2268364339By The Time We Got To Woodstock We Were Half A Million Strong 2009: 8220woodstock8221 Joni

2268364339By the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong

– from “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to talk with multiple people who were at Woodstock, and they’ve
each taken different approaches to describing the experience. However, at some point during the interview, each invariably utters something analogous to “You had to be there.” While I can appreciate surreal experiences that beggar description as much as the next person, I also have to say that “You had to be there” doesn’t do a whole lot for someone like me who, in fact, wasn’t there and wasn’t even a twinkle in his mother’s eye. But, still, maybe they have a point. So, with Woodstock now 40 years in our collective rearview mirror, I thought it was about time for me to finally “be there” and make the pilgrimage to Max Yasgur’s old farm and see where promoter Michael Lang’s brainchild was born during the dog days of summer in 1969. Of course, there was no real way to get to the Woodstock. My Honda CR-V struggles to negotiate highways let alone the space-time continuum. But as anyone with a historical bent will tell you, places don’t simply shed their pasts. No, history lingers, and I hoped that by sitting on the same spot where thousands once spent that wild weekend I might connect with something remnant in that bowl-shaped field and better understand. Unfortunately, I ran into the same cruel foil that has ended many a great traveler’s journey prematurely: car trouble. I didn’t make it to Woodstock…AGAIN. A bit disheartened (not to mention, facing a deadline), I turned to the music to try and identify what made Woodstock special. And to tell you the truth, it wasn’t really there to be found. There wasn’t anything in those performances that wasn’t present at Monterey or Miami, two earlier outdoor festivals that provided the template for Woodstock. The sets were a veritable mixed bag. For every moment like Richie Havens’ moving rendition of “Freedom” on Day One and Jimi Hendrix’s epic version of the “Star-Spangled Banner”, played for the mere 40,000 who remained for his headlining slot early Monday morning, there were completely forgettable performances from bands as hallowed as Grateful Dead, The Band, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. “Some people made their careers at Woodstock, but we’ve spent about 20 years making up for it,” reflects Dead guitarist Bob Weir. Bandmate and Dead drummer Mickey Hart echoes Weir’s sentiments saying, “It was the worst we ever played. It was pretty chaotic.”
Neil Young, who was at Woodstock as a member of the newly formed Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, was far more scathing in his review of the event and his band’s set.

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