There’s a little bit of heaven in every disaster area.
—-Hugh Romney aka Wavy Gravy, co-founder of Hog Farms
Good morning! What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for four hundred thousand
—-The aforementioned eminently quotable Mr. Gravy
Reports vary as to exactly how many people were actually at Woodstock. Most estimates put it at somewhere between 4- 500,000. One official in New York – who did an aerial survey – swears it’s closer to 700,000. It was impossible, he said, to count all the people under the trees. Regardless, it was – even if only temporarily – the third largest city in New York State.
And given the fact that they barely had enough food and medical supplies for the 200,000 people they expected, the organizers approached the New York State Police to have the place declared a disaster area.
At first, Governor Nelson Rockefeller wanted to send in the National Guard to break the festival up. (Rockefeller was a total hard-ass and – outside of Richard Milhous Nixon – perhaps the most “un-Woodstock” person on earth.) The organizers convinced Rockefeller that this would only serve to provoke a confrontation with the National Guard. The disaster declaration was made.
So not only was a confrontation with the National Guard avoided, but in fact a local Air Force Base helped keep order and airlifted performers to and from the concert. Even Abbie Hoffman, about as radical and anti-war a guy as you could find, couldn’t help but comment on how helpful the military were:
“The people flying the helicopters were, of course, National Guard. And they were ready to go to Vietnam…. And here we were, the antithesis. But when it came to things like saving lives and getting out good information….. the casual sex and … the fact we were against the war didn’t matter. So in a sense, we were all Americans.”
Meanwhile, during the day, people were checking out information about various causes (“Students for a Democratic Society, Peaceniks, Motherfuckers, swamis, Meher Babaites”), being led in yoga sessions and hanging on cars driving into town, flashing the peace sign at the smiling, incredulous townfolk.
At about 2 pm on Saturday, a then relatively unknown Santana came out. This appearance was prior to their first album. They were, in a sense, proteges of Fillmore impresario, Bill Graham. (Who was backstage much of the time.) Santana’s performance is the stuff of legend and drummer Michael Shrieve’s solo on “Soul Sacrifice” is renowned. (Shrieve, at 20, was one of the youngest performers at Woodstock.)
The whole band had done acid, not expecting to perform for a while. Carlos later said that his guitar strings looked like snakes so he is struggling to keep things under control. Carlos, perhaps to this day the performer most in tune with Woodstock values, later said:
“At Woodstock I saw a collective adventure representing something that still holds true today. When the Berlin Wall came down, Woodstock was there. When Mandela was liberated, Woodstock was there. When we celebrated the year 2000, Woodstock was there. Woodstock is still every day.”
One of the most famous – or infamous – events happened during The Who’s performance. They performed most, if not all, of “Tommy.” After “Pinball Wizard,” a visibly agitated (and stoned, paranoid) Abbie Hoffman jumped on stage and started preaching about freeing activist John Sinclair who had received a ten year prison sentence for a couple of joints.
Pete Townshend, not knowing who he was, whacked him with his guitar and told him to “get the fuck off my fucking stage.” (Townshend didn’t want to do the festival anyway and was not the world’s biggest peace/love guy. He later said he sympathized with the cause but not with Hoffman’s random act.)
Michael Lang: “More important than politics was community. All these different people coming together and getting along, sharing. .. Though crowds were queued up at the Portosans and phone banks, no one seemed to mind. People were calling and telling their friends how great things were. Word started to get out that the picture was quite different from what was being painted by the media.”
One of the cool things I saw in the movie was when Canned Heat played. As they were doing a blues, some guy from the audience jumped up and started hugging singer Bob Hite. Instead of security coming in and getting rid of him – or Hite doing a Townshend – he just let the guy hang out and even lit his cigarette with his lighter.
Despite the folky-countryish sound of “Going up the Country,” Canned Heat actually were a blues band who in their zeal for the genre, gave themselves nicknames like “Bear” and “Blind Owl.” But I think this song captures the feel of some of what was going on at Woodstock as well as anything:
Sly and the Family Stone absolutely killed at this show. Carlos Santana said it was the peak of the festival, music-wise. The clip here is only a small portion of what they did but it’s still pretty great.
Reports are that Janis Joplin and Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane were dancing together to Sly. (History has failed to record this momentous event so I will compensate by gratuitously publishing a picture of the two most awesome ladies of rock, ever:)
As part of advertising for the festival, Artie Kornfeld had put together a flyer. It read, in part, “If you like creative knicknacks and old junk, you’ll love roaming around our bazaar. You’ll see imaginative leather, ceramic, bead and silver creations, as well as Zodiac Charts, camp clothes, and worn out shoes.” So now Woodstock had everything Michael Lang loved – music, community and boutique crafts.
Janis Joplin was still getting the kinks out of her new band. So her overall performance wasn’t considered as tight as some others. (In fact, none of her tunes made the original soundtrack album.) But I can find no reason not to love “Work Me Lord,” a song written for her by friend and bluesman Nick Gravenites:
It rained again during the Grateful Dead’s set. (The Dead, by pretty much everybody’s account including their own, sucked that night). It’s kinda funny in the film to hear some attendees blaming the “fascist pigs” for seeding the clouds to make it rain.
The Jefferson Airplane ended Saturday night by playing for 1 1/2 hours on Sunday morning! (I just want to take a moment to point out that the last six bands on Saturday were Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane. On what planet is that not awesome?
And the “hippies” remained (happily) mired in their collective sea of mud.
Next post – Day Three.