Thursday, August 13, 2009

Not in My Town: Remembering Woodstock

If given the chance, there are few things in life I'd change. Signing that petition, and boycotting what was to be most historic rock concert of all times, is one of them.

Back in the summer of 1968, locals circulated a petition to keep a big music festival out of the town of Woodstock proper, to protect the best kept secret, a small artist's colony roughly 90 miles outside of New York City, from becoming Atlantic City in the Adirondacks.

I was a teenager making an annual summer, and spring break, pilgrimmage to the mountains for a retreat from crowded subways, and perpetual noise. The town was so small back then that, sooner or later, you were bound to bump into yourself.

As memory serves, I had just finished liberating cigarettes, and crab meat from the local market, and handing them out on Tinker Street, when someone approached me to sign a petition. As one who has made a career of avoiding petitions, I cringed. "Why sign it?" I asked. "To keep the noise, and crowds, out of town" was the answer. Sounds good to me, so I signed it. I shared the vitriol, and resolved not only to keep the festival out of Woodstock, but not to attend as a gesture of defiance.

From the spring of 1966 through 1968, I boarded a Trailways bus, at Port Authority, and took off for weeks at a time on many adventures during the summer, and spring break without my parents knowing. Some days were spent listening to demos at Cat Mother and the All Night News Band's place with Tommy Flanders, hanging out at The Elephant with Jimi Hendrix at the next table, living with fair haired boys who studied at the Art Institute, and visiting Father Francis' church which he built with his own hands, and where I instantly fell in love with stained glass. It was, in the best sense, a magical time.

And, as autumn made its stubborn, inevitable approach, it grew more and more difficult to return to a middle class neighborhood in the borough of Queens where people still think surrealism is a sexually transmitted disease.

You can see why even those, like myself, who were most opposed to petitions would sign one to keep a music concert from forever changing the face, and course, of a small country town.

Due to protest from the town, or for other unknown reasons, word spread quickly that the festival would instead be held in White Lake, not in Woodstock proper, though ironically, it came to be known as "Woodstock" anyway, despite being held in 600 acre dairy farm, in another county, 43 miles away.

Now, amazingly, as I look back, 40 years later, the only thing I have less use for than petitions is regret, but I can say this: i f I had it to do over again, I would have gone to that festival instead of sticking my nose up at it, thinking it was a bunch of teeny boppers intent on commercializing something precious. Nothing has ever been that precious to me again. Like the song goes, "Oh but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."