Woodstock. Before Aug. 15-17, 1969, no one knew that word. Fifty years later, its power is still there.
Some words evoke emotions as soon as they are read or spoken. Woodstock does that. I am instantly transformed as that era of my youth flashes before me. Not before my eyes, for there is nothing left to see but a farmer’s field where it took place, bt behind my eyes are the lasting images that marked my generation.
Advanced technology didn’t move as fast 50 years ago, but it was advanced enough to be part of what was happening, right then, right there, in Bethel, where most of us weren’t. Young and old were home, watching the evening news, when only three local TV stations showed lines of teenagers and young adults packed in on a road leading to, where? A concert they said, as they marched on. How did they know where to go? Don’t forget, Facebook wasn’t born yet so passing the word about anything was archaic in today’s terms.
This could be why most of us were not informed or only heard rumors of what it would be. Most thought it was just going to be a bunch of kids gathering, bored by mid-August as summer wound down. Young and old alike were now hardened to what we now call breaking news. They had endured the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and the horrors of the Vietnam War on TV. It was natural to expect trouble.
As those in the know settled on the field for what was said to be a three-day concert, those watching their small screens — there were no big screens then — saw no evidence of violence. For once, the newsmen had nothing bad to report. For three days, the hippies would let reporters know that good news was still alive.
The large “camping trip” did not go as planned, but in reality there was no plan. No one expected an estimated 1 million love children. That problem alone created shortages of food, water, space, toilets and patience. Add rain and it was one big muddy mess. For those who couldn’t handle the muck, there were many more who made lemonade from lemons. They did what children do — they played in the puddles. A year later, Creedence Clearwater Revival would write “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” but the flower children at the concert would have never answered for it didn’t matter.
But there was something that did matter: the music. It was the unifying force. Add lyrics that defined those children’s worries, observations and emotions, and the songs became fireworks. They exploded in the people there, but better yet the music moved like lightning to those on the outside looking in. Shockingly to some, words were not held back as the lyrics were sometimes spoken with raunchy frankness. Maybe they needed to be for the times were a-changin’.
Love and love songs thrived. Everyone danced, everyone sang. Peace signs became the icon and symbol for the Woodstock movement. It was not hard to know and love your neighbor when you knew and loved the music.
Behind the scenes, things did go wrong. Drug use, medical emergencies and injuries were dealt with, but none were rooted in violence. Rumor had it that sex went wild. No doubt there were a few babies born nine months after the music stopped. Names like Sunshine and Rainbow would reflect their conception. Then, there were those named after the musicians themselves — Jimmy, Janis, Richie, Crosby. All were tributes to a once-in-a-lifetime event.
The generous farmer who loaned his land was left with the mess, typical of how teenagers say thank you. Gratitude is learned with time. For most, time had turned them into grateful, respectable adults, ex-hippies who once vowed they would never become their parents. After 50 years, they can claim they were part of something big. I can’t claim that; I wasn’t there. Most of us weren’t. We were just spectators, watching our world change. The music asked for it. We sang it, played it and tapped our feet to it. It was a part of us.
Maybe those same children can dig out their hippie clothes and carry their peace signs as they travel to places in the world where unrest lives. We’ve carried peace signs in those places before, but it didn’t seem to be enough. That’s because we didn’t bring the music with us. It worked 50 years ago. It’s worth a try now. “And the beat goes on.”