Sex, Drugs, Rock and Peace

By AL GIORDANO  |  July 22, 2009

The following day's Times quoted Pomeroy as saying that a number of New York City cops did, in fact, show up. "I don't ask if they're from New York," he said. But the officers did not want to be discovered by their superiors, and that ensured that they would be on their best behavior toward the assembled youths. No NYPD officer was going to arrest a kid for marijuana, because the cop would have to identity himself on official paperwork.

In addition to the Yippies, the Motherfuckers, and other groups who aimed to put a revolutionary imprint on the festival, the alternative press also became a key contributor to the event's politicization, Kopkind recalls that 1969 was a watershed year for the underground press. "Underground newspapers were very big," he says. "In New York, it was called the Rat, organized by Jeff Shero, who later became known as Jeff Shero Nightbyrd. Three days before the event I went up with a car caravan with Jeff and the people from Rat."

Says Anita Hoffman, who was then married to Abbie: "Jeff Nightbyrd had brought printing presses to do the Rat up there. There were a bunch of activists who were establishing a little presence there."

What happened next was truly revolutionary.

According to Wavy Gravy, the most visible member of California's Hog Farm commune, who'd been enlisted by the promoters to provide free food and help organize the festival, "Fifty thousand people had arrived before the gates opened. Concert promoter Mel Lawrence asked me to clear the infield so they could charge everyone for admission. We had heard they had cut a deal with Warner Brothers to do the movie and soundtrack. I said to him, 'Do you want a good movie or a bad movie?' Let's face it. Woodstock was created by promoters to make money. Somehow those turnstiles came down."

"That probably will never be repeated," Anita Hoffman says. "That in itself gave this huge thing the liberation of a free zone. The promoters just shrugged their shoulders."

Kopkind remembers it this way: "It was lots of fun before the event started. People knew each other, they'd sit around listening to guitar music. Then all of a sudden the floodgates opened, and Woodstock Nation came pouring in. the political people, in a matter of hours, were overwhelmed. My recollection was feeling that this was totally hopeless, and people said, 'Forget about this and have a good time.' In fact, that was the end of the conscious political-organizing effort. This behemoth was on the loose. Any politics or direction was formed by the internal dynamics rather than the conscious efforts of a political cadre. It couldn't' be led, directed or influence by these people, who had been trying to develop their politics during the entire decade."

Heaven and Hell

The first day's press reports portrayed Woodstock as a nightmare in the making: huge, uncontrollable crowds, a four-hour traffic jam on the New York State Thruway, shortages of food, rampant illegal drug use, bum trips from badly manufacture LSD, and a torrential rainstorm that, on Friday night, swamped hundreds of thousands of concert-goers in a sea of mud.

"I have a line in the film" boasts Wavy Gravy. "'There's a little bit of heaven in every disaster area.' What made it more than just a seminal rock concert was the fact of the rain creating a disaster area."

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Related: Interview: Michael Lang, Chicago 10, Crossword: Not so full of it, are we?, More more >
  Topics: Flashbacks , Media, Bob Dylan, John Sinclair,  More more >
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