YASGUR’S FARM

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          Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
           And I asked him, Tell me where are you going?
This he told me
           Said, I’m going down to Yasgur’s Farm,
Gonna join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land and set my soul free.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are caught in the devil’s bargain,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.
     That song was the never-to-be-forgotten anthem of Woodstock 1969….the summertime miracle where over 400,000 people gathered on Max Yasgur’s farmland in White Lake, NY.   That land birthed a city for 3 days and then disappeared, physically that is.  Wikipedia reports:  “It is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, as well as the definitive nexus for the larger counterculture generation”.  Its memory lives on in the lives of those who were there.  That is very very true for me.  The memory has lived on and on.  How could it not?
     Originally Woodstock was supposed to happen in Wallkill, NY.  A change of venue moved
it to White Lake.  White Lake is a hamlet in the town of Bethel, Sullivan County, New York on the southeast shore of a lake of the same name.  It was so named because of its white sandy shores and lake bottom.  Reportedly in the past, doctors sent patients here to be healed by its waters, climate and restful scenery.
     The musical lineup was incredible:  The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, John Sebastian, Santana, Crosby Stills Nash and Young….just to name a few.
My coworker friend Marguerite Renz and I excitedly planned our trip to what promised to be the rock concert of the century.  Marguerite was the quintessential flower child.  Fair porcelain-like skin, straight chestnut hair and blue eyes framed by round wire-rimmed eyeglasses.  I was 23 at the time.
     We had purchased tickets in advance (ha ha, like anyone collected them).   August 15th 1969 finally arrived and after work (RCA Records), we piled into my 1965 Corvair with our food, drinks and sleeping bags and headed up the NYS Thruway.
     Chattering excitedly we rode along with all kinds of freaks….hooting and hollering and hanging out their car windows.  Many people came from distant states. We all waved to each other, smiling and laughing.  The sense that soon we would be experiencing something amazing was palpable.  We were all pilgrims making our Haj to a musical Mecca.  Approaching our exit a light drizzle portended a baptism into something epic.  Exiting the thruway we crawled tortoise-like towards the festival site.  For an hour we soldiered on in the heavy traffic.  Up ahead a long haired Grace Slick wannabe popped up through a beetle sunroof and belted out her rendition of White Rabbit.  “One pill makes you taller and one pill makes you small, and the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all”.  We drove as far as our tired bodies couls go, then lazily turned off to park for the night.
     Our neighbors were in a VW bus….in that time the ultimate party camper.  We ate before we left the city and just wanted to sleep.  Unable to sleep outdoors, I crawled into my new olive green sleeping bag and after a long time fell asleep but not as deeply as I had hoped.  My sleep was fitful at best.  The party animals next door had a record player in the van and were playing records all night.
      I woke up in a dream, hearing the Doors and called to Marguerite.  “Marguerite…we have to get up and get to the concert….the Doors are playing right now….wake up”.
Both awake and hungry we opened and ate cans of corn and vienna sausages.  Then we headed on foot to the concert grounds.  It was mid-morning and we walked about a mile.  The fragrance of damp earth and cannabis-laced air filled our heads and soon we were feeling pretty good.  The best second hand smoke ever.  Arriving at the site we beheld a huge field of mud, muck, litter, and pup tents.  I’ve seen refugee camps in better shape than this place.  We searched for a porta potty that was not overflowing.  Took awhile but finally found one.
     Despite those negative images, we also saw a colorful sea of people in tie dye, denim, bandanas, headbands, top hats, feathers and American flags.  Happy toddlers were toddling, dogs were running and barking, frisbees were flying.  Young bare chested men and hippie chicks in bra-less tank tops (or no tops at all)  were dancing and prancing about, unfettered arms in the air, moving sensually as timbrels, drums and pan flutes played.  Hookahs and hand-held water pipes sprung up everywhere and were puffing away like Lilliputian chimneys, pushing up clouds of smoke.  This was the biggest, happiest and most peaceful instantaneous city that ever was.  A life was born and a life died over those 3 days.
     There were no bands playing when we arrived.  In retrospect I wish a band was playing.  It would have lifted our tired spirits and encouraged us to stay.  Marguerite was missing her new boyfriend back in the city and I was so tired.  We puttered around for a half hour or so discussing what to do.  We ached for more food and a nice bed.
     As we left White Lake we stopped at a diner and a nearby radio was blaring out reports about the Woodstock phenomenon.  I realized my overprotective dad was probably watching the news and freaking out.  I got to a pay phone and called to put his mind at east.  Later mom told me he was glued to the TV looking at helicopter coverage of this ocean of humanity and screaming at my mom,  “You mean she’s there…….. at this thing?”
     I wish we had stayed for the entire event partly because we missed the collective experience of enjoying great musical performances, but also because it now pains me to tell people I was there, see the excited looks on their faces, only to see that fade into disappointment when I say “Well, we were there, but we left”.  It was like I denied them some kind of vicarious experience of the event.  Sorry guys.
     So why you might ask am I spending almost 8 minutes talking about what I did not see at that historic event.  It’s because of what I DID see.  Thousands and thousands of sweet, gentle people who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  Despite being out of their effing minds on pot, LSD and other drugs, they inflicted no pain, did no harm, shared their food and loved and accepted each other.  Music was the great peacemaker, the binding tie.  That was Woodstock’s legacy…That was the greatest impact Woodstock made on me and the world, never to be seen again in this lifetime.
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