I and my fellow musician-friends drove up in a VW bus (of COURSE!).
Our first feelings of real exhilaration were when once we drove out of New Jersey (from Morristown), got on the New York Thruway, and saw that most of the other cars to either side of ours were filled with hippies, also heading on up to Woodstock. So many smiles and waves back and forth! None of us yet knew what utter joy awaited all of us.
We arrived very early on Friday, so were fortunate enough to be able to park on the main road just before the little town of Bethel. Then we walked, carrying our blankets, our food, our dope, our binoculars, whatever else. This thin road, flanked by parked cars, was filled with other happy hippies.
When we reached the corner, before turning right to the main road (and final stretch), we saw a little grocery store to our left. We decided to stock up even more. When we got inside, the shelves were already nearing the bare state because so many before us had thought the same way.
Then, as we turned right to now head up to the entrance gate, a lovely old couple came out of their house (I believe it was the first one on the right, so at the intersection,) and they hooked up their garden hose and gestured to us to come onto their massive front lawn to drink water from their hose. We had expected the possibility of hostility from the neighborhood folks – instead, we were greeted with genuine warmth and love… and giving. A fine beginning to what ended up being the times of our lives for the next four wonderful days.
Just as we were about to pull out our $18.00 tickets, someone called out that the gate and fence were coming down, and admission was now free! Wow! Some of us are lucky enough to have peace symbols made from that fencing.
And now we entered the official concert area. To our right, there was this lonnnnng row of Port-O-Sans, already nearing overflow. There was the Hog Farm encampment. And ahead of us and mostly to our left were, closest, the stage, and then the pasture’s natural bowl, already filling with many thousands of people.
We were lucky enough to park ourselves dead center, about halfway back from the stage, and there’s where we remained for the entire time, other than to make bathroom or bathing trips.
I remember meeting up with another girl who was looking for a place to pee, so we teamed up, and hiked through hundreds of people, then got into a lush woodsy area, where we found a surprisingly isolated and private spot to pee. Then we walked over to the lake, took off our clothes, and went into the water to clean up. Nice.
My guys and I didn’t miss ANY of the performances. We were there FOR the music. And for me, personally, it was my first break from a few years of peacefully protesting that damn Vietnam war, and working some on the Civil Rights Movement (going down South with my folks to help make changes, and drinking from the “For Coloreds Only” water fountains, and using the outhouses instead of the gas station bathrooms, which were for whites only), pushing for women’s rights, etc. There had been three mind-numbing assassinations, and just so much horror going on. Oh, and I had been brutally raped, impregnated, then given a legal late-term abortion earlier that year. It was time to just plain GET AWAY FROM IT ALL for a few days!
Also, ‘til then, I’d been rather shy (I was the kid in junior and high school whom everyone picked on) and leery of most people.
So here I was, at Woodstock, surrounded by 500,000 beautiful people, and I felt comfortable and safe and at peace and cared about and just on a natural high (for real).
I can’t name too many particular high points, because I was high and EVERYTHING was a high point, but I definitely remember when that helicopter started approaching from the south, and some of us began to feel a bit of paranoia, because it appeared to be a military helicopter. And when the helicopter finally flew above us, and just hovered, I admit to a moment or two of blind fear. Then the cargo doors opened, and out dropped thousands and thousands of DAISIES!!!!! Daisies! What a glorious moment!
Okay, okay, other high points… Jimi Hendrix at dawn… the man in white robes, just after the storm, who didn’t have a speck of mud or raindrops on him, who shuffled his way past us… Tim Hardin… the beautiful tall woman with the rainbow Afro… Canned Heat… watching the young, oh-so-cute Martin Scorsese (decades later, again seeing him at a Robert Altman memorial)… The Who (and Tommy!)… the bathing lake… Richie Havens… the generosity of everyone sharing everything… the homegrown pot… Sly and the Family Stone, who really got all of us on our feet… the good, good doctors and nurses… Grateful Dead… the Hog Farm… darling, darling, darling Max Yasgur… Santana…the walls of notes… sweet Melanie… Blood, Sweat and Tears (with Al Kooper, and Randy, Steve, Fred, Jim, Dick, Jerry, Bobby)… the uplifting no-rain chant… wonderful Arlo Guthrie… the knock-out Janis Joplin… the letter I wrote to someone onstage, which we watched being passed down person by person all the way to the stage and into the hands of my friend… Bert Sommer… the mud-sliders… Country Joe (and The Fish)… the breastfeeding mothers… Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young)… the cute guy (from Pittsburg, maybe?) who stepped on a shard of glass and everyone who ran to help him out…Ravi Shankar…the LSD and mescaline just handed out…Johnny and Edgar Winter… the very end, when the pasture was covered with blankets and left-behinds, and those who stayed to help clean up…Ten Years After (having just seen them at Fillmore East)… the sharing of blankets and tarps during the rainstorm… The Paul Butterfield Blues Band… the goodness all around me… The Band… the fantastic announcement of the birth of a baby… my mother’s blanket left behind…
I loved seeing so many babies and young children there, as it should be. After all, we were now a city unto ourselves. I lost almost all my remaining inhibitions at Woodstock.
The rain was just another part of being at Woodstock. So what if the Port-O-Sans couldn’t be used; Mother Nature had lots of available places, too. No fights. No arguments. No rudeness. No envy. Nothing bad happened, mostly because no one wanted anything bad TO happen.
We didn’t leave Woodstock until well into late afternoon on Monday, and it was with a feeling of sadness and already-budding nostalgia, but also overwhelming elation that we’d just been part of musical history.
When I got home to Morristown, my parents were having another one of their ecumenical meetings in our little house, so I was greeted with mixed reactions. But one of my parents’ friends, an Episcopal priest (who always knew I was an atheist) got up, and came over and gave me another one of his grand, massive, love-filled hugs, even though I was still covered with dried mud.
For two nights, I slept in my Woodstock jeans, on the floor of my bedroom. I could not part with either my jeans or especially that magical mud. I went so far as to finally go into our lovely garden in the backyard, where I undressed, and then hosed off my clothes so that all that Woodstock mud would go into our garden, to be there forever.
To this day, I can still cry about my life-changing (perhaps even life-saving) experiences at Woodstock, and I hope with all my heart that, as long as my brain functions, I never forget any of my wondrous time with that music, those people, the images, and the love and peace I truly felt envelop me.
Woodstock, you are very much a part of me, and I thank you for happening.
Love and peace,
Susie V Kaufman
Santa Clarita, California
11 August 2009
40 Years Later