Chatted with two fellow travelers this morning on the road to Woodstock 2019, the 3-day 50thanniversary of the historic music festival at the original site, at our Hampton Inn, which is about 30 miles from Bethel Woods. I assumed they were headed there when I saw they were both carrying clear plastic totes. Concert rules specified that you could only take such carrying cases onto the Museum and amphitheater grounds.
The two women were from Houston, Texas. One had been at the original festival (she had also seen the Beatles live, but that was another story) and she was bringing her best friend along to help relive the memories and make new ones.
However, she admitted to being a little worried. Festival officials had announced that no one would be allowed near the property, which is now listed on the national Historic Registry, unless they had a special pass permit, which had been mailed to ticket holders. There were three separate concerts scheduled for the three days and each required a special access permit in addition to a ticket. She had left Houston with three days of tickets, but only two permits. The one for the Ringo Starr concert hadn’t arrived. However, two days prior to the start of the festival Bethel Woods officials had emailed out a notice of what to do and where to goif you hadn’t received permits or tickets. “I won’t feel good until I have that permit in my hand,” she said. I gave her my card and said to contact me if she ran into any problems. She didn’t. So I assume she made it Woodstock without incident.
On the Road Again.
Shortly after noon, Judy and I pulled out of our hotel, for the back-country ride to Woodstock. We SIRIed the directions. (How did I get anywhere before SIRI?). To say the route was circuitous, winding, and up and down and up and down again does a disservice to all those descriptors. There were also long stretches where there was no sign of human habitation. I made note to find a different route back to the Hampton Inn after the concert. If was fun riding these roads in daylight, but I didn’t relish doing the same after midnight.
First Signs of Hippie Culture
About two miles from the site, we saw our first evidence of the reunion. A group of about 20 families, all dressed in the colorful garb of the late 60s and early ‘70s, had set up an impromptu campground. Many of them flashed us the peace sign as we drove slowly past the encampment.
Woodstock Straight Ahead Down This Road
During the 1969 festival, there were reports of 17-mile long traffic jams, with thousands of music lovers abandoning their vehicles and walking miles to the hear the music, and in the parlance of the times “dig the vibes”. As we approached the single-entrance road, there were less than 17 cars in front of us. We pointed to our permit hanging from our mirror and the county sheriff officer waved us on through. We parked in Lot E-3. Woodstock 50 and whatever it would hold was only about a half-mile of walking away. As we ambled, we noticed the look of our fellow Woodstockians. For many of the women, it was peasant blouses, loose long shirts, fringe, and flowers-in-their-hair. For men, it was mostly tie-dye or music t-shirts. Judy was dressed as Judy always dresses in Judy style. I wore faded jeans and a white with blue and gold lettered t-shirt my two grandkids had given me bearing the slogan “I May Be Old, But St Least I Saw All the Good Bands”. Throughout the day, several festival-goers, when they saw my t-shirt offered up some variation of the comment, “Man, ain’t that the truth”.
And So It Begins
The first thing on the grounds we encountered was a small group showcasing a replica of a restored, painted VW bus they were calling The Woodstock Bus, which they had shipped from California for the festival. They had some great stories and I promised I would come back to interview them before the festival was over.
As we prepared to enter the Museum, I noticed Woodstock Museum curator Wade Lawrence instructing people where to go. I had met Wade on a Flower Power music cruise a few years ago. I had let him know we were coming to Woodstock 2019 to gather information for my next book and I wanted to chat with him if we got a chance. Wade acknowledged me, but quickly added, “I guess you can see that right now wouldn’t be the best time”. He was definitely correct.
Since it was now after 2 p.m., Judy and I were hungry and we decided to make lunch our first stop. Now, the first festival in 1969 was plagued by food shortages, but it was clear that wouldn’t be the case 50 years later. In addition to the museum café, there were food booths set up all over the grounds. Much of the food offered had a festival-appropriate name. There was the Hendrix Hamburger, the Santana chicken sandwich, and the Hog Farm pulled-pork bowl. We were first joined at our table by a lone traveler who had decided to stop on his drive between his two homes – one in Martha’s Vineyard and one in Miami. While we were chatting, we were joined by a mother and her teen-aged son, who was a huge classic rock fan. He sported a Beatles t-shirt and admitted to being excited about seeing his first Beatle in performance. Then two couples from San Diego sat down with us. As we were offering our back stories, we discovered that one husband had worked for years in the U.S. Patent office which was located in our home community of Crystal City and he and his wife, who worked with AOL founder Steve Case, had lived in Old Town Alexandria, just 3 Metro stops from our current apartment. (Small world indeed, as they say)
After lunch, Judy and I spent 2 hours strolling the grounds and visiting the various booths and displays located there. There were two stages set up where live local music was performed throughout the afternoon. Judy spent much of her time in the artisan tents, while my favorite stop was the writer’s tent where I talked with a half dozen writers who had written books dealing in some way with Woodstock.
Of course, you can’t consider Woodstock without thinking rain and mud. I had mixed feelings about the rain. While it would be cool to say you survived the rain at Woodstock (even if it was 50 years later) and make for a good tale, I didn’t really want to be drenched before the concert. (I wasn’t worried about the show because our seats for Ringo were under cover). But of course, that would not be a decision for me decide. As we were talking to friendly recovering volunteers at the Recovery Unplugged tent (one was a former Jersey policeman), festival officials came by and announced that the weather was calling for a severe storm with hail to pass through the area in a short time, meaning that all tents should be pulled down and all items stored safely. Judy and I decided to seek shelter from the predicted storm by using this time to check out the actual museum, which we had visited once before several years ago. It was great then and the fact that we were actually seeing it again exactly 50 years to the week when the original festival was held, made it even more special this time. After we emerged, we discovered that the threatened, violent storm had only passed through the area as some brief showers. (I guess that “no rain, no rain, no rain, no rain” chant works better in the 21stCentury than it did in the previous one. After dinner (for me it was the Hendrix hamburger), we headed to the amphitheater for the big event of the first day – a concert by Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band, with opening acts the latest version of Blood, Sweat and Tears (which, in its second grouping had played at the original Woodstock festival) and Edgar Winter, who had performed two songs there with his deceased Texas bluesman brother, Johnny, in 1969.
Up first, Blood, Sweat and Tears provided the perfect dilemma for today’s fans of 1960s music – was it the songs or the original artists performing them that we most loved. There is not one member of BS&T who played at Woodstock and on their initial records now in the band. However, with today’s powerful, sophisticated sound systems, many of the songs sound much better live now than they did back then. That was definitely the case with BS&T, who I first saw in the fall of 1969, and on this night, recreated the performance from their set at the original Woodstock. For me, that meant they played two of my favorite Blood, Sweat and Tears tunes – “More and More” (their opener) and “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”. (And, just in case you want to know my third unplayed-on-this-night favorite, it’s “I Can’t Quit Her”.
Edgar Winter, on keyboards and sax, was backed by a talented and versatile three-piece band, for his 45-minute set. One of the highlights was the classic “Tobacco Road” which he had played with his brother Johnny in 1969. Another was his brother’s signature song “Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo,” which Edgar introduced by saying, “here’s a song my brother would be playing about right now if he were here tonight”.
Finally, it was Ringo ‘s turn. And I mean, really, what’s to say. He’s a Beatle, one of the only two remaining with us on Earth. He’s 79 years old, but you would never know it from his energy on stage. And he’s Ringo Starr and all that name implies. For more than a decade, Ringo has been touring with friends in various configurations of his All-Star Band. The group plays tunes Ringo sang with the Beatles, a few of his solo hits, and songs the members of his current lineup made famous in their own groups. Here is his set list for Woodstock 50:
It Don’t come easy
Pick Up the Pieces
Don’t Pass Me By
Black Magic Woman
Work to Do
Oye Como Va
I Wanna Be You’re Man
Who Can It Be Now?
Hold the Line
With A Little Help From My Friends/Give Peace A Chance
And given the history of Woodstock, how could you find a better first-day closer than “With a Little Help from My Friends and Give Peace a Chance?”