Woodstock… revisited

The other night, my wife and I were watching a documentary about Woodstock on the History channel. She was very uninformed about the whole event, and since I was actually there, I was commenting about some of the more obscure aspects. Then it dawned on me: there are probably a lot of people out there who would be interested in a more “intimate” description of what a real participant saw, felt and experienced. So, I decided to “write it up” before my memory of it deteriorated to the point that would make it more fiction than fact.

PART 1: GETTING THERE

Toward the end of the summer of ’69, rumors were becoming rampant about a BIG concert\party\bash that was going to take place somewhere near a fabled art community, in the Catskills, called Woodstock. No one seemed to know many facts about it but, in those days, that was not much of a deterrent… anyone that was into the “hippy thing” was ready, willing and able to travel anywhere for anything that sounded like “fun” at the drop of a hit hat. So, as the event date approached, we started making “plans”, with little concern for logic or sanity. I had a van, which actually belonged to my dad, but it was unreliable so I asked my brother Joe if I could borrow his car. He hesitantly agreed and I gathered a few friends (funny, I can’t remember who rode with me to get there.. I only remember who came back with me… weird!) and we each threw in some money for gas and made sure we had enough “stash” to make the trip enjoyable. No food, no extra clothes, no camping equipment, no maps, no worries.. in retrospect, this seems fairly insane but, at the time, it sounded quite appropriate!

We left sometime late Friday afternoon and the only directions we had was that it was somewhere off Rt. 17… we figured it would be pretty obvious as we got closer to it. Toward evening, we came to what you might call “the line”: a mass of cars slowly crawling along both lanes of the freeway. As we patiently inched along, a pickup truck load of locals, riding on the shoulder of the highway, came up along side of us, asked us if we were heading to the concert, and offered to take us the “back way” for 5$. We wholeheartedly agreed, pulled out of the queue and joined a caravan of about 20 cars and followed them along back roads and tractor paths until we arrived at the end of a line of cars parked on both sides of the road. As we soon found out, we were about a quarter mile from the stage area and just about in the middle of the biggest party that has ever happened!

PART 2: BEING THERE

The center of the road was a mass of pot-smoking, long-haired freaks and it didn’t take us long to see that we had just arrived at what could only be described as “hippy heaven”. We toked our way through the crowd and eventually ended up at the crossroads, near the main stage and, as we looked around, we could hardly contain our drug-induced awe: the hills were covered with a mass of brothers and sisters, gathered in small campsites, all accented with blazing campfires. Everyone we talked to was totally blown away (in more ways than one) and were gushing excitedly about the enormity of the event. estimating wildly about how many people were there.

Someone offered us a jug of “water”, and we each took a long chug… as I drank, I noticed a little “debris” seemed to be floating around in the bottle and I asked if the water was clean. With a gigantic grin, the “owner” laughed and replied “yeah, man, it’s been purified with acid!”. We soon discovered that it was almost impossible to find anything to eat or drink that wasn’t laced with some kind hallucinogen and we happily resigned ourselves to the fact that we we were doomed to a weekend of unrivaled merry making. From this point on, everything is sort of a blur so you’ll have to excuse me if some of my “facts” are a little messed up or if I don’t have things in proper chronological order. The rest of that first night, we just wondered around, grazing on an ever-present smorgasbord  of “mind candy”, listening to an unending assortment of great sounding music. To this day, I’m not sure if the music was live or “canned”, but I do remember hearing Joan Baez….

PART 3: THE SECOND DAY

After enjoying a sleepless, heavily hallucinatory night, Saturday brought a new realization as we were able to see our surroundings in the revealing light of day. The crowd was even bigger than we imagined the night before and we set out to explore the possibilities and to party to the max. There was a pond behind where we parked and people were swimming in it naked… I remember clearly that Ross Deforest said he was going “in” and asked me if I wanted to join him. In those days, it didn’t take much to get me “excited” and all I could imagine was being the only person there walking around with an erection. So, I decided not to partake but said I would consider it later…. but, it never happened.

Later in the morning, we discovered we were hungry since we hadn’t eaten anything since sometime Friday. We asked around if anyone knew where there was some food and someone said there was some stands farther up the road. After walking for what seemed miles, we came to truck that had watermelons for sale. We pooled our money and bought one and carried it back. We met up with some other fellow Auburnians and decided to find a spot to watch the concert (we were told it was about to start) and we ended up sitting in the middle of the crowd that had gathered on the hill in front of the stage. As we made ourselves as comfortable as possible (the heat was unbearable and there was mud everywhere)  we sat and ate our melon and waited patiently for the performers to start. Next comes my one “claim to fame” for this crazy weekend, probably the only act of violence to occur during the whole event.

PART 4: THE BIG HIT… OR NOT!

As I said earlier, we were sitting in the mud about halfway down the hill… directly behind us, maybe 30-40 feet further up the hill, was a group that had one guy who was “acting out” (freaking out?): he was flailing his arms and legs, laughing wildly, and just making a terrible raucous. Although this kind of behavior is pretty acceptable in a place like this, it was clear by their body language that his “friends” were very concerned and unable to cope with the situation. They eventually gave up trying to control him and just let him “do his own thing” which meant he let him himself “flow” down the field, clearing a path as others let him pass by, slowly working his way down the hill. Eventually, he came to rest against my back and I “politely” got up and let him continue on his merry way. I was a little irritated by this but felt,hey, ya’ know, it is just a big party and everything is cool.

We sat, laughing and joking, as we watched him continue on his merry way, eventually ending up at the bottom of the hill. The people there tolerated him for awhile and then decided to carry him back up the hill, plopping him down in a heap amid his friends. He continued in his antics and soon he was back behind me… this time, i was a little more irritated and I told him quite clearly that, if he came back, I would “smack him” (or, something to that effect) and he just laughed and continued on his latest trip. Again, he got carried up the hill and, again, he ended up lodged against my back. I turned toward him and repeated my warning and he just burst out in laughter… that did it… something snapped in my head and I punched him in the month, hard. The effect was immediate: he stopped all his flailing and just sat there, staring straight ahead. Another result was that almost everyone near us got freaked out about the “bad vibes” and got up and moved somewhere else.

After awhile, some of his friends came down to get him and they thanked me, profusely, saying that he had been like that since last night and they didn’t know what to do about it. I checked on him a few times as we watched the bands play, and he seemed very subdued and “restful”…. and, we had plenty of room around us in an otherwise over-crowded area. We sat there until we could no longer “hold our water” and reluctantly left to find some relief.

PART 5: THE REST OF SATURDAY

As we meandered around in the mud, it was getting a little disgusting. Trash was beginning to accumulate everywhere and the mud made walking almost impossible. People were body-surfing in the slop and the port-a-potties were filled and stunk like, well, crap. I don’t remember how, but we did managed to unload our bladders (probably on the ground somewhere) and we spent the rest of the day meandering around and experimenting with anything offered to us. There aren’t many more “clear memories” after that, except the constant announcements of what color bad acid to avoid. Are you kidding? I mean, Christ, you’ve been taking hits off miscellaneous water jugs for two days and ALL of them had many different colored “thingys” in them… who knew what they had ingested?!

Oh, yeah… two more “happenings” occurred that day (I think). A couple of us were sitting on the hood of a state trooper car, leaning against the windshield, smoking a joint while the troopers stood a few feet away, just smiling at us. Can you imagine that? I’m thinking: “like, man, why can’t it be like this everyday?”… still wondering about that….. The other thing happened that evening when we were sitting around my car and a caravan of cars squeezed its way up the road… It was the Jefferson Airplane and Gracie Slick stopped right next to us with her window down. Of course, we offered her (and the rest of the band) a taste of our “lettuce” and they accepted! We sat for a short time and shared some small talk and then the road cleared and they continued on.  The rest of the night just passed by in a fairly uneventful fashion. I’m pretty sure we didn’t sleep much.

PART 5: SUNDAY AND “GOOD BYE!”

By Sunday, we were pretty wiped out: the lack of food and sleep were taking their toll and the place was becoming a sickening mud-hole pig-sty….  the only thing that was keeping us from leaving was that Hendrix was supposed to play later and no one wanted to miss that. All kinds of rumors were flying around, ranging from he would be there soon, to probably Monday, to that he wasn’t going to show at all. As the day wore on, it seemed less likely that he would make an appearance and it also became obvious that getting out of there would be a real “cluster fuck” if we waited until the end. In the early afternoon, we finally decided to leave early and I started to gather up those who wanted to ride with me.

I had some serious doubts about my ability to stay awake for the ride home. That is, until someone walked up to me with a baggie of white powder with a straw in it and says “you wanna hit?” I ask “what is it?”. He says, with one of those smiles, “meth”… oh, yeah, sure… “how much can I do?”. “ALL YOU WANT”…he says! Well, that did it… after a super snort, I was totally flying and ready to drive around the whole planet.

PART 6: THE  DISASTROUS DRIVE HOME

Five of us piled into the car… for some odd reason, I can remember exactly whom it was: Ed Shanahan, Mary Cacci, (the late) Mark Stevens, and Roger Deephouse. After roving the back roads for a while, we got back on RT 17 and started our journey home. Everybody was “speeding” and talking at the same time, so driving was quite challenging. After a short time, it’s started to rain very hard and some passengers wanted to pull over but I decided to drive through it. If you’ve ever driven in this area, you know how hilly it is… well, on one of the steep inclines, the water was streaming down the road and caused the car to hydroplane. It didn’t matter which way I tried to steer, the car seemed to have a mind of its own. We went into a 360 and the driver side (my side!) front fender hit the end of a guard rail, I went halfway through the side window, pulled myself back in and the car spun around again and ended up facing “forward” in the middle of the road. Despite bleeding pretty profusely from cuts just above my left eye and my left rib area, I got everyone out of the car and off to the side of the road. Cars were swerving all over the place but I felt better when the trooper got there. He immediately got out on the road and tried to direct traffic around my car but somebody rear-ended a car that had slowed to see what was going on. I distinctly heard the officer say “FUCK” as he ran over to the new accident seen.

After the tow truck arrived, he asked if everyone was OK and after seeing there were no serious injuries, he looked at me and said he would take me to the hospital himself. On the way, he asked me if we were returning from “that thing” at Woodstock and, when I said “yes, we were”. he says: “people like you are the reason my son died in Vietnam!”…. Holy shit! I’m thinking ” this guy is gonna pull over somewhere and put a bullet in my head. I ain’t got a chance!!”. I quickly responded that I was sorry his son had died and that my efforts were aimed at preventing that from happening to anyone else. We talked a little more and he seemed to be calming down and then he turns to me with a pleading look in his eye, and says “can’t you just please cut your hair?” I assured him that I would give it some serious thought as we pulled into the driveway of the hospital.

After an uneventful stitch job and ride back to where the car had been towed and my friends were waiting, Mark whispers to me that his cooler was filled with weed. I look over and the trooper has his foot on it, giving everyone a lecture about the errors of their ways. I’ll never know why he didn’t search us or our belongings, but I was very thankful when I saw Roger’s mother pull up. We hurriedly loaded the car and crammed ourselves in and sat quietly in a combination of glum relief and the invertible weariness of the “crash”.

PART 7 EPILOGUE

When I got home late that evening, my parents (I was staying with them in those days) were waiting up for me. I walk in the door, my clothes all bloody, my head and eye bandaged and looking like shit, and the first thing my mother says is: “what did you do to Joe’s car!?” I’m not going to go into what I expected or what I had hoped for or the reasons this hurt so much, but I will say it was typical. The other noteworthy thing that happened as a result of all this was that my dad took my van away and gave to my brother to replace the car I wrecked. The next weekend, he was out partying with some friends and rolled it… no one was hurt and it was totaled.

In retrospect, my only regret is that I didn’t get to see Hendrix play… he will always be my all-time favorite musician!!

That’s it for now… if more comes to mind or if someone corrects or adds any info, I will update accordingly. ENJOY!!

4 thoughts on “Woodstock… revisited

  1. Hey Frank,
    That is pretty good. I learned some things I never new. Like about the car accident. Is Mark Stevens deceased? Didn’t know that. It seems that you were more bothered by the mud than I was. In fact I was probably one of those people you saw sliding in the mud. I may have had more fun in my life doing something, but if sliding in the mud at Woodstock is not at the very top, it is close. Another thing is, I don’t know what I ate, but I don’t remember ever being very hungry there. I vaguely remember eating free food in some big tent though.
    Anyway, I originally thought I rode with you and that was the way I wrote it in my story about the event which you can read Here.
    The thing is, I wrote the piece from memory circa 1985, stuck it on my web page and forgot about it. Being sequestered down in Texas from 1972 – 2000, I never really got the opportunity to verify my facts with others up here. However, after talking to you and later Jimmy Leinen, who I am sure was in the car me on the way down, I realized that parts of my story were less than accurate. Even Jimmy couldn’t remember who actually drove us. After these conversations, I realized that I had done some fairly creative remembering — we all do that, but apparently I do it masterfully.
    What I think happened was, I got the story Frank spun to me — probably while I was peaking on that brown acid — about how he snuck in the back way mixed up with my own memories to the point that I actually seem to remember the sequence of events of my sneaking in the back way with him. Even funnier is that the two versions of getting in the back way are not even roughly similar — well, not totally dissimilar. Frank is in both episodes.
    BTW that story of mine was published by the owner of some fancy Art Magazine in California who ran across it on my web page. Then in 1994 as a result of the article and because it was the 25th anniversary of Woodstock, I got a personal interview by the BBC(the reporter was in Austin covering the South By Southwest Music Festival) , and phone interviews by both CBC and a Japanese news station.

    • Hey, Ross… yeah. Mark died about a week ago, but I still haven’t heard about the cause. As for who rode down with me, I have no idea if Jimmy and\or you and\or Ed were there although I could probably imagine\create\remember it… LOL. Did you ever ask Duke or Jimmy about it? And, if we had left @ 9:30 AM (as you say in ur article), we would have got there in the afternoon… I’m almost positive we got there at night. I’d really like to know that one! I read your account and I don’t remember it that way… so, let me know.

      As for the interview, you told one of those guys (I think from the CBC) about my “punch incident” and he called me and recorded my description… he laughed like hell when I told him the story and said that was the wildest thing he had heard (about Woodstock, anyway). And, I liked your story on the website link, too…

      thanks for stopping by!

  2. I now know, though I don’t know who drove us, that I rode with Jimmy down there. I know this, because we arrived there together and didn’t find you guys until we wandered around for about three hours. Also, this event occurred shortly after Jimmy and I arrived:
    Some character was running around with a can of Lisol spray and was spraying it at Bic lighter, causing about a 1 foot flame to spurt into the air and greatly wowing the adjacent freaks. As soon as Jimmy saw this, he gave me an evil look and said:
    “You gotta do it Ross, I got a can of lighter fluid right here in my chair”.

    The “it” Jimmy was referring to is a harebrained stunt I used to get attention back in high school days. That was spit a moutful of lighter fluid at a lit lighter creating an eight to ten foot flame.

    Anyway, Jimmy had me stand to side an prepare for the feat, while he rolled over to the guy with the lysol can and said pointing at me, “Hey man, your flame ain’t shit, look at his”, and with this cue, I spit out the flame and “wows” and “farouts” could be heard all around us.

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