Louisville women recall their adventure at Woodstock as teens in 1969
Sam Upshaw Jr., Louisville Courier Journal
Every time I hear the counterculture anthem “Woodstock,” written by Joni Mitchell and popularized by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, I laugh as I sing along, especially when I warble the words: “By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong.”
In August 1969, I was 12 and living on a farm in Central Kentucky, about 700 miles from a farm and field vibrating with humanity and music in Bethel, New York.
As news of the huge crowd at Woodstock spread, I — a major Sly and the Family Stone fan — was spending time on a farm and a field, too. With my family. Working in tobacco and our garden. My dad was amused at my chagrin, probably thankful in part because he knew the only bags of weed I’d be seeing were, well, those containing weeds we had chopped down.
This August, 1969 photo shows Richie Havens as he performs during Woodstock in Bethel, N.Y. The photo is only one of hundreds made by photographer Mark Goff who, at the time, worked for an underground newspaper in Milwaukee, Wis. Some were published, but the negatives were filed away at his Milwaukee home and barely mentioned as Goff raised two daughters, changed careers and, last November, died of cancer. Dozens of Goff’s Woodstock shots are being displayed 50 years later. (Photo: Mark Goff Photography, Leah Demarco/Allison Goff via AP)
Make your jokes, if you just must, poo-poohing peace and love, bad acid trips and dirty hippies. I’ve heard that trash talk for 50 years.
But even at 12, in the midst of dramatic, sometimes violent, social change, political assassinations, racial unrest and a war in Southeast Asia, I knew the power of music to challenge, heal, compel and drive a movement. And Woodstock, possibly more than any other festival in any other generation (including Woodstock revivals) did that — and continues to stand out as well as the music stands up.
I’m still fascinated and moved, too, by the Woodstock-inspired phrases, the musicians — some of whom are still performing — and the bits of trivia that crept into everyday usage by young and old.
Musician Joe Cocker performs for the thousands of people attending the Woodstock Festival of Arts and Musik at Bethel, New York August 1969 (AP-Photo) (Via MerlinFTP Drop) (Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Woodstock — Snoopy’s feathered sidekick in the “Peanuts” comic strip — was nameless until after the festival. Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz told Penthouse in 1971 that after the name blew up in popularity, he decided: “Why not?” and gave the little yellow bird its enduring moniker.Joan Baez, who closed Day 1 with “We Shall Overcome,” was pregnant at the time — and is just retiring from touring now, at 77.Ever used that phrase about getting by with a little help when talking about the support of pals? C’mon. You know you have. The song “With a Little Help From My Friends,” from the Beatles’ 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” was performed by Joe Cocker, with the Grease Band, on Day 3 of Woodstock. Neil Young had just joined Crosby, Stills and Nash to form the famed quartet that summer of 1969. Google it: Young was not a Woodstock fan.
Bobbi and Nick Ercoline at Woodstock in 1969. Their photo was featured on the cover of the Woodstock album. (Photo: Submitted)
Most, I’m taken by how the memories and conversations around the three-day event on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm still resonate with people old enough to have been there, people who wished they were there and those who just loved the music, whether it was Jimi Hendrix’s blistering version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” or Sly and the Family Stone’s soaring and still-relevant “Everyday People.”
Dick Sanders of Indialantic was 19 and working at a Hermosa Beach, California, factory, making small parts for airplanes in 1969.
A Creedence Clearwater Revival fan, he “would have walked away from the job” if he could have gotten a ride to Woodstock.
It’s not just that the music still rings true with people of all ages, Sanders said.
“It’s the peace and love and camaraderie and lack of violence that people look at fondly,” Sanders said.
Concert-goers sit on the roof of a Volkswagen bus at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair at Bethel, N.Y., in mid-August 1969. The three-day concert attracted hundreds of thousands of people, and became a landmark cultural event of the late ’60s. (AP Photo) ORG XMIT: APHS200 [Via MerlinFTP Drop] (Photo: AP)
New Jersey native Betsy Bray was 12, too, that summer. Her sister, Karen, was 18, and headed to the festival with her best friend.
“I don’t think they knew what they were getting into,” said Bray, a Cocoa Beach resident.
“I am still very nostalgic for the music of that event and that era … I think it was a time of awakening for many of us — it certainly was for my pre-adolescent self. My son, now almost 21, loves that era of music as do most of his buddies. They lament how it was still the best generation of music.”
The poster for the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair is included in the “Technicolor Dreaming: Psychedelic Posters from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park. (Photo: Courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)
There are those, even those who were there, who would debate the nostalgia and importance attached to Woodstock.
There are those who say one can’t possibly understand Woodstock unless you were there.
But I understand this: When there’s an event so powerful that 50 years later, people are still discussing its effect, its rightful place in the cultural zeitgeist can’t be debated.
This, too: That the idea of “3 days of peace and music,” as the event was promoted, doesn’t sound half bad in 2019. Or ever.
And that as long as someone’s singing the words “by the time we got to” you-know-where, the Woodstock ethos will not only survive, but thrive.
Contact Kennerly at 321-242-3692 or [email protected], Twitter @bybrittkennerly or at Facebook.com/bybrittkennerly.
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