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Woodstock rock schlock

Fun Fair of peace, pot, pop, & pooped people
By KEN EMERSON  |  July 23, 2009


This article originally appeared in the August 27, 1969 issue of the Boston Phoenix

"And now we bring you a special message from the president of Woodstock Enterprises, Inc.: 'Good afternoon. I would like to address all those people driving to White Lake and the Aquarian Exposition. I realize that you've been on the road a long time, you're tired, and you've paid good money for tickets, but please, turn around and go back home.'"

That was on our car radio two hours before the first concert was scheduled to begin. The president of Woodstock Enterprises, Inc. sounded queasy. Fifteen miles from Bethel and White Lake the traffic was just beginning to slow down. When the hitch-hiker we'd picked up allowed as how he didn't particularly care for rock 'n roll but thought he'd go anyway and asked what "Aquarian" meant ("Well, you see, Jesus was a Pisces and..."), we began to get nervous. Who wasn't going to Woodstock?

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This was all in the heart of the Jewish resort area – all those places like Grossinger's (WELCOME JERRY LEWIS) which advertise in the Sunday Times, plus a lot, dingy and ramshackled, that don't. And as we became more and more bogged down, more and more chubby vacationers, trundled their folding lawn chairs right out to the edge of the road to watch the freaks inch by, slouching to Bethel. The kids giggled and flashed timorous "V" signs. We assured them we didn't bite. Parents tsk-tsked amusedly – they should live so long – and dreamed of Florida. The last two miles to White Lake took over an hour, as hawkers peddled lemonade and papers (the Village Voice and Zig Zag) from car to car and it began (apologies to Ron Robin) to drizzle. I needed to go to the bathroom. I did it on the road.

Bethel was, well, beleaguered. Stripped stores. Camaros in the delphiniums. We abandoned our panting Barracuda and ran to escape the housewife who wanted to charge us $15 to park there overnight. The drive from Boston had taken us eight hours. AAA had estimated five. Had we not taken some sneaky back roads as we neared Bethel – and those too were soon afterwards impassable – I would have been behind the wheel yet another two.

It was a four mile hike to "the unspoiled splendor" of those "hundreds of acres to roam on." We felt like extras in Ben Hur, two among hundreds of viscous thousands, oozing, but jauntily, along a narrow, car-clogged road. Molasses trying to suck its way through a straw. Some lost heart at the very onset. One modish couple who had flown from New Orleans and rented a car in New York took one look, turned around, and crawled back to J.F.K. New Orleans must have seemed awfully inviting to the summer residents who lined the runnel, shaking their heads and trmebling for their Chryslers and their daughters. One matron slapped her son smartly 'cross the rear and snapped, "Shut up, or I'll send you back to the bungalow." And then he would have missed the show. What was remarkable about this rag-tag horde, and what allayed even the property owners' fears, was the extraordinary good humor of the crowd, though mud-spattered and loaded down with sleeping bags, guitars, tents, and dope. It was a frolic. Yankee troops marching to the first battle of Bull Run must have felt much the same.

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