My Woodstock Story
Twenty Years After Ten Years After
In 1989, as the twentieth anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair approached, Life magazine asked attendees to submit a personal remembrance of the event. I had never written down my recollections and realized if I didn’t do so soon, I might forget everything. The following is the essay. (Life used a paragraph in their anniversary issue.) Here is my Woodstock story:
Twenty Years After Ten Years After
Summer 1989 reminiscences
Friday, August 15, 1969
Tony Tufano and I…
…were short-haired rock and roll no drinks beardless buddies living in pre-Springsteen Jersey and on our way to engineering degrees that I would never get and he would barely use. We were also on our way to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
The fame of those scheduled to appear was as wide then as now; everyone was someone somewhere. The radio advertisements had said to come with a Frisbee and a few bucks. A weekend of craft displays, art stands, games, music, and camping were all appealing. We had gone over to Village Oldies the week before and bought tickets for the Saturday and Sunday shows. $7 a show.
Friday afternoon’s news…
…reported that the roads to Bethel, New York were congested so our trip began late Friday night to avoid traffic and get there in time for Saturday’s show. We brought sleeping bags, a borrowed camera and binoculars, and meal money. If time and ticket availability allowed we planned to return home Sunday morning and bring my girlfriend up for the final day. Tony’s recently re-transmissioned Oldsmobile was running fine and the 65+ mph ride up the NY Thruway and Rt. 17 was a breeze. But on 17B there were cars parked on both the road’s shoulders and soon the line appeared: the twelve mile car line.
The night was warm and humid with occasional rain. There were cars everywhere and the two-lane country road had become a one-way gridlocked city street. Inching up hills, the transmission began to slip and eventually Tony parked in front of a tiny restaurant that had closed for the night. We could not go back, did not know what was ahead, and heard from some that the festival was cancelled. Standing in the 2 AM drizzle, we postponed a decision by trying to sleep in the car. It was a restless sleep filled with the sounds of slow-moving cars, partying shouts, frustrating murmurs, and raindrops.
Saturday, August 16, 1969
The 6 AM scene was four lanes of parked cars pointing toward the festival. Tony and I slowly gathered our stuff, stared a moment, and started walking, indecision alongside. There were as many people walking away from the site as towards it. Incessant questions and monotonous answers:
“How far it it?”
“How was it?”
“Is it still on?”
Still determined, we hiked through the fog and past people in cars, on cars, with cars, and without. The sleepers and the singers, the wasted and the walkers: all had become a part of the tail of Woodstock.
The sun burned away the fog and the crowd moving forward finally outnumbered those retreating. “Just ahead” said the local folk as they sold A & P hot dogs and soda at Yankee Stadium prices. Some hikers shook their hungry head, grumbled, but paid. Tony and I kept looking. Farmers posted signs alongside their fields: Cattle corn, do not eat.” Up and down Sullivan County’s hills. It was noon. Friendly State police said, “Just ahead.”
…fields of tents, campfires, walking musicians, day-glo painted buses and vans, and flags appeared. An entrance appeared. Tickets tightly in hand, relieved, confused by the lack of ticket takers, but unconcerned by thoughts of how to get back to the car, whether it would be there, start or get us home, that phones, food stands and facilities seemed nonexistent, and what would happen if it rained again, Tony and I stood in the middle of Max Yasgur’s muddy field which sloped down to the stage a couple hundred yards away. The smell of wet hay, the sounds of thousands of people, and the sight of tents surrounded us. Nappers rested under the warm sun. We had arrived, tickets still in hand.
The music began around 2 PM and the next 26 hours would be our role in what became Woodstock. The guy and two girls who sat in front of us were from the west coast and they passed the pipe while Santana played, highly recommending both. We said no thanks to the pipe. I took a picture of them. Most would be of the applause which rolled like a wave and felt like a group hug. I snapped a picture of a woman with the largest Afro I’d ever seen. I shot pictures through our binoculars. It seemed that everyone in the world who should be there was and everyone else was at home hearing about it. All was fine.
My Woodstock Story
During the Incredible String Band’s set, Tony and I tried to find food. Nothing was available, but some people nearby gave us some of their oranges.
…had bigger names and as the music got stronger, the songs longer, and the lights brighter, more people moved into the crowd. The scent of grass overpowered the smell of hay and Tony and I likely got a contact high. Shoulder to shoulder, the smoke thickened, the applause realigned vertebrae. I sat back, closed my eyes, and must have slept. Creedence’s set is the memory of a great dream. I stood for the entire “Tommy” and danced for Sly. People kept tramping up and down the field usually avoiding walking on the sitters, but I hollered at two guys who stepped on a sleeping Tony. The night went well but the vision I will take to the grave will be of the Airplane’s “Plastic Fantastic Lover” accompanying the Sun’s rise.
We had pulled the all-time musical all-nighter.
Sunday, August 17, 1969
Another nap. Some of the crowd dispersed, but many remained on the hill. Tony and I never saw Life magazine’s Woodstock. Smoke shops, muddied children, farm animals, free food, nude bathing were stories heard later, part of the movie. We stretched out, watched others, listened to the NY Times account of our party, briefly used a porta-john, and began to realize how big and messy the event had become.
Joe Cocker’s “A Little Help From My Friends” and the rain storm chant make up Sunday afternoon’s departing memories. Ignoring hunger and fatigue, we tried to stay dry by keeping a sleeping bag over our heads, but Sullivan’s storm soaked all. Mud sucked off Tony’s sneaker’s soles and a 46 hour fast took its toll. Our decision to leave was made knowing who we would miss and wanting still to stay. Dylan had not yet shown. It was the weekend’s biggest rumor.
Our trip back to the car was far easier than the one from it. The rain stopped, the roads opened, and we hitched by riding rooftops. We were dry by the time we reached Tony’s car which started and gave us a trouble free ride home.
Though my parents knew, they had hoped I hadn’t gone. I got yelled at for getting the sleeping bag dirty and they told me to clean it myself. I went to the laundromat and while waiting grinned at the “Stop the Draft” graffiti sprayed on a nearby wall. I also looked forward to listening to my just-purchased 8-track of Creedence’s “Green River.”
To see all the pictures that I took at Woodstock, click >>> My slides
Or visit the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts site to see what is happening 50+ years after 10 Years After: BW
6 thoughts on “My Woodstock Story”
this is Oliver from Cologne, Germany. I’d just discovered your UNBELIEVABLE beautiful photos of the 1969 Woodstock-Festival.
It would be great if you give us a Wikipedia-license to use one ofyour photos on the Woodstock-wikipediastory to document that day. I’ll ask you for that one:
I guess you will also have a benefit from that and a lot of people will discover your name and will find the way to your blog.
Just let me know what you think about that idea. Just the best and a happy new year to you Jim.
The authentic Woodstock experience for many, I’m sure. Having experienced the thunder and lightning in Bethel, it makes me think that weekend in 69 must have been quite an ordeal in reality. Unforgettable though.
Love your WOODSTOCK account. IN`FRICK`IN CREDIBLE!!! I wish I`d been there, but that wasn`t gonna happen in 1969 since I was born in 1963 & had just turned 6yrs on July31 of that year(`69). I did get someth`in outta 1969 tho. My lifes mate was born in 1969. January 28. She`s my personal Age Of Aquarius. I thank the ALMIGHTY for you flower powers`s & for her each & every day & night. peace & love!!!!
Hi Jim, don’t know if you remember both Victor and I but I felt I needed to share my correspondence with you regarding the passing of Michael Lang this past Saturday. I waited patiently to see what if anything BW’s would send out via email regarding his passing. Nothing arrived. I wasn’t going to say anything until we received an email introducing the new Vol. Coord. and attaching a 2022 sign up form. Here is my initial message which is then followed by Meg’s response and my final response to her:
“I would like to know when Bethel Woods is going to acknowledge the passing of Michael Lang this past Saturday night. If not for Michael Lang, Bethel Woods would not have enjoyed the fame and success of the memorable Woodstock Festival of 1969.
Someone definitely dropped the ball on this one!
May Michael Lang rest in peace and his family be remembered during this difficult time.
Meg’s response was just to thank me for reaching out and attached a copy of their social media response. I replied to her immediately with the following message:
I just found it very disturbing that with every notification BW’s sends out, they always do it via email to all volunteers. The announcement of the new volunteer coordinator, as well as the 2022 sign up forms arrived via email, without even a mention of Michael’s passing…everything we receive from BW’s, including the passing of volunteers we have known and loved are received the same way. Not everyone is on social media, and for us, this is by personal choice, not by an inability to use it. I must say that we are both extremely disappointed in Bethel Woods for not acknowledging the loss of such an integral person as Michael Lang was to the inception and success of Bethel Woods.
Sorry Meg, but I am not impressed with your response.
Shame on Bethel Woods as they simply don’t get it, and I suspect they never will.
You all owe Michael more than you realize. He deserves, along with the other originators of Woodstock, a permanent memorial right there in front of the museum building because, if not for his vision of the greatest peaceful concert to ever occur, you wouldn’t be there benefitting from the ongoing memory of Woodstock 1969. I hope I live to see that!