Woodstock rock schlock

By KEN EMERSON  |  July 23, 2009

We arrived to find Sweetwater's vocalists engaged in a shouting match which generated little excitement. What generated much disappointment were the discoveries that "cokes and hotdogs and dozens of curious food and fruit combinations to experiment with" were out of sight and over-priced, that there was no water (we brushed our teeth the next morning with concentrated grape juice), and that Sweetwater was shouting because that was the only way to make one's self heard by 450,000 people. That boded no good for Tim Hardin, the Incredible String Band, Joan Baez, Ravi Shankar, and Arlo Guthrie, all of whom were scheduled to appear that evening. After all, Joan's no Janis Joplin, nor Arlo a Wilson Pickett.


The enormity of the crush – there's no way to describe it. There were almost five times as many people at the Aquarian Exposition as live in the entire city of Cambridge. The six hundred acre dairy farm was like one immense Sunday afternoon concert on the Cambridge Common, except that we couldn't hear the music. It was impossible to listen, impossible to see, impossible to move. The thousands who had come days in advance had been able to enjoy the pastoral peace the hype had promised, but by Friday the fields were choked with cars, tents, sleeping bags, bodies, and litter. Garbage cans were scarcer than hen's teeth at Woodstock. And like a mosquito in your bedroom late at night, the racket of helicopters could not be ignored. Only by air could the performers get in or could people needing medical attention get out.

We'd never seen or smelled more dope. Not all of it was good – at one point we and several hundred other people walked over a kid writhing on the ground, sobbing and screaming for help and thorazin. But much that was good was freely shared, and you could have cut that funny familiar smell with a knife. That there was only one fatal o.d. over the weekend was a miracle. No busts, by the way, were made at the Exposition, but many were hit on the way there.

It was another hike, forty-five minutes through the densest crowds yet, to our campsite, and because of the darkness an even longer one back to the music. The stage was elevated and at the bottom of a hill which had been grassy a week before. We had to sweep away the rubbish to plop our sleeping bags down in the mud. From where we were, as close as we could get without splitting up and abandoning all hope of ever leaving to see a friend, scrounge some food, or take a leak, the stage could not be seen and Tim Hardin could not be heard. Ditto Ravi Shankar, during whose performance it began to rain once again. Hard. There was a lot of shrieking and scurrying about, and we crawled under our neighbor's shower curtain and fell asleep. We were eight. One shower curtain. I awoke about 1:30 as my legs started to float away, and there was music! The tage end of Arlo's set. Enough people had fled or dozed off that through the rain you could hear him and Joan Baez, who followed. Never a fan of hers, I soon konked out again.

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