It was music and it was magic. It was a muddy mess elevated to modern-day myth. It was Melanie, Mountain, and a multitude of hippies, peaceniks, flower children, and freaks. It was mind-blowing and momentous, and it became a milestone for the ages. It was Woodstock. And I wasn’t there.
Now, at the time, I had a good reason for not going. Two-and-a-half weeks before Woodstock, the first three-day rock festival on the East Coast was staged just a few miles from Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the Atlantic City Racetrack. There, 50,000 fans attended the Atlantic City Pop Festival and I was one of them. During those three days, I saw Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Santana, Joe Cocker, Iron Butterfly, Canned Heat, and Joni Mitchell, all of whom were scheduled to perform at Woodstock. I also saw, among others, The Mothers of Invention, Procul Harum, the Byrds, B.B. King, Chicago, Three Dog Night, the Chambers Brothers, Dr. John the Night Tripper, and Little Richard. So, when friends from my South Jersey hometown asked me to join them on a journey to Woodstock, I declined.
But I didn’t let the fact that I didn’t go to Woodstock keep me from writing about the festival just one month after it happened. Woodstock was the subject of my first freshman out-of-class essay I wrote in September of 1969 for Villanova University English Department Chairman Dr. Robert Wilkinson. Dr. Wilkinson deemed my essay cogent, informative, and insightful, but awarded me a grade of D since it contained two spelling errors and two grammatical mistakes. (He was a truly tough evaluator and I hope you will be easier on my books). Despite that crappy start, Dr. Wilkinson eventually became my life-long mentor and was one of the three main influencers (my mother Mary Louise Ivins Price and my high school journalism teacher Jack Gillespie being the others) who led me to enter the worlds of teaching and writing.
And now, 50 years later, I am returning to Woodstock as a subject for my writing. The festival, in both its original year and its 50th anniversary, is serving as a main linking event in a three-book series I am writing examining the past, present, and future of the music we now call classic rock. In this book, Come Together: How the Baby Boomers, the Beatles, and a Youth Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock Generation, I’m attempting to guide readers through the post-World War II years of the rhythm and blues and country and western music that set the stage for rock & roll, the early Elvis years of rock, the Beatles invasion of America, the psychedelic ’67 Summer of Love, a tumultuous 1968, and the historic festival at Woodstock one year later.
The next book in the series, What’s That Sound? – 25 Genres and 50 Artists Who Helped Make the Music of the Woodstock Generation will pick up the story at the three-day anniversary celebration held in 2019 at the site of the original Woodstock festival. Then we’ll explore the music of artists who performed at the Woodstock music festival, the Atlantic City Pop Festival, and later in the ’70s, all of which led to the creation of what we today call classic rock. The final volume – tentatively titled Rock of Agers: Why Do the Classic Sounds of the Woodstock Generation Continue to Resonate So Loudly Today? – will show you how you can experience the entire classic rock story by sailing on four floating Woodstock-festival-like music-themed cruises. The book then offers six chapters examining the variety of ways the sounds and legacy of classic rock are being passed on to new listeners.
So start saving your money. I think the books will be worth buying and I hope you will, too.