In this third instalment of my 50th Anniversary trilogy, I reflect on the epic 1969 culture and music festival, Woodstock.
Following a turbulent 1968 that saw riots across North America and Europe, there seemed to be a visceral desire to fulfil the dreams that sprung from the Summer of Love two years earlier.
Woodstock was a phenomenon that impacted both youth and mainstream cultures around the world. The “Woodstock generation” became synonymous with Baby Boomers.
For some interesting images and facts about Woodstock, check this video out:
Its lasting pop and music influence lasted decades past those three days in Upstate New York. It included Joni Mitchell’s famous song “Woodstock” which she wrote while watching the news coverage of the festival and lamenting her decision not to perform.
The counter culture eventually finds it’s way into the mainstream. For example, famous cartoonist Charles Shultz, of Peanuts fame, named his recurring (but still unnamed) bird character, “Woodstock“, and in 2017, the festival site was added to the list of the National Register of Historic Places.
So what impact did this have on this 13 year old high-schooler? Unlike the last episode of Star Trek and the Apollo moon landing which happened the previous month, the news of Woodstock seeped slowly into my consciousness as opposed to being broadcast to me on network TV.
Because of our close proximity to upper New York State, news of the festival circulated around my high school in the weeks leading up to the event, but because no one ever expected it to become the phenomenon it did and because the chance of getting there without a car (or drivers license), I filed away the idea and moved onto other plans for that weekend.
As the festival unfolded, it did make it to network TV and like Joni Mitchell, I was totally blown away by the news coverage. I was one of the hundreds of my fellow high school compatriots who missed out on what was arguably the greatest pop culture music festival of all time and one of the few who didn’t say I was there.
I remember watching the news coverage of the festival from my Montreal living room and hating my parents for knowing they would never have let me go even if I could drive. As life would have it, fifty years later they’re no longer around and I don’t need permission.
But boy oh boy, if they were, what I wouldn’t give to take them along with me to Woodstock 2019 kicking and screaming. Unfortunately, Woodstock 50 has been cancelled. Guess I’ll have to wait for Woodstock 100.
“And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game.” (The Circle Game – Joni Mitchell)
It seemed that the 60’s were two decades compressed into one. If you were there, it was dizzying. If you weren’t, it was incomprehensible.
I don’t know what was in the water in 1969 but whatever it was, it made for a dramatic end to a tumultuous decade! It seemed to also be the end of idealism.
The Beatles began the decade with a music revolution only to end it with their own dissolution. The peace and free love vibes of Woodstock would be shattered by just three months later by violence and murder at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival.
On that hot August weekend, I kept turning the TV dial to get all the news I could about the “Hippy Happening” taking place only three hundred miles from where I was sitting. It might as well have been a galaxy away. It would take me years to appreciate the extraordinary significance of this moment and of the sixties in general.
Charles Dickens nailed it when he wrote in 1859,
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”
…It was the dawning of The Age of Aquarius.
Humanity has always struggled between dark and light, rich and poor, war and peace. As a conscious species, we seem to repeat history all too often, in spite of knowing we should be learning from it.
That said, I remain an eternal optimist and now look to the next generation with the hope that they, remembering the lessons we’ve learned, are able to find the solutions that have eluded too many for too long.
And so, in spite of the timeline, with the memory of Woodstock as fresh in my head as ever, I leave you with this quote of the month.
“If someone thinks that peace and love are just a cliché that must have been left behind in the 60s, that’s a problem. Peace and love are eternal.” – John Lennon
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