Marro: Woodstock at 40
08/14/09 5:55PM By Nick Marro  Download MP3
(HOST) As we mark the 40th anniversary of the historic Woodstock Music Festival with the stories of Vermonters who were there, commentator Nick Marro* is thinking about community, social justice and great music.
(MARRO) Let me start by saying I got paid to go to Woodstock. That's right, paid. I was a young reporter at the Rutland Herald and Tom Slayton, the acting City Editor, assigned me to cover what was supposed to be three days of peace and music, a super concert like the world had never seen, featuring some of the biggest and best bands in the music business - The Who, the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead.
Nobody is sure how many people actually attended the concert (estimates ranged from 250,000 to a half a million people), but what is certain is that nobody anticipated the crowd that showed up, and while the infrastructure that was hastily put together on Max Yasgur's farm was woefully inadequate and strained, it never collapsed, testimony to the fact that back then, that many people could gather in a relatively small location without adequate food, water, housing, sanitation, or medical supplies, and get along - at least for a few days.
One of the things that I saved from Woodstock was a flyer that was prepared some time late in the day on Saturday by the promoters or the Hog Farm. It reads across the top, "Survive, survive, survive, survive. We are now one of the largest cities in America, population three hundred thousand and growing all the time. The people who promoted this festival have been overwhelmed by their own creation. We have to begin to fend for ourselves."
The traffic was horrible. People abandoned their cars in the road, on the sides of the roads, and in nearby fields. Many people walked past several miles of abandoned vehicles just to get to the festival site. Others simply gave up, turned around and went home. Musicians and medical personnel had to be flown in by helicopter, which, of course, prompted some people to suggest the government was seeding the clouds to make it rain.
The concert was held in a natural amphitheater, an alfalfa field that sloped gently down towards the stage. People plopped down where ever they found space. They pitched tents and made camps in nearby fields. There was no order. The weather - it was awful. High winds and heavy rains on Friday night. Blistering sun and heat most of Saturday. More rain on Saturday evening and evan more rain on Sunday. I left before the real heavy rains on Sunday (I went back to the Herald and wrote two stories for Monday's edition) but even by the time I had left, the alfalfa field was already a mud slide, and few people were prepared for the weather they endured.
To many people Woodstock exemplifies the counterculture generation - hippies, drugs, sex and rock and roll. But it was much more than that. While it's true there were drugs, and sex, and plenty of good rock and roll, Woodstock was really about a generation of young people - many of whom were concerned about the social issues of the time, like the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, and the women's movement. In many ways the music, as good as some of it was, was secondary to the social consciousness raised by a diverse group of people from all parts of the country who gathered in a farmer's field in upstate New York, endured terrible conditions, and enjoyed three days of peace and music.