Woodshlock

By Jeffery Cohen

I’ve been to all sorts of outdoor concerts – symphony orchestras playing show tunes beneath a gazebo by the sea, opera arias sung from band shells in a park, impromptu guitar and banjo duos twanging in a village square, but none of them could ever compare to a little concert I attended in 1968: The Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

Word had gotten around that over thirty bands would be performing for three days at a small town in upstate New York. The news reported that young people from all over the country were intending to make the pilgrimage. My girlfriend and I decided we had to go.

“Here, put this on,” my girlfriend grinned as she handed me a gold lamé pirate outfit that she borrowed from the college theater costume room. “You’ll look groovy.”

“Groovy? I’ll look like Captain Hook! You want us to be followed around for three days by a crocodile with a clock in its stomach?” I said as she squeezed into a harem girl getup. “This is a concert, not a costume party,” I reasoned. We finally settled on jeans and t-shirts.

“What are you going to eat?” my mother bemoaned. “Where will you sleep? Why don’t you wait a minute? I’ll pack you a nice cooler of sandwiches. A thermos of coffee.”

“Got to split, Mom,” I smiled as I threw a handful of blankets and a five pound bag of apples into the car.

“What if it rains? Do you have an umbrella?” she called out as we sped off under clear blue skies. I flashed her the peace sign.

In no time, we had reached the New York Thruway. The toll taker leaned out from his booth. “Don’t rush folks. Traffic is backed up for twenty-seven miles.” The highway looked just like a parking lot. Our short little trip took more than six hours.

As we reached the festival, the fields of Max Yasgur’s farm were already being transformed as thousands of people began to congregate. The hills were alive with the sound of music. Bearded bikers roared in on hogs. Saffron-sashed Hare Krishna devotees chanted. School buses painted in psychedelic patterns rolled to a stop. Girls paraded around in fishnet blouses that looked more like basketball nets. A flood of tie-dye seemed to explode like hippie fireworks. Men wore earrings like women. Women wore headbands and smeared their face with Day-Glo war paint like Native Americans. Native Americans wore cowboy hats like . . . cowboys. And cowboys wore football jerseys from Dallas. Jewelry punctured noses, ears, belly buttons. Long hairs, short hairs, shaved heads. This place had it all.

“You see?” my girlfriend rolled her eyes. “Our costumes would have fit perfectly.” She was right. We would have probably just blended in. The only way we could possibly have attracted anyone’s attention in this crowd would have been to . . . set ourselves on fire. And the only reason that would have gotten anyone’s attention was because everyone I met was looking for a light!

There were pastel-colored tents that looked straight out of the Arabian nights. Flags and banners blew in the breeze as beach balls were playfully batted by joyful people. Every race, color and creed talked, danced, laughed, shared, and even had time to listen to some of the music. To tell the truth, I barely remember what acts did perform. The show around me was so much more entertaining than the one on stage. The sun shined down on half a million people, and all seemed right with the world. Then the rains came.

The skies began to slowly change to gray as the wind picked up and a drizzle started to fall, just as my mother had predicted. Despite thousands of voices chanting “no rain, no rain,” the skies opened up. Grassy hills quickly changed to mud, and though we made a vain attempt to shield ourselves from the downpour, we eventually gave up, accepting the soaking as we huddled together, the puddles splashing around us. There we stayed, happy just to be a part of the grandest outdoor concert in history.

At the end of three days, like weary warriors , exhausted, joyful, spent, we folded our tents, packed up our tales of Woodstock, said our goodbyes and headed back home . . . back to the world we’d all come from.

In 1994, a Woodstock reunion was being organized to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the festival. I wondered if it was possible to capture the true feeling of an event that seemed so far in the past. My brother, who was too young to have gone to Woodstock, insisted we take the trip. As we hit the traffic on the New York Thruway, a feeling of nostalgia came over me. Memories of the summer of love began to return and my hopes grew . . . and then we got to Woodstock.

Where once rows of Volkswagen bugs and paisley painted buses were parked, now there were lines of BMWs and RVs. The old country roads were replaced with shiny black asphalt. Where a blanket of thousands once covered the countryside, pristine, rolling, grassy hills now rose all around us. Small circles of middle-aged people wearing Docker pants, designer jeans and loafers, sipped merlot from plastic cups as a handful of local bands went unnoticed in the background.

My brother took it all in, shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “Woodshlock?”

I gave him the peace sign. “Right arm, brother. Outta state.”

About this writer

  • Jeffery Cohen

    Jeffery Cohen

    Freelance writer and newspaper columnist, Jeffery Cohen, has written for Sasee, Lifetime and Read, Learn, Write. He’s won awards in Women-On-Writing Contest, Vocabula’s Well Written Contest, National League of American Pen Women’s’ Keats Competition, Southern California Genealogy Competition, and Writer’s Weekly writing contest.

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3 Responses to “Woodshlock”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    “Everyone wanted a light.” The best line! You have such a way with words. My era, but I didn’t make the trip. All the guys I see in Vettes these days are oldies but goodies.

  2. Bill Jones says:

    I certainly enjoyed the article but wanted to point out a slight discrepancy; you’re a year off. Woodstock happened in 1969.

  3. Rose Ann says:

    I wasn’t there, but you made me feel like it! You’re right–some things just can’t be re-created. Great story.

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