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Woodstock 1969 - The House at 303

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
How I went to Woodstock in 1969 as a 15 year old. It was an event that changed the world forever.

Submitted: August 15, 2019

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Submitted: August 15, 2019

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August 1969

“Hi Kathleen.  Do you want me to come over tonight? I mean I can come by your house and meet you outside.” Kathleen was my current girlfriend.

“Sure but you know you can’t come in. Ever since my Dad saw your long hair he won’t let me date you. I’ll sneak out instead.”

Kathleen thought long hair was cute but adults thought all longhairs were dirty hippies who did drugs and would murder you in your sleep. I knew all 10 people in Hackensack who had long hair. It was kind of a club you were forced into by being against the Vietnam War.

“Doesn’t your Dad know I cut my hair to work at my Dad’s studio?” I was used to cutting my hair to do ‘straight’ things.

“He doesn’t care. He saw your haircut and still doesn’t trust you. I like the way you look.” Kathleen liked me even though I thought I was really awkward and funny looking.

“Alright. You know I don’t like you sneaking around your parents. I have to get up early to go to work tomorrow. I’ll see you Saturday afternoon, OK?” And I hung up the dark green rotary phone.

The summer of 1969 was my second summer working full time for my dad at his photography/television commercial studio.  I really liked working in New York City because it was exciting and I saw so many people. I was only 15 but everyone thought I was older because I was almost six feet.

New York City also had The Fillmore East. The Fillmore had opened in 1968 as a venue for all of the underground bands that were made up of hippies. Radio only played ‘Top 40’ bubble-gum music. The new music was underground and you had to buy a record to hear it. Very few places would let a long haired band play so the Fillmore opened in an abandoned theatre in the East Village of New York City.

After the Maywood Battle of the Bands I was hooked on music. I started playing the electric bass more than my trumpet or violin. My brother Chris and I became regulars at the Fillmore in Greenwich Village. There were shows at 8:00 and 11:00 on Friday and Saturday nights. We would go any time one of our favorite bands played. We saw Taj Mahal, Canned Heat, Traffic, and Ten Years After. When these bands played live they would jam out. They never played the song like it was on the record.

I liked that at least three bands played at each Fillmore show. It wasn’t that big a place so every seat was great. It was a really cool place and had great sound. The bands would come on and just play without any light shows or drama, just pure music. If they were not good they could get booed off. Only bands that were great got an encore. That was before Woodstock.

My love of hearing live music catapulted me into Woodstock.  There had been talk of a concert that would be on a farm in Woodstock, well Bethel, NY, where there were hippie communes. Every band that played at the Fillmore and then some would play over the weekend.  I had to go.

“We need to get $14 each and give it to Stephan to buy tickets.” Freddy was talking to John and Chris about going to Woodstock.

“Can I give it to you tomorrow?” John wanted to go to Woodstock if Freddy and Chris were going.

“I think tomorrow will be good. Chris you need to give me $14 too.” Freddy was usually the ringleader of legitimate events while I was always pushing for the non-mainstream stuff.

“I want to go. I can get you the money when I get paid.” I pleaded to go with my older brothers.

“Momma said you can’t go. It doesn’t matter because she won’t let me get tickets for you anyway.” Freddy was playing big brother and telling me how it was.

“I don’t care what you say. I am going and no one can stop me. I’ll sneak in if I have to. You can lift the fence and I’ll go under it.” I was determined to go if they were going. I wasn’t going to be left out.

“We don’t have room for you in the MGA anyway. We don’t even have room for Mark.” Chris had finally chimed in and he was upset that Mark, our piano player, couldn’t go with him.

“What if you tow me on the Silver Bullet?” I pleaded with Freddy. The Silver Bullet was a little motor scooter I had fixed.

“Why can’t we take Phoebe’s Camaro? The MGA only has 2 seats so it won’t fit you three with the tent and food.” I wanted desperately to see all of those bands I had worn out my record player on.

“You must be a fool.” Said Chris as they all walked out.

Thursday came and I had to go to work at my father’s studio in New York City. I had taken my Bulova transistor radio to work to listen to WABC give constant updates about how many people were going and how bad the traffic was. I still hadn’t figured out a way to get to Woodstock. 

About 10:00am I got a call. 

“Phoebe says we can take her car so you can go. When Momma saw three of us and the tent and food she made Phoebe give up her car. Come home and get ready. We aren’t going to wait for you. And Mark is going too.” It was Freddy.

“I’ll catch the bus home right away.” I was exploding with excitement. I ran out of the studio and into the elevator.

Phoebe’s car was her new six cylinder baby blue Camaro. It was as slow as molasses but it had room for me. I was going to Woodstock! Late Thursday afternoon news reports said that the New York Thruway was closed because of the traffic.  This was either the place to be or the place to stay away from depending on whether or not you were for the Vietnam War or against it. ‘Hippie’ or ‘Straight’!

Friday morning we were even crazier and our packing slowed to a crawl.  It took us until noon to actually pull out of the driveway and head upstate. First we had to stop and pick up Mark our keyboard player.

“Mark, let’s go!” I screamed as I walked in his house. I thought he would call me ‘Cool Breeze’ again. It was a nickname I wasn’t sure I liked.

“My Mom won’t let me go. My parents have been listening to the reports all morning and they changed their mind. I can’t go even after they made lasagna to take with me. You can take the lasagna if you want.” Mark was really down.

“There’s no way they will let you?” Chris had been looking forward to sharing the music with him.

“No way. They think all those dirty hippies will get me high and maybe kill me or cover me in blood. Take the lasagna. ” Mark was giving his sad laugh as he handed Chris the lasagna and we got in the car and left.

Off we went talking and arguing and planning everything and nothing.  It was smooth sailing up Route 17 North until we hit New York State. We knew not to take the Thruway from all the warnings on WABC’s Cousin Brucie Show.  And then we saw more longhairs. And then more and more and more. We just kept staring at a sea of people who looked like us. I had no idea there were this many hippies. None of us spoke. We just acted like everything was normal and we were cool too.

We kept driving up the road, waving at the other freaks, until the traffic just about stopped.  We found a place to park on a hill and began unloading.  We were about seven miles from the concert.

Our unloaded supplies included a bright yellow tent with “Teacher’s Scotch” written in huge letters on it. A Coleman double-burner gas stove would help us cook the steaks and frozen lasagna that Mark gave us.  We also had some sleeping bags and clothes.  Off we hiked.  We passed the tent around when we got tired.

About an hour into our walk, we ran into a group of ‘straights’ John and Freddy knew going the other way.

“It’s awful.  A complete mess and no food or water.  We are going home,” said Chuck, one of the homebound group.

“This is gonna be great,” I thought, “All of the weirdo ‘straights’ would be gone.”

We hopped on the hoods or trunks of cars crawling along in traffic whenever we got too tired.  Nobody cared and everyone was so nice to each other.

“John, check that out.” I pointed over to the right where naked men and women were playing in a pond. I quickly turned away and tried to act cool but at 15 it was a struggle.

“I see them. Maybe we should go in the water too. Everyone is smoking joints. I wonder if they are tripping on acid.” John was as amazed as I was but he was really good at not showing it. We were getting used to the smell of pot everywhere but we didn’t smoke any.  We were the only four people at Woodstock who didn’t get high on any drugs.  We didn’t want to miss a thing and we were really here for the music. 

“Look out!” Someone screamed. “They called out the National Guard.”

I looked up to see two US Army helicopters. Everybody started screaming and was scared that the Governor had called in the National Guard to shut us down. Police would always pull over a car if they saw longhairs in it.

From a distance we heard an announcement over the concert’s loud speakers. 'They are with us man, they are not against us. Forty five doctors or more are here without pay because they dig what this is about.”  Everyone started cheering for the GIs.

After the show I found out the soldiers had volunteered to help.  The army heard about all the people who needed help getting supplies they immediately volunteered to fly the helicopters. They ended up ferrying supplies and people for the entire weekend. Most soldiers had been drafted and loved the anti-war hippies and always wanted to smoke dope and go to anti-war protests on leave because ‘that was where the chicks were’.

As we walked past the General Store near the concert I realized I was thirsty. “I want a Coke and a candy bar.” I was also starving from walking so far carrying everything.

“They are probably going to rip you off. The town people don’t want all these hippies here. You are crazy to even get a soda there.” Chris didn’t think I should waste money here.

“It’s $2.00 for a bottle and I don’t care. I’m getting it.” They were sold out of small bottles. At home the same bottle was $.50. I had $5.00 with me.

We kept walking and finally we could see the hundred foot tall, scaffolding towers with the biggest and loudest speakers I had ever seen.  It was 5:00 PM when the show was supposed to start and they were still setting up and testing everything. Seeing we had time we walked past the hill that would be used as the auditorium and found a place really close to a stream to set up our tent.

Richie Havens started singing and we knew the concert had begun.  He played a few songs and finished with “Freedom.” Friday night was Folk music night and we weren’t into it. We wanted rock and roll. The big exception was Country Joe playing solo. He wasn’t supposed to play but he was on stage when Richie Havens finished and everyone was panicking because the bands couldn’t get to the stage. Someone found a guitar and Country Joe McDonald played about five songs on the acoustic. He sang the anti-war anthem “1 2 3 4 What Are We Fightin' For?  Don’t Ask Me I Don’t Give A Damn.  Next Stop Is Vietnam!” and 400,000 people sang along.

After that we made supper and crashed out. We fell asleep to Ravi Shankar and his Sitar doing his transcendental meditation.  We really didn’t want to hear this “heavy head trip” stuff.  We wanted to rock. Ravi Shankar found it a 'terrifying experience' and said the crowd in the mud reminded him of the water buffaloes at home in India.

We woke up Saturday morning around 10:00am in a dream world.  We went from being only a handful of freaks in the whole city of Hackensack to being in a group of 500,000.  We were not alone. We were brought together by music and the desire not to kill Vietnamese people. It felt safe.

The first thing we did was eat breakfast.  I think it was some cereal and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Then we went to use the bathroom.  They had set up hundreds and hundreds of porta-potties, the most I had ever seen.  After washing in the stream with a bar of soap we had, we took a leisurely stroll to see if we could find anybody we knew. Somehow I never saw anyone I knew over the entire weekend.

Around noon a band called ‘The Quill’ played and they were so bad the audience booed them off. Later another sub-par band named ‘The Keef Hartley Band’ came on and the stage physically broke as they were cut short too. Both bands were so bad they are not on the Woodstock album or in the movie.

Then the real bands started, led off by Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” that got everyone up and dancing. Our next door neighbor Leslie Weinstein aka Leslie West with Mountain was up next and he played hard rock blues.While Mountain played they started handing out Dixie cups with what they called granola in them. The cups were passed person to person so that the people in the middle got some first. People from the Hog Farm commune had taken over from the contracted food people and mixed plain dried oats, raisins, and some nuts in big barrels. I called it barn food but it kind of grew on you. We really appreciated the free granola on Sunday when we ran low on food.

Next the Milton Incident happened.  We were eating dinner just before Canned Heat came on around 5:00 PM when I decided to eat my canned peaches.  I forgot a can opener so I used a knife to open the can. 

“Don’t do it!” cried Freddy and Chris in unison.

The knife slipped and I cut my finger wide open.  Fifteen minutes later I was still bleeding and was getting faint.  It was decided that I had to go to the Infirmary Tent.  Fred and Chris had told me not to use the knife so they refused to take me.  Rickets volunteered.  I think he wanted to “check out the chicks” that were everywhere as we walked. 

The tent area had so many bad acid freak-outs going on that Rickets started getting weirded out by the people having acid trips. People were saying crazy things while they rocked back and forth holding their knees. Others were talking about the incredible moon while it was daytime. Others were just curled up in a ball crying while someone held them and told them “It will only last a little while.”

It was a really weird scene. Rickets got a scared look on his face and left me waiting for help. It seemed like forever before a caring volunteer hippie chick put a butterfly bandage on my finger and told me it would be at least two hours more for a real doctor if I wanted to wait for stitches. The bleeding seemed to have stopped so I left.

I got back in time to hear Canned Heat play their smooth blues tune “Goin’ up Country”. Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater and Janis Joplin gave forgettable performances. Joplin would have been good if she wasn’t tripping on acid and freaked out over how many people were there. She kept saying “Wow man, there’s so many people” and then laughing.

Thankfully Sly and the Family Stone did “I Want to Take You Higher,” and half a million people related.  Surprisingly, Sly was one of the highlights of Woodstock.  By then we were exhausted and we went to sleep only to wake up and heard The Who playing “Pinball Wizard”. I ran over in my sleep to see Peter Townshend, the lead guitarist, throw Abbie Hoffman off the stage when he wouldn’t stop his LSD infused rant. Abbie Hoffman was an anarchist of the Chicago 8 who made a mess of the Democratic National Convention and ended up in jail. No real hippie liked him because we were pacifists and he was a jerk who incited violence.

While all this music was going on, a million other things were happening. Everyone was looking out for each other with a real sense of caring and love for a fellow man.

“Watch out for the yellow blotter man. People are having a bad trip from it.” Came from the stage.

We were warned to “Stay off the towers.  We won’t play if anyone is on the towers.” 

They had built 100 feet tall towers for the huge speakers.  They were strung out about 500 feet from the stage in a couple of rows.  The sound was great.  But people would get stoned and climb the towers to get a better view or hear the music louder.  I think there are probably a lot of deaf people running around from that. 

They read countless telegrams from all over the world telling us how cool we were and how beautiful it was to have so many people together for peace, love, and music.

When we got up Sunday morning, we were tired but energized because today had the best bands as we saw it.  We ate breakfast and walked aimlessly around again.  The show was supposed to start at noon but this was Woodstock.  Joe Cocker finally came on around 2:30.  He sang “With a Little Help from my Friends” and we all felt good together. The rain and lightning came and he had to stop so everyone did a ‘stop rain’ chant that didn’t work.

I hid from the rain under a plastic sheet another person shared with me. All of a sudden a man with a big camera walked by. I didn’t know that they were making a movie and the cameras captured me. You can see me with short curly hair and John Lennon wire frame glasses standing under the plastic sheet in the Woodstock movie.No one else in our group made it into the lens. 

It rained almost five inches and the hill turned to mud and then even deeper mud.  Rickets hadn’t slept very much and the rain got to him. He started freaking out and I thought he might try to leave. Freddy calmed him down and he was fine after he changed clothes and dried out. I was trying to decide if I would slide down the hill like a bunch of people were doing. They were covered in mud but it looked like fun to me. Chris kept talking about what slobs and pigs the hippies were and how they were covered in mud. He was a neat freak and it showed by how perfect he kept his long hair.

About an hour and a half later the rain stopped and Max Yasgur, the guy who rented his farm out for the money, commented on how we all said we came for music and peace and that is exactly what we did. He was really glad we didn’t act like the police believed we would. I guess he figured we were drug crazy people like most of America.

By the time Country Joe and the Fish came on with the whole band at 6:00 PM they were six hours behind schedule and we were hungry. We listened to Country Joe while we ate and cleaned our dishes in the stream. We had just finished when Ten Years After came on. They were Chris’s favorite because Alvin Lee played really fast guitar and Chris wanted to be faster. They played the longest of any band - over two hours.  They got everyone rocking and dancing with “I’m Goin’ Home”. The Band, Blood Sweat and Tears, and then Johnny Winter were all we could handle.  It was 3:00 AM and we went to the tent and collapsed. 

The next morning we woke up to people yelling “Hendrix!”  We jumped up and ran for the hill.  It was 8:30 Monday morning.  We got to the edge and just stared.  When we had gone to sleep, there was a sea of people covering the mountain and dancing and singing to the music.  Now there was a small gathering of 40,000 fans in front of the stage.  The hill was a disgusting muddy mess and smelled like cow dung. 

I looked to the stage and Jimi Hendrix was strapping on his guitar.  He was cool about everything from his long headband running down his back to his wild bell bottoms.  Somehow his guitar really did the talking.  He played a dozen warm-up songs until he started with the bombs coming out of his guitar.  The explosions became “The Star Spangled Banner” and the USA was forever changed.  His rendition proved to be the future of how people would sing it.  Up until then no one had ever interpreted “The Star Spangled Banner”. You only sang it exactly the way it was written. “Hey Joe. Where You Goin’ With That Gun In Your Hand?” was the fitting last song at Woodstock.

As soon as Hendrix finished people started picking up trash and trying to clean up. We helped some too even though no one had asked us. We just felt like it was the correct thing to do. The whole weekend was like that. People just doing the right thing and sharing and caring and pitching in whenever they saw the need.

In trance-like fashion we stumbled back to our three day home, packed up, and started the hike back to the car.  I don’t think we spoke a whole lot on the way to the car or on the ride back.  We were numb and it would take months to digest what we had been a part of.  Somehow we knew that the world would never again be the same.It had changed by changing one person at a time. 

“Hello. Is Kathleen home?” The first thing I did when I got back to the house at 303 was call Kathleen.

“Hold on and I will call her to the phone.” It was her mother and she did not tell me to stop calling.

“Hi Milt. All of the news is about Woodstock. I can’t wait to hear all about it. My Dad can’t believe that you all were peaceful. When can you come over?” Kathleen sounded excited and happy to hear from me.

“I can come over around six. I’ll meet you outside.” I knew her parents thought I was a dirty hippie and I didn’t want to get them upset.

“You can come to the door. And my Dad said to have you come for dinner.” What was going on with Kathleen and her family?

I arrived at six on the dot and Kathleen let me in. They were already at the dinner table as Kathleen had me sit right next to her Dad. I was ready to run out the door if he did anything.

After they said the prayer her father leaned into me and said “No fights at Woodstock? Half a million people and they were peaceful.” And he shook his head in wonder.

 

NOTES:

50 years later the hippie culture including their clothing, food, meditation, and music is a mainstream part of everyone’s daily life. If only the peace and love could have followed with the ‘Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll” attitude that the masses believed to be our essence.

There has never been a gathering of that size without any crime being committed except for people enjoying drugs. Jimi Hendrix received death threats for his performance and it is believed that he was murdered by the FBI for desecrating “The Star Spangled Banner”.

After Woodstock the Fillmore would sell out every show. The first light show came to the Fillmore and everyone was amazed by visual art of The Joshua Light Show. The light show was basically a lava lamp type display on the back curtain. It seemed that every band got an encore no matter how bad they were.

Drugs were everywhere and FM radio began its reign by playing the bands that AM radio would not. FM radios sold out and AM radios became extinct.

When school started in September many of the jocks who always had crewcuts grew their hair. Most of the ‘jocks’ stopped trying to beat the longhairs up and tried to be friends with them. It seemed all of the girls wanted guys with long hair and the Woodstock music started to take over.

Many people do not know that the first longhaired hippies in each town were the best and brightest of all of the kids. In our group John, aka Rickets became a neural transmitter scientist with a doctorate from Columbia University. Freddy was the Student Council President of our school of 3,500 students. I had just been selected as one of 6 students who would be in a class to learn computer programming on the city’s main frame computer. I also had been publishing an underground newspaper called Smuff.

 


© Copyright 2019 Milton Galfas. All rights reserved.

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