Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

The Irony of Woodstock

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, many find themselves reflecting about that iconic event and its impact.

Thank you to Charlie Maloney, Woodstock alum, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts volunteer, Museum docent, and a guy who "gets it" when it comes to the spirit of the 60s that Woodstock has come to epitomize. It was he, who while surfing the internet one recent night, found an article written by Robert Hilburn for the Los Angeles Times. It kept him up later than he'd planned, but it was worth the sleep loss.

1989 was the 20th anniversary of Woodstock. Like 50, 20 is also an number that summons reflection as well.

Robert Hilburn

Hilburn's point was that if Woodstock had been held in 1989 it would have been a very different event. By 1989 the commercialization of rock music had gone from the 1950s fear of rock to a late-20th century commercial takeover with branded events.

The article's first  example is Janis Joplin's bringing a bottle of Southern Comfort on stage with her in 1969. In 1989, such "product placement" would have cost the liquor-maker. For the article, famous concert promoter Bill Graham suggested that, "...Southern Comfort would pay her a million dollars for just holding that bottle...."

Hilburn wrote that Graham's viewed Woodstock, "...not principally as a great musical moment, but as the day corporate America saw the big money to be made in rock. Indeed, Woodstock itself was a grand attempt to escalate the scale of rock."

The article quotes Joe Smith, a Capital-EMI exec, "Woodstock legitimized rock 'n' roll, and it sent out the message that there was a lot of money to be made in it."

Lou Adler, one of the organizers of rock's "first" festival, the Monterey International Pop Festival, said, "If Monterey made rock 'n' roll an art form, Woodstock made it a business."

Really?

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Woodstock Ventures didn't just lose its shirt that weekend, it lost its pants, shoes, had, and underwear. None of the four organizers, Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, John Roberts, or Joel Rosenman, ever got rich from it. They did continue to get plenty of grief and a mailbox full of law suits. Within days, Ventures sold the movie and music rights to to just begin to get out of the financial hole it found itself in. It was more than a decade later before that hole was filled. Not what I would call an acceptable rate of return.

If anything, it might be more accurate to say that corporate America saw the potential for "big money" in Woodstock's muddy aftermath and its may brethren festivals that summer.

It's many brethren? Until I began training as a docent at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts' Museum, I had, as most recollect and the article implies, that Woodstock was one of the two memorable festivals that year. The other, the sad counterpoint, being Altamont and its association with Hell's Angels violence and failed security.

Where were…?

That was not the case.  My research led me to dozens of other festivals that summer. None had the huge attendance that Woodstock had, but many had the same names. In fact, the lack of Black artists and bands at Woodstock (given the number available), stands in contrast to those other festivals. For example, none of the following were at Woodstock, but appeared throughout that summer at other festivals: The Chambers Brothers, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Taj Majal, Elvin Bishop, Sun Ra, Bukka White,  Carla and Rufus Thomas, Ike and Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye,  Albert King, Albert Collins, Edwin Starr, Slim Harpo, Big Mama Thorton,  Champion Jack Dupree, John Lee Hooker, Edwin Hawkins Singers, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, Charles Lloyd, BB King, Little Richard, James Cotton Blues Band, Sam and Dave, Fred McDowell, Deacon John and the Electric Soul Train,  or Junior Walker and the All Stars,

I am not suggesting that Woodstock's invited line-up was a biased or poor one. It was great (others were, too). And I am certainly not suggesting that all of those listed above should have been there, otherwise the true musical coexistence that the spirit of Woodstock implies would ring hollow. But why not any?
Old Man Woodstock Reflections

 

As a Woodstock alum, myself, it is a thrill to hear "my" festival so celebrated and given such importance, yet when Lou Adler states that, ""My feeling has always been that if it hadn't rained, we may not have heard that much about Woodstock, or at least heard about it in a different way.....More than the music, it was the story of people pulling together against all these adverse elements. That's what made it such a dramatic and universal story" I cringe a bit.

The rain did happen, but the weekend was not a wash-out by any means. Sunburned backs attest to that. 
Old Man Woodstock Reflections
That those of us who attended did return home with a sense of solidarity seems to be accurate. The most common theme I note after conversations with returning Woodstock alum at the Museum was the sense of "Us" that we had there and afterwards.

Always remember that on that misty Monday morning when Hendrix finally closed the (actually) 4-day event, there were "only" 30- to 40-thousand people left. Most of us had gone home. We were tired. We were hungry. We were wet. We were muddy. We wondered whether our car was still there. And we had to get back to our jobs--whether that was a full-time one or a summer job before college began.

Love for Sale

Old Man Woodstock Reflections
Locals along 17B on Saturday 16 August selling hot dogs and soda. $1 each.
Woodstock's mythic story intensified what had already begun. FM rock stations and college stations (always underrated in terms of their influence) became a bigger influence. Hillburn writes that, "Woodstock changed the progressive rock format from an experiment to a boom."

The record industry did continue to increase its profits, but not, until the mid-70 did sales skyrocket: "$2.37 billion in 1975 . . . $2.73 billion in 1976 . . . $3.50 billion in 1977 . . . and $4.13 billion in 1978." And those profits are credited to Woodstock's fame.

The end result, by 1989, is that the counter-cultural music scene had gone mainstream. Stadium shows with commercial sponsors and ticket prices that make Woodstock ticket-buyer wax nostalgic.  The idealism of the 60s could still be found, but now part of a subset, not the primary aim.

A disillusioned Bill Graham quit the promotion business. Temporarily. He  returned to help create hundreds of stadium shows and help oversee a merchandising-related company. Ironically, he died in a helicopter accident after a successful meeting with Huey Lewis about doing a benefit concert.

By 2017, even a not-for-profit venue like Bethel Woods Center for the Arts has to charge what seem to many to be exorbitant prices for tickets to make ends meet. Ends, actually, that don't meet and depend on the generosity of others to close the gap and finally end in the black.

Apparently the intersection of Hurd and West Shore Roads will always be a beautiful, iconic, and historic site, but not a profit-making one.

Today you can find an exhibit at the Museum called "Love For Sale." The exhibit "examines the pervasive influence of the Counterculture on American popular culture and commerce." 

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June 9 Peace Love Activism

June 9 Peace Love Activism

Cultural Milestone

Automat Restaurant

June 9 Peace Love Activism

June 9, 1902: the first restaurant with vending machine service was the Automat Restaurant at 818 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was Horn & Hardart, a cavernous, waiterless establishment that was a combination of fast-food, vending and a cafeteria. Horn & Hardart Automats expanded into a chain reaching Manhattan in 1912. With their uniform recipes and centralized commissary system of supplying their restaurants, the Automats were America's first major fast-food chain. Customers put nickels into slots in the Automats and turned a knob. In the compartment next to the slot, food revolved into place for the customer to receive through a small glass door. (see February 19, 1906)

McCarthyism

June 9, 1954: Army counsel Joseph N. Welch confronted Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy during the Senate-Army Hearings over McCarthy's attack on a member of Welch's law firm, Frederick G. Fisher. Said Welch: "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?'' (see in July 28)

 

BLACK HISTORY

Fannie Lou Hamer

June 9 Peace Love Activism

June 9, 1963: while returning from a voter registration workshop in South Carolina, Fannie Lou Hamer and other civil rights activists were arrested in Winona, Mississippi. Hamer and the other activists had been traveling in the "white" section of a Greyhound bus despite threats from the driver that he planned to notify local police at the next stop. When the bus arrived at the Winona bus depot, the activists sat at the "white only" lunch counter inside the terminal. Winona Police Chief Thomas Herrod ordered the group to go to the "colored" side of the depot and arrested them when one of the activists tried to write down his patrol car license number.

At the county jail, white jailers forced two African American prisoners to savagely beat Ms. Hamer and she was nearly killed. As she regained consciousness, she overheard one of the white officers propose, "We could put them SOBs in [the] Big Black [River] and nobody would ever find them."

Lawyers with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee filed suit against the Winona police who brutalized the activists but an all-white jury acquitted them. (see June 11)
Officer Eric Casebolt
June 9, 2015:  Casebolt, the police officer seen in a video throwing a 14-year-old girl in a swimsuit to the ground and pointing his gun at other teenagers resigned from the police force in McKinney, Tex. Chief Greg Conley of the McKinney Police Department said during a news conference Casebolt had resigned while under investigation.

The resignation came two days after Officer Casebolt had been put on administrative leave and amid growing cries by religious and civic leaders in the Dallas suburb for him to be fired. (see June 11)

Vietnam

Domino Theory

June 9 Peace Love Activism

June 9, 1964: in reply to a formal question submitted by President Lyndon B. Johnson--"Would the rest of Southeast Asia necessarily fall if Laos and South Vietnam came under North Vietnamese control?"--the CIA submitted a memo that effectively challenged the "domino theory.

The CIA concluded that Cambodia was probably the only nation in the area that would immediately fall. "Furthermore," the report said, "a continuation of the spread of communism in the area would not be inexorable, and any spread which did occur would take time--time in which the total situation might change in any number of ways unfavorable to the communist cause." The CIA report concluded that if South Vietnam and Laos also fell, it "would be profoundly damaging to the U.S. position in the Far East," but Pacific bases and allies such as the Philippines and Japan would still wield enough power to deter China and North Vietnam from any further aggression or expansion. (see July 27)
Weather Underground

June 9 Peace Love Activism

June 9, 1970: Jane Alpert and Weather Underground accomplices bombed the New York City Police headquarters  Weathermen stated that the bombing was in response to "police repression."

They made the bomb with ten sticks of dynamite. The explosion was preceded by a warning about six minutes prior to the detonation and subsequently by a WUO claim of responsibility. (Vietnam & Cambodia, see June 13; WU, see July 28)

June 9 Music et al

Bob Dylan

June 9 Peace Love Activism

June 9, 1964: during an evening session that Bob Dylan recorded all of the tracks for his Another Side of Bob Dylan album at Columbia Recording Studios in New York City, Dylan also Mr. Tambourine Man. Dylan recorded fourteen original compositions that night. Ultimately, he did not include Mr Tambourine Man album. (Dylan, see “in August 1964”; Tambourine Man, see January 20, 1965)
Brian Jones
June 9, 1969: Brian Jones announced he was leaving the Rolling Stones. He announced his departure at his home in Hartfield, Sussex, stating: "I want to play my kind of music, which is no longer the Stones music." Jones died less than a month later by drowning in the swimming pool at his home. (see Rolling Stone magazine article) (see July 3)
The Road to Bethel
June 9, 1969: an unnamed Wallkill official visited the construction site and said that the group did not have permission for the festival. (see June 11)

FREE SPEECH

Brandenburg v. Ohio
June 9, 1969: the US Supreme Court held that government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless that speech is directed to inciting, and is likely to incite, imminent lawless action. Specifically, it struck down Ohio's criminal syndicalism statute, because that statute broadly prohibited the mere advocacy of violence. (see June 18 – 22)
June 9 Peace Love Activism

Feminism

Equal Rights Amendment

June 9 Peace Love Activism

June 9, 1978: nearly 100,000 demonstrators marched on Washington, DC for the ERA. (see Aug 6)

Dissolution of Yugoslavia

June 9, 1999: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, signed the Kumanovo Treaty, ending the Kosovo War. The agreement also opened the way for the establishment of international security forces to maintain order in Kosovo and a UN protectorate over the region. The parliament of Kosovo subsequently declared independence in 2008. (see NYT article) (see June 10)

Environmental Issues

June 9, 2015: Santa Barbara County rejected Exxon Mobil Corp's emergency permit application to temporarily haul crude using tanker trucks following a recent pipeline rupture. Planning and Development assistant director Dianne Black denied Exxon's request, saying the case did not warrant an emergency approval. (EI, see June 18; Santa Barbara, see June 22)

Women’s Health

June 9, 2015: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a Texas law that required abortion clinics to qualify as “ambulatory surgical centers,” a decision opponents say will shut down most clinics in the state.

The plaintiffs, a group of abortion clinics and doctors, argued that the 2013 law unconstitutionally restricts the right to obtain an abortion, but in a ruling the Court said the plaintiffs failed to prove that and lifted an injunction issued by a lower court to prevent the enforcement of key elements of the law.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped represent the plaintiffs, said it would file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. “If permitted to take effect, the impact will be devastating for women in Texas seeking access to abortion services,” said Stephanie Toti,a center lawyer.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, praised the decision, saying the Texas law “both protects the unborn and ensures Texas women are not subjected to unsafe and unhealthy conditions.” (BC, see June15; Texas, see June 27, 2016)

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