OPINION – I’m not quite sure where the year 1969 stands in the annals of history, but I know it has to rank pretty far up there as far as how improbable it truly was.
We got a clue as to what would come when in early January, Broadway Joe Namath led the underdog New York Jets to an upset win in Super Bowl III.
In April, the first artificial heart was implanted in a human.
In July, more than 500 million Earthlings sat in front of their televisions as they watched U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong step foot on the moon.
Then, in October, the once-hapless New York Mets, previously the laughingstock of Major League Baseball, became the Miracle Mets, winning an exciting World Series.
There was a certain yin and yang.
On the same January day that Richard Nixon set up shop in the Oval Office, the beloved Saturday Evening Post closed its doors for the last time, putting to bed its final edition, which would hit the newsstands a few weeks later.
It was the year Charles Manson and his followers slaughtered innocent people in an attempt to instigate a race war, the year that Pope Paul VI demoted a number of longtime Catholic saints to regular personhood, the year that John and Yoko became a couple.
It was also the year that Marilyn Manson, Brett Favre, and Rob Ford drew their first breaths.
On Friday, you are sure to stumble upon something somewhere on the Internet where they will also pay homage to a little gathering held in upstate New York in 1969 they called Woodstock.
I only know one person who claimed to be at the festival who I believe and that is because he was the frontman for a popular New York band that had just come off the road and was invited to hang out at the gig with his buddy Jimi Hendrix; he had known Hendrix before the master of feedback guitar left for England to seek fame and fortune.
Woodstock will, on its 45th anniversary, be regaled as the greatest rock ‘n’ roll concert ever.
The truth, however, is in the vinyl.
If you ever listen, and I mean really listen, to the soundtrack from the documentary movie, you’ll hear just how ragged most of the show was.
Oh, there were some memorable performances by some pretty decent acts.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young worked through their stage fright, delivering a pretty sweet set in only its second public performance.
Carlos Santana delivered a set that would launch his career. He was an unknown guitarist who was emerging from the San Francisco scene and had yet to touch the world with his evocative playing.
The Who slashed and burned its way through a powerful set.
Richie Havens, pressed into service to open the festival when the scheduled opening act, a band called Sweetwater, was trapped in a massive traffic jam, will be forever remembered for his improvisational performance.
But, the rest of the show was fairly uneven. Of course, it is difficult to show your best musical chops when tripping hard on Owsley acid.
And, as cool as Woodstock was, it was not a gathering of the best of the best.
Bob Dylan, who was living near the concert site at the time, packed up his family and left after the hippies took over the town.
The Beatles declined a spot in the lineup. John Lennon was deep in the throes of heroin addiction at the time and the band was in the early stages of divorcing.
The Rolling Stones were still working their new guitar player, Mick Taylor, into the lineup. They introduced him during a Hyde Park get-together of about 250,000 adoring fans about a month previous and had no interest in crossing the pond for the Woodstock gig.
They tried to duplicate the event at the Altamont Raceway in the Bay Area a few months later, with tragic results.
Woodstock was more than a concert.
It was a gathering of the tribe, a show of unity among a group of young people that had removed itself from the mainstream to protest an immoral, unjust war; strive for racial equality; and seek a truth they believed was somewhere out there.
They came in peace, they came to escape, if only for a few days, a world run amok in scandal, murder, war; to share breakfast in bed for 500,000 as Wavy Gravy, known as Hugh Romney in the straight world, described it.
They were referred to as the counterculture in the media, as “freaks” among each other (it was a term of endearment, really), and dirty hippies by a square, uptight Ozzie and Harriet generation that believed all of our troubles could be solved in 30 minutes with a pat on the head and some cookies and milk.
They didn’t understand that the hypocrisy of a world gone crazy, the horrors of a twisted war that took our brothers and sisters, and a generational promise to question authority rather than succumb to blind, mindless subservience, required something a little bit stronger.
It was at Woodstock on a farm owned by a rural squire named Max Yasgur, that we realized we were not alone, that there were others like us, that we could come together and work toward a dream some still share while others traded it in for suits, a Beamer, and a house in the suburbs, far from the riffraff and ethnic spice that flavors our world.
There was promise at Woodstock, there was hope, there was a solidarity and even if it didn’t last forever, it has carried some of us this far.
Most of all, it was vindication.
Instead of the predicted violence and trauma predicted by the straight world, Woodstock was Eden-like in its innocence and naîveté.
At one point during the festival, Yasgur was brought to the stage to address the audience.
“I’m a farmer,” he began.
I don’t know how to speak to 20 people at one time, let alone a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world — not only to the Town of Bethel, or Sullivan County, or New York State; you’ve proven something to the world. This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place.
We have had no idea that there would be this size group, and because of that you’ve had quite a few inconveniences as far as water, food, and so forth. Your producers have done a mammoth job to see that you’re taken care of … they’d enjoy a vote of thanks.
But above that, the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids — and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are — a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and I God bless you for it!
It was groovy.
But not just because of the music.
No bad days!
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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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