FREE FOR ALL Maybe it was the beginning of the Age of Entitlement.
Let me get this straight up front: I didn't go to Woodstock. But I was teaching a "student-initiated course" in pop-music history at Antioch College at the time, and a number of my students announced that they were going to miss a couple of classes because they had tickets to Woodstock that they'd bought through the mail. Although I was their age — or a little younger — I had no desire to join them, and I warned them that the thing would be crawling with cops. I'd lived in New York City a few years earlier, and my memories of the police were still vivid: the casual violence, the disregard of suspects' rights, the corruption, and the policeman who said, "Don't worry about us findin' dope if you don't have any; we've brought our own." The place would be crawling with these guys, I said. Make sure you have bail money.
The students staggered back several days later than they'd expected, looking awful. I had been completely wrong about the cops, they told me, but that was about the only bright side of it. I'd caught a little of the coverage on television and in the New York Times, but that was mostly facts and figures. The story my students told was reported not from a helicopter passing overhead but from the (muddy) ground. There were way too many people there, they said, and you couldn't see or hear anything. There was no place to camp properly, and the whole thing, as one guy put it, "was like Boy Scout survival camp with dope." The grounds got filthier and filthier; since there was no place to dispose of garbage, it smelled. And when the members of their little group had found each other again and decided to leave, that too was almost impossible because of the mobs coming in. (It didn't help that they'd decided to hitchhike there and back, of course.) "And the worst of it was, we'd spent all this bread for tickets, and they just let everyone in for free. If we'd known that, we could've saved a lot of money."
They quickly forgot about Woodstock; meanwhile, I read a totally different version in Rolling Stone. This account, the result of a reporters' pool the magazine had sent to the festival, didn't ignore the sanitation and the crowd issues, but it played up a hippie-idyll angle my students seemed to have missed. What's more, the reporters had enjoyed backstage access and had gotten to hear the music very well, and they wrote about it with their usual skill. All of this interested me, because in addition to being passionately hopeful that a new world might be ushered in by a new generation of which I was a part, I'd had a couple of my own pieces accepted by Rolling Stone and was hoping to become part of it, too.