Woodstock: The Festival
That Changed The World
By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine
Aug. 18, 2014 — The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair took place 45 years ago this past weekend. It is widely regarded as a defining moment, the climax even, of the 1960s hippie and anti-war movements. While a little more than 186,000 tickets were sold, more than 400,000 people came together to celebrate some of the greatest musicians that ever lived, as well as the values of the 1960s counter culture.
“It sounds corny, but peace and love are real things, things that we cared about back then, still do,” said Woodstock alumnus John Querns. Querns was a 17 year old high school graduate in August of 1969, and was one of five festival alums who attended nofestivalequried.com’s screening of Woodstock: The Director's Cut on Aug. 17, at The Phoenix Center For The Arts.
The event was very well attended — more than 210 people attended — which made it a sell-out. What seemed like a rather conservative crowd were giving raucous ovations following songs, singing along, and even dancing in the aisles.
Querns wasn’t the only Woodstock alum, but he was the only one who stood up and addressed the entire audience and read an essay he had originally written in 1979 for a contest in Rolling Stone. He Even brought with him the 45 year old show bill which contained the advertisement which informed him of Woodstock. It was even missing the send away form for the ticket which Querns purchased.
“I came for the nostalgia, I heard about it. It was time, 45 years, I was lucky to go and I knew today would be a fun flashback. The chance to just re-live a great experience,” said Querns.
I'm 17, I've got tickets but no ride up. At the last minute I get a call from a guy at school who I really didn't know that well. He says I can get a ride with one of the teachers and his wife. And so this was the groovy drama teacher and his wife. They’re like 26 or 27, we drive Friday in a Volkswagen Bug convertible. I’ve got my eight millimeter camera and two rolls of film, we get there and I already used up one roll in the largest, most colorful, friendly traffic jam i've ever been in. We walk about a mile to the top of the hill, we saw all the cars up there, and there it was the famous Sea of Humanity the largest amount of people in one place I’d ever seen. Richie Havens voice clear and strong and beautiful singing “Freedom.” We stayed at the top of the hill Friday night for Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie and Tim Martin and a light summer rain. Saturday morning my friend and I decided we had to get closer to the stage. We walked down through the human meadow and sat right in front of the right side speaker column. Santana, Country Joe, John Sebastian, Creedence, Canned Heat, and then Sly and the Family Stone. Everything you ever heard about that performance was true. The energy, joy, and total party atmosphere happened when they came on it was like a freight train of sound rolling over you. A few hours later The Who came on and in the pre-dawn magic preceded to introduce us to the power, glory, and essence of rock and roll with most of “Tommy” being performed live for the first time. It was an amazing emotional experience. Sunday breakfast with the Jefferson Airplane and brown rice and apple juice. It was the first food I’d eaten in about 24 hours, besides the wine and weed that were being passed around. I had not moved from my spot since Saturday afternoon, my friend had left the spot but returned to tell me that our ride had to leave that day. I knew Crosby Stills and Nash, Ten Years After and Jimi Hendrix were due, but I had to take my driver's license that Monday. So I returned home to my parents and my other world on Long Island. It was spontaneous, beautiful, real and it changed my life. Thanks for the ride, Rich.
Querns was not the only person with a story to accompany their trip to what turned out to be the greatest concert of all time. Gail Ricketts was living in Northern Virginia at the time, and had just lost her father to the Vietnam war.
“My father had just died in April of ‘69, and four months later my sister and I were at Woodstock,” said Ricketts.“We were still numb, it was a big shock to us including our mother. So were still just kind of feeling our way through the grief.”
Ricketts and her sister felt their way up I-95 to New York, and found themselves wholly unprepared for what they found.
“We thought it would just be a big concert, we had absolutely no idea that it would be what it was. We had no clue, we just saw, ‘look at all those people who are going to be there this is great music’ and there was also a big anti-war movement going on at the time and you couldn’t help but be a part of it. The three days of peace and music definitely appealed to that,” said Rickets.
However she also admitted that rumors of possible appearances by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan also fueled her desire to head to Bethel, New York.
“I don’t remember how we first heard the festival. But it just kind of struck a chord with everybody of that generation and the people who weren't there wished they were. It was wonderful,” sad Ricketts.
Her sentiment must be true considering only five people in the Phoenix audience actually went to Woodstock out of the more than 210 people who attended. Those who did attend the fest were even given the celebrity treatment. Querns was asked to autograph a woman’s newspaper article, and Ricketts was asked if she would take a photo with someone.
That’s the sort of sentimentality and positivity that Woodstock engenders in people. It’s a positive cultural milestone in American culture, which is also marred by negative cultural milestones. It is such a resounding and massive event that it deeply affected those who went as well as those who were not able too.
“People specifically asked me to bring a concert film to the Phoenix Center For the Arts and they started giving me lots of titles. The one that came up in my own head was something I saw when I was 13 years old in a theater that I was taken to by my friend and my friend’s mother. Suddenly it occurred to me that Woodstock might be an interesting film to consider. Then when I saw it was the 45th anniversary the next time I had a night booked at night at the theater I knew it would be a good film to show,” said Weiss. “It’s a documentary film with a concert, its about the weekend and what happened when you put that many people in small town and lots of other things. When I thought about it and previewed it what I realized was 45 years later its still somewhat of a shocking film and it’s very genuine about the idea that music could create peace and love.”
Some of the people who came had never even seen the movie before. Sharon Brandt said sge came out for her love of the music, and interest in the era.
“I was just interested to see what went on at Woodstock. I was 15, and I didn’t get into going. First of all I wasn't in New York so I couldn't go, I didn't have the money. It was great that people had a place like that, that that they could do that without someone putting them down, ‘oh too loud, don’t do that, don’t go there, don't dress like that.’ I think it was the freedom that brought out 400,000.” said Sharon Brandt. “I wish I was there for real and had fun like that.”
It’s more than just nostalgia for a good party, or feeling bad for missing out on a good time. People who were cognisant of the festival, and missed it missed out on the pinnacle of 1960s counter culture. Nixon was president, the war in Vietnam was raging, and no one could know but within just over a year heroes of Woodstock Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix were dead.
“The 58-year-old me watches this film and sees people who genuinely believed that they came together and they were peaceful and believed they shared an experience. Whether it was the music, the drugs, the sex, the nudity, it was a shared experience. It was a statement that people could celebrate peace and that was brought to me at 13, and it resonated at 13. But I look back and I feel nostalgic about that mindset that actual real optimism that we were looking at. And if you look at it historically four months later was end of the ‘60s,” said Weiss, referring to The Rolling Stones Concert at Altamont in December of 1969.
Jeff Moses a senior contributor at Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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