the wail of the guitars. We were an ocean of swells taken away from our work-a-day lives for five days. We were the strength in numbers no one, not even the regime of Nixon could bring down.
Now, it is all gone, not so much the memories, but the ideal blown away in the dark of night. The light of the fireflies are growing dim. I wonder, does this ideal of Woodstock live on? Or have we all become automatons to a far right state Kleptocracy unfairly elected with the monied help of such organizations like Cambridge Analytica. I’m hoping the ideal lives on, even if it is dormant. The caterpillar becomes a butterfly. I’m hoping there will be a counter revolution that will put things right, that we can still get it together before the bell tolls. For all of us. Peace to you brother and sister.