(Above: Even thousands of miles and dozens of years removed from Woodstock, the message of Jimi Hendrix – musical or otherwise – still resonantes with those who did not attend.)
By Joel Francis
Exactly 40 years ago this weekend, an estimated 450,000 music fans, druggies, hippies and people looking to get laid packed Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York. In retrospect, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair has become the de facto Boomer event, but for every person who attended – or claims to have attended – dozens of their peers were either ignorant or indifferent to the happening… and have no regrets about their absence.
“My impression at the time was very negative,” said Sanford Beckett, then 23, recently married and living in Kansas City, Mo. “It was all about drugs, sex and the anti-war movement.”
Although his brother’s time in the army changed Beckett’s perspective on the Vietnam War, the culture of sex and drugs kept many others away as well.
“I’m glad I didn’t attend,” Dave Glandon, then 18, said. “It just wasn’t my lifestyle.”
Geography and responsibility kept Tom Rambo, then 18, from attending. He liked the music, but was getting ready to start his second year of college at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University.
“I think I realized something a little bit bigger than a concert had occurred,” Rambo said. “But the reality was Woodstock was something that happened half a country away from me.”
Woodstock made icons of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and others, and crystallized their status in the eternal playlist of existing fans. Those who didn’t appreciate the music then, though, remained indifferent.
“The whole thing just sounded fantastic,” said Mark Brasler, then 24 and living in Chicago. “I still listen to many of the artists who appeared.”
Many rank Woodstock as the greatest musical event of the decade – ahead of the 1967 Monteray Pop Festival and 1965 Newport Folk Festival where Bob Dylan created chaos by going electric – but the event didn’t have the resonance of John Kennedy’s assassination or the moon landing.
“I will always remember where I was – in junior high health class – when our class was interrupted with the news of President Kennedy’s assassination,” Glandon said. “Woodstock does not have a role in my memories of the ‘60s.”
Rambo remembers Woodstock and the moon landing as positive events in a sea of unrest and a time that can never be restored.
“Attempts to recreate Woodstock are a joke,” Rambo said. “We’re too cynical for that kind of ‘what the hell, it’s a free concert from now on’ way of thinking. People crashing the gates would be tasered today.”
But even from thousands of miles and nearly two generations away, Woodstock stands as the brief moment when the counterculture forced its way into the mainstream and inserted a younger voice into the national discussion.
“Looking back, I think Woodstock brought together the nation’s youth,” said Ward Francis, then a 21-year-old college student. “It solidified the thinking of a whole generation.”