Wes Pomeroy

Wes Pomeroy

Remembering Wes Pomeroy on his birthday
Born January 1, 1920

Wes Pomeroy

Peacefully muddy

The popular image of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair is one of drugs, skinny dipping, mud, rain, and disorganization, but the reason behind that that image is peace is the atmosphere of peace that prevailed the whole weekend.

As Max Yasgur said on Sunday to the hillside of young people, “… the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids…can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music….”

There is no one reason why, under such adverse circumstances, there was such peace. The lack of food, toilet facilities, overwhelming numbers of people, and a transportation breakdown would seem a recipe for disaster, not tranquility. Then Governor Rockefeller thought there was a disaster and had readied the National Guard to take over the site.

Wes Pomeroy

Wes Pomeroy, born in Berkeley, California on January 1, 1920, which means he was 49 when Woodstock Ventures hired him him to be the festival’s Director of Security. At a time when young people were warned not to trust anyone over the age of 30, Pomeroy’s age would seem to have automatically disqualified him, but at a time of extreme polarization, his philosophy to use communication and cooperation for crowd control, rather than  threats and force.

Officer Pomeroy

Who was Wes Pomeroy before Woodstock? He had begun his adult life with the California Highway Patrol before joining the Marines and seeing action in World War II, including the Battle of Okinawa. After the war he earned a law degree while undersheriff in San Mateo County (CA). And at the same time he was working in law enforcement, he was also a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Colored People.

Practiced what he preached

  • an advocate of the decriminalization of marijuana
  • a law enforcement officer who viewed protesters as citizens, not criminals.

That CV is a recipe for calm control, not tumultuous dissatisfaction. And he had proof of the approach’s effectiveness:

  • his successful security operation at the 1964 Republican National Convention during which a number of protesters who managed to get inside the center were not dragged out forcibly, but carried out on stretchers.
  • Chicago Mayor Richard Daily rejected Pomeroy’s attempt to use the same approach at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and resulted in the infamous chaotic riots and Chicago Eight trial circus.

Post Woodstock

In 1974 he police chief in Berkeley, CA. Wavy Gravy remembers Pomeroy as “a good cop.” He later worked for the Carter Administration’s Office of Drug Abuse. In he early 1980s, he served as Deputy Director of the Michigan Department of Mental Health . In 1983, he was named head of the Dade County (Miami) police review board. He retired and retired in 1995.

He died on May 4, 1998. “The most important thing in his life,” said his wife, Lonna Pomeroy, “was his commitment to humanitarian issues.” His family asked that “…gifts in his memory be sent to the Unrepresented People’s Positive Action Council or the NAACP, Opa Locka, FL branch.”

Thank you Wes Pomeroy. One of the unknown heroes of Woodstock.

NYT obituary for Wes Pomeroy



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Country Joe McDonald

Country Joe McDonald

Happy birthday, Joe

Country Joe McDonald

Joe wasn’t scheduled to perform until Sunday with the Fish, but circumstances forced the Woodstock organizers to call a few audibles. After Quill’s opening set, the crew needed someone to do a few songs to give the them time to set up the next band (Santana). Joe didn’t have a guitar with him–someone found one for him–and the guitar didn’t have a strap–someone found a piece of rope (see about 1:20 in the video below). He did a 9 song set. The most famous of which was his “Fish Cheer/I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag.”

Country Joe McDonald

Joe was born in Washington, D. C., on January 1, 1942, but grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte, California. where he was exposed to a wide range of music.

Joe moved to Berkeley to go to school, but ended up mainly playing music. In the fall of 1965, the Free Speech Movement (see >>> Free Speech Movement) on the Berkeley campus organized demonstrations against the war in Vietnam at the Oakland Induction Center, Music was often a part of any 1960 demonstration and Joe and the Fish did that for Berkeley’s.

From Joe’s site: The origin of the name appears to have come from the band’s manager, ED Denson, who coined the phrase drawing from Mao’s saying about “the fish who swim in the sea of the people;” the Country Joe part has numerous variants, the most oft-told refers to Joe’s parents having named Joe for Joseph Stalin, whose nickname during World War II was “Country Joe.”

Country Joe McDonald

Joe today

Joe continues to write, record, and perform. He has released 36 albums since his start as a solo artist in 1969. In 2007 he toured his “Tribute to Woody Guthrie” show, a mix of music and spoken word. I was fortunate to see one of those shows at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. There was a Q & A before the show and several of us showed up early to say hello. I did that and I also sincerely thanked him for the once in a lifetime opportunity to yell out FUCK with 400,000 other people.

Here’s a video of Joe discussing his appearance at Woodstock.

Bio from his site

Second shorter bio by Joel Selvin.

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