Well I came upon a child of God, he was walking along the road
And I asked him tell where are you going, this he told me:
He said, I’m going down to Yasgur’s farm, going to join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land, and set my soul free.
I just finished reading a book about he Woodstock festival that I picked up off the swaps table at this year’s Summer of Love festival. It was an interesting read with anecdotes from people who were involved, either in bands, as organisers or members of the audience (although I thought that last group were somewhat under represented given the numbers of people who turned up. It also painted a somewhat rosy picture of the festival with only a few nods to the negatives, for example it mentions a few times the issues of lack of sanitation, the lack of food or the problems treating the sick or injured but doesn’t really go into any of them in depth. It simply revolved around the music and the film which has probably been well documented anyway.
There’s no denying that Woodstock was an important event and that both the concert and subsequent film both had significant impacts that in someways are still felt today. However not all of the impacts were positive – the free festival aspect of the event probably lead to the violence at festivals in the following years – Altamont for example. There is also an example closer to home in that the Isle of Wight Festival a year later was beset with violent clashes between security and a section of the audience that believed that it should all be free and that the organisers were simply greedy capitalists who were making a fast buck from the music. Ironically it was the very bands that were seen as the heroes who were behind the scenes making sure they got their money. There’s a scene in the IoW film where the organisers are counting cash so that they have enough money to pay the bands.
I think I first saw the Woodstock movie on the big screen although I can’t be sure. I know it had a profound effect on me and that I’ve probably spent my life looking for those Woodstock moments! Ironically the first festival I went too was probably the closest in size to Woodstock where 250,000 people turned up to see Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton etc at Blackbushe in 1978. I know from experience that sitting so far from the stage made the experience a little detached but at least at Blackbushe the sound was good so we might not have been able to see but we could certainly hear! It also came across in the book that not everybody had the Woodstock experience that you see in the movie – one kid even said I had no idea that sort of stuff was going on. It also suggested that the performances that some of the bands put in were a little ropey and the best bits ended up in the film!!!
Seeing it from my position in the mid 70’s looking back it looked as though it was a fantastic line up but I discovered by reading the book that some of the bands that are now household names like Santana were virtually unknown at the time. It also explained why there were clips of Country Joe singing solo but also appearing with the Fish which had always puzzled me. However there are some discrepancies between the order that the acts appeared that are in the book with other sources that I’ve seen – for example I’ve seen elsewhere that Sweetwater were on after Ritchie Havens but according to the book both Country Joe and John Sebastian were on between the two. I’m sure if I’d been taking notes there would have been contradictions in the book – there were a couple of occasions where I thought “I’m sure he said something different earlier”.
So I found myself reflecting on Woodstock and how a festival that happened when I was 7 has affected my life. As far as I’m concerned there is doubt it has. I have seen a large proportion of the artists that appeared at the event over the years some of which I’m sure I went to see simply because they were in the movie but that’s not all – after all I’ve seen most of the artists that guest on the Band’s last waltz too but wouldn’t say that film affected me in the same way. Woodstock was about peace and love – at least on the surface – and I think I became a hippy in 1976 and have stayed that way ever since. I guess I’m part of the Woodstock nation and have tried to live my life that way……and anyway what’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding!
So did I get my Woodstock moment? I’ve been going to festivals for 35 years and the answer is of course yes – lots of them. There’s a few that spring to mind like the performance in the Kings Meadow by a tribe of native Americans or sitting and showering naked in a field based around a sauna at Glastonbury. These however were just some of the ones that felt like they could have been lifted straight out of the movie but in my mind anytime you go to the right* festival you’re part of the Woodstock nation and every moment is a Woodstock moment.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden
* I can’t speak for the over commercialized events that seem to dominate now.