Woodstock, from a distance

(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
The Daily Record

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.”


Rock Hall celebrates the 40th anniversary of Woodstock

Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

(Above: Woodstock Festival organizer Michael Lang’s hand-drawn layout of the festival grounds. The drawing is part of a new exhibit celebrating the 40th anniversary of Woodstock at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. All photos courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.)

By Joel Francis

The enduring image of Woodstock is iconic: a fringed performer – Jimi Hendrix, Roger Daltrey, David Crosby or Sly Stone – onstage, in front of a staggering mass of people. But how did the performers get to the stage, and where do all the fans answer nature’s call?

“Woodstock: The 40th Anniversary,” a new exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, sheds light on the logistical side of America’s first and greatest rock festival.

“One of the things that interested me the most in putting this exhibit together was just seeing what went into planning of the festival,” said Jim Henke, chief curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “There was a massive amount of planning involved, and a lot of it had to be done at the last minute because the city fathers of Wakill, N.Y. didn’t want that many people to descend on them and made the organizers move the site.”

Festival organizer Michael Lang didn’t get much rest in the weeks leading up to the Woodstock and as evidenced in the “Woodstock” film, Lang had his hands full throughout the event as well. Lang made quite the statement on film making several last-minute arrangements, deals and accommodations in a hand-designed leather vest, also fringed, of course. The vest is just one of several items Lang loaned to the hall for the exhibit.

“Lang’s vest is still in decent shape today,” Henke said. “I’m sure he didn’t get any sleep during that period, but it seems like for whatever reason he was able to keep it together.”

Other clothing in the exhibit includes the tie-dyed cape and jacket John Sebastian wore during his five-song set, and the spectacles Robbie Robertson wore during The Band’s performance.

Rock & Roll Hall Of FameSurrounding the garments is the contract Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s performance contract, drawings and layouts of the festival grounds, Lang’s handwritten management and operations plan, and an early press release stating the original location of Wallkill and that “Woodstock does not figure on gate crashers.”

“One of the more interesting items we have is a letter from Apple offering the services of James Taylor and Billy Preston for Woodstock,” Henke said. “It turned out Lang and the others didn’t get it in time, so no one appeared.

The letter offered the services of the Plastic Ono Band, which it described as “a series of plastic cylinders incorporated around a stereo sound system.”

“The letter didn’t say John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band,” Henke said, “so I’m not sure if he would have been there or not. I do know Lennon played the Live Peace festival in Toronto a month later, so it could have been a possibility.”

“Woodstock: The 40th Anniversary” appears in the museum’s Ahmet M. Ertegun Main Exhibit Hall through November. The museum will be showing an edited version of the restored Woodstock film in the theater adjacent to the exhibit.

“In addition to having an amazing musical lineup, Woodstock was also the culmination of the anti-Vietnam war movement and the peace and love movement. It was a natural merger that pushed them of being underground movements,” Henke said. “For some of our visitors, this exhibit will bring back memories. The younger audience may not know as much going in, but hopefully they will learn how one of the seminal moments in rock and roll history came about.”

For museum hours and ticket and general information, visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Website.

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