Miami was hot and sultry. I was 17 years old, it was June 1969 and I graduated with honors. Mom wanted me to stay home with her all summer as a last family hurrah before venturing out in the world to attend the University Of Tampa. I am a September kid so I graduated at 17 years old and would enter college before I turned 18. Yes, a little scary but in the 60s kids were in the middle of love, faith and happiness, hippy life was only dangerous if you took a hit of LSD during a sit/love in. Virgo kids do not do drugs they just watch others acting stupid. I placated mom until August and could not pretend anymore. Road trip!

I drove my 69 Hemi Roadrunner with a manual transmission to Bethel, NY with 2 girlfriends, Janet and Patti. Yes, it was a hot rod and that is how I rolled. Had to fill up with high test gas before we hit the road. Coincidentally, we found the flyer at the Pure Station on Flagler Street. It announced the concert at a farm, so it seemed like a sign from the universe that we had to go. Three 17-year-old girls from la la land Miami, took off for our first adventure without our parents. 

We arrived in Bethel at around 4 pm on August 15th. We could hear the music from our parking place 2 miles away!  By, late afternoon, none of the first four acts scheduled to lead off the festival had managed to make it to the site. Richie Havens, originally fifth on the bill, was ready and opened the festival. He took the stage at 5:07 p.m. and played to repeated standing ovations for almost three hours. Richie was followed (in order) by Sweetwater, Incredible String Band, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, and Arlo Guthrie.

At about midnight, it started raining, right in the middle Shankar's set. He braved the elements and continued despite the rain. Eventually he had to stop after five songs. Rain would continue to fall heavily throughout the event, creating huge mud pits interrupting or delaying several performances. Joan Baez, took the stage at about 1:00 a.m. to close the first day's performances.

Throughout the night, the flow of people into Yasgur's Farm continued nonstop.

A medical tent was set up to treat bare feet cuts by broken glass and metal can lids that littered the site, bad acid trips, and retinas burned when stoners lied down staring directly at the sun.

A young man, asleep in a trash-strewn field, hidden under his sleeping bag for protection from the rain, died when a tractor hauling away sewage from the portable toilets accidently ran over him.

In nearby Bethel, volunteers began making thousands of sandwiches that were sent by helicopter to the site to feed the hungry masses. The Town Justice held court in his living room to deal with nearly 200 drug-related cases.

The second day's festival performances, originally scheduled to start in the evening, began shortly after noon so that the crowd did not become restless and unruly. Artists were asked to lengthen their sets to keep the peace.

Quill, Keef Hartley Band, "Country Joe" McDonald, John Sebastian, Santana, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane all played on the second day.

Technical problems prevented Quill's performance from being included "Woodstock" (the movie) causing Atlantic Records to drop them. Electrical problems and ankle-deep water on stage shocked the Grateful Dead when they touched their microphones and electric guitar strings. They were some strong dudes, grateful they were not dead!

Throughout the day, rain and technical delays wreaked havoc with the festival schedule. The Who finished their set as the sun rose on Sunday morning, and it was nearly 8:00 a.m. Sunday when Saturday night's headline act, Jefferson Airplane finally started playing.

Scheduled Saturday night performances didn't end until mid-morning Sunday, so there was a little gap between Jefferson Airplane and Joe Cocker, who took the stage at 2:00 p.m. with storm clouds looming.

I could not find Janet or Patti. I was hoping they did not succumb to the to the urging of drug dealers leading to sex. Yes, I was a goodie two shoes. This dirty disgusting place did not feel right to a strong Virgo girl. I could not wait to hear more music which was the one saving grace. I prayed for rain just to feel a little clean again. Damn, I should have brought soap! I kept saying to myself, “Veronica, you will live through this to brag to your friends and strangers about it”. I was not the only one feeling out of place. I watched the firefighters trudge through the mud all sweaty and exhausted with looks on their faces that I never forgot.

The third day after Joe Cocker's set, there was a two-hour thunderstorm delay, after which the day's lineup continued at around 6:00 pm with Country Joe and The Fish, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha-na-na, and Jimi Hendrix. I was wandering around aimlessly when a good looking firefighter walked up to me. He asked me why I was not galivanting around with the others? As a 17-year-old daddy’s girl, I ran and jumped on him wrapping my legs around him. He was taken aback literally. He was swaying a little. We were face to face eyes to eyes. It was very weird. He just stood there holding me and I clung on for dear life. Finally it was evident that he was working and should not be carrying a blonde teenager around, so he let me down. He saw the fright in my face. He told me that he would assigned to the concert for the duration and that he would be walking around near the telephone stands, if I needed him. His name was Lt. Bradshaw. I was so relieved that I jumped up and kissed him on the cheek. When I say up, he was probably 6’4”!

Neil Young, played for the first time with Crosby, Stills and Nash performing only two songs in the band's acoustic set and refused to be filmed during their electric set, complaining that the cameras were too distracting.

It was so humid that the band Ten Years After could not keep their guitar strings in tune. Sadly, because of technical problems, only the band's last song was filmed.

Two more deaths, both from drug overdoses, occurred Saturday. There were four births. Three babies were born in a temporary clinic that had been set up by an area hospital in a school just off the festival grounds. The fourth baby was born at a motel in nearby Bethel. It was the first place the new daddy could find when his wife went into labor.

What had been scheduled as a three-day (Friday - Sunday, August 15-17) festival continued well into the morning of Monday, August 18 due to the numerous rain delays and technical glitches.

A mass exodus began when a thunderstorm which delayed the proceedings (yet again) at about 5:00 p.m. Sunday. An estimated 35,000 stay through the end of the final performance, which began at 9:00 a.m. Monday.

Performing after the last weather delay, beginning at about 6:30 p.m. on Sunday were Country Joe and The Fish, Ten Years After, and The Band began at about midnight.

Monday performers included Johnny Winter (the Albino), Blood Sweat & Tears, CSNY, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha-Na-Na and Jimi Hendrix.

As the festival ended, estimates of the number of people who attended varied widely. The state police estimate was 450,000, however I think it rounded to half a million. A newspaper editor on the scene claimed the total was probably closer to 150,000, but a Bethel historian says it was closer to 700,000. Due to the lack of an adequate ticket selling and collecting system, we will never know for sure.

When they added it all up, festival organizers figure they were $1.3 million in debt, with expenses more than 300% over budget and most attendees getting in without having paid for a ticket. Since I arrived on Friday, the first day, I paid for 3 days and it cost me $35. 

More than 5,000 people required medical treatment during the festival. Of that total, about 800 involved drug use. There were eight reported miscarriages.

It cost $100,000 and several days to clean up the site. Workers bulldozed tons of trash and debris into a pit and burned it.

My innocent eyes were not virgin anymore. I saw so much sex, drugs and rock and roll that I knew in order to save my virginity, I took on the kick ass biker chick persona. It worked and I kept referring to “Lizard, my old man” steering the badly demented, scary, sexually driven hippy boys away. So needless to say, I survived the new sexual revolution for the time being anyway! I never saw Lt. Bradshaw again, but I always remember his kindness. In a small way he was my hero!

Summer of 69 opened my innocent eyes to dirty sex and mayhem. I shouldn’t have gone. I was a Virgin and waiting to be married to Brett. What had I gotten myself into by following instead of my usual take charge attitude? I looked around for Janet and she was nowhere to be seen. Thank God I got the time and location of our meeting place.  Janet and Patti finally showed up and we began our 2 mile back down the road to find hot rod.

In retrospect, I had no idea what would happen as I walked through the farm fields trying to find a spot to settle with my blanket. I was a jock’s girlfriend not a hippy, yet anyway. I was mesmerized by the colorful flowing dresses, leather fringed vests, head and arm bands of leather. I did have the appropriate long straight blonde hair, my jeans were not worn or torn. My top was a simple t-shirt from Sears. As time went on, the mud and rain created a tie dye like swirl on my clothes which buried the ivy league girl look.

The epic event would later be known simply as Woodstock and became synonymous with the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Woodstock was a success, but the massive concert didn’t come off without a hitch: Last-minute venue changes, bad weather and the hordes of attendees caused major headaches. Still, despite or because of a lot of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and rain, Woodstock was a peaceful celebration and earned its hallowed place in pop culture history. I was thankful for the experience but even more “grateful” that I was not dead from the experience!

August 01, 2020 16:43

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