Wednesday, August 17, 2016
This Dream That Came True
The crowd. Photo by Baron Wolman.
Wednesday marked the final day of the 47th anniversary of Woodstock, that iconic celebration of peace, love, mud, music and community in upstate New York whose promise still resonates for those of a certain age. Over 400,000 people gathered in the summer of 1969 in a massive muddy field at Max Yasgur's 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel - not Woodstock, which turned it down - for an event originally aimed at raising money for a recording studio, not making cultural history. Amid fears no one would come, it was advertised as open to the public for a $6.50 ticket - until the fences came down and the crowds surged in for free.
A hopeful estimate of maybe 50,000 people turned into a flood of almost half a million, causing eight-mile-long traffic jams that closed the New York State Thruway. The Hog Farm Collective provided security - under the moniker "Please Force" - and food, which eventually ran out; army helicopters dropped more. The 34 musical performances by some of the era's biggest stars included now-famous moments: The Who's 24-song set, The Grateful Dead's blowing out their speakers, Jimi Hendrix' blistering "Star Spangled Banner." Hendrix $18,000 made him the highest paid performer; Santana earned $750. Over three days, there was unending rain and mud and joy, along with two births and two deaths - one O.D. and one tractor accident. There was no swag, and no violence.
For those old enough to have been there or heard its stories, Woodstock is long gone, but its presence stubbornly lingers. While in many ways it marked the dark end of the Summer of Love era - Manson and Altamont soon followed, the Vietnam War lumbered on, America's divisions grew more bitter - it remains a key moment for many: Elliot Tiber, the former Yeshiva student who became the improbable savior of Woodstock by providing a Bethel town permit, and who just died at 81, once said his still-vibrant memories of Woodstock made him feel "like time hasn't passed." “Woodstock showed the world how things could have been," says Baron Wolman, a Rolling Stone photographer whose iconic photos are running this week at an L.A. Gallery. "For this reason, it's important that we never forget this experience, this place, this time, this dream that came true."
The values inherent in that dream likewise live on. When this summer's GOP convention sported an incongruous guitar-bedecked logo reminiscent of their own, Woodstock Ventures trolled them with a news release suggesting they "consider incorporating some of our Woodstock values into the RNC platform...Woodstock stands for equal opportunity for all of us; we do not support tilting the playing field to favor a privileged few." Bernie Sanders' remarkable grassroots campaign likewise summoned a kindred spirit of equality and possibility long missing from the American political landscape; it is now being echoed in the campaign of the popular Zephyr Teachout, a progressive candidate in New York’s 19th Congressional district – home to Yasgur's farm - who is running against a GOP billionaire. Of the multitude of newspaper headlines from 47 years ago, one classic stands out: "Hippies Mired In Sea of Mud." Yes, but...