My Three Days of Peace and Music

Fifty years ago, when I was 16 years old, a classmate from my high school in suburban Washington, D.C., called and asked if I wanted to go to Woodstock.

I  wasn’t exactly sure what it was about but I had some time off since I had just finished a summer journalism course at a D.C. college and wasn’t due back at school until the first of September. I packed my sleeping bag. I was less than transparent with my parents, telling them I would be gone for a few days to a camping outing in New York State.

Seven of us connected and rode in a station wagon borrowed from a friend’s mother. We knew the line up of music was phenomenal but we didn’t know what to expect.

As we approached Bethel, N.Y. and Max Yasgur’s farm we were overwhelmed by car traffic. We had to park seven miles from the entrance. By the time we reached the gate, it had been crashed open and the event was free. I naively paid $20 for a ticket anyway.

An unimaginable number of kids wandered everywhere. The designation was a huge stage at the base of a half-moon shaped side of a grassy hill.

Guys wore Army jackets and girls were decked in buckskin dresses. Some had painted their faces. One guy who was leading a goat around on a leash wore feathers and a stovepipe hat.

I don’t remember when I first heard the music. It was hard to remember much since it was such a disorganized affair. I wasn’t using drugs or drinking alcohol. My group found a spare spot just a few feet from other concert goers and the stage. We unrolled our sleeping bags and claimed our space.

I recollect Joan Baez and Creedence Clearwater and many others, but Country Joe and the Fish stood out. He screamed at us: “Give me an F, give me a U, give me a C, give me a K. You got to shout louder than that if you want to end the war!” Then, “One, Two, Three — What Are We Fighting For?”

Vietnam was very much on our minds. The previous year had seen the Tet Offensive rip apart LBJ’s and Westmoreland’s lies about battlefield success. My group was lucky because at 16 and 17, we were younger than most of the guys who got drafted and the war was supposed to wind down with Nixon, the new president, although he hadn’t shared his plan to do so. Our chances of having to go were dropping.

By then, we had settled in to the Woodstock experience. It was very strange and not always pleasant. Couples would strip and make love right in front of us. A tripped out guy danced in front of a blond girl, opened his zipper and slapped his manhood against her nose. The air was thick with pot and hashish smoke. Plenty were dropping acid as an emcee announced on a loudspeaker not to take certain types of hallucinogens.

Those who did could go to aid stations for treatment. The Army had supplied olive drab Huey helicopters to medevac attendees in need of urgent care. We had seen Hueys on TV just about every night on the news but it was odd seeing one with a crewman wearing a bug-like helmet treating an overdose victim prone on the rear deck. After all, this was Woodstock, not Hue.

Our biggest fear was getting lost. We risked that when we went to find a portapotty or buy jugs of water at outrageously marked-up prices. I once lost my group for several hours but finally caught up.

It rained, turning the bowl-like hill into a mass of sloppy mud. People simple urinated on the ground and that flowed downhill in the rain on to our sleeping bags (I had to throw mine away later). Acts came on at all kind of odd hours, including 5 a.m. Doing this for three days and little sleep, I found that everything had become a blur.

Finally, we decided to leave and walked back to the station wagon, which we had forgotten to lock. A Puerto Rican man was fixing our tire that had gone flat. We thank him profusely and he said: “No problem. Just remember there is some good in Jose.”

Traffic was horrible and we tried to reach an interstate headed south by going through small towns. It was about 3 a.m. At one village, a local cop pulled us over. The driver was 16 years old. One had to be 18 to drive at night in New York. The policeman grew agitated. Then he saw the Sweet Tart candies someone had been eating in the front seat. The cop drew his gun. We quickly tried to eat as many as possible, saying, “Look officer, we’re not afraid! We’re not afraid!” He let us pass.

A few weeks later, we were back at high school. We discovered that a lot had happened that we didn’t know about until the movie was released the following year. We were unaware that scores of people were skinny-dipping at a nearby pond.

I was editor of the Blue and Gray, our literary magazine, and of course, we had to put Woodstock on the cover. It featured a photo of one of our group – the coolest looking one who wore a frumpy fedora hat.

We outlined the cover photo in pink since our school was really into macho sports like football. We wanted to poke a little fun as well as acknowledge the historic rock festival. The Jesuit fathers hated the magazine issue. I was summoned to the office of the Prefect of Discipline.

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10 responses to “My Three Days of Peace and Music

  1. Everyone alive then has thought of where they were at the time and what they heard from those they knew who actually got to Woodstock. A great reminiscence, Peter — brings back memories of what I was told at the time. Could not leave my Navy ship in Charleston, so covered duties for friends who could — which saved them from heaps of trouble because their planned 3-day jaunt turned into nearly a week before they could extricate themselves from New York and return. No cell phones and few personal cameras to bring back photos, but lots of vivid impressions.

  2. We had been on family vacation in New England and were returning, mainly on 81, that weekend. But mainly I remember that weekend because of Camille and what it did to Nelson, Amherst and Albemarle. We drove through some of that rain. Thoughts turn to those not around for either anniversary….Glad you got to be there, Peter.

  3. Steve,
    It was an important part of my life. I am not sure what your point is since you were, at the time, a few years younger than I was. What is your point? Virginia-specific? You went through a hurricane? I am not a Virginian although I choose to live here. Neither is Bacon, actually. But I have chosen to live here as I have a right to do and I will make my points as I want and if you have a problem, well too bad.
    By the way, I am puzzled on another story regarding Fuller. Your comments on “ad hominem” attacks regarding Steve Fuller?.What do you mean by that? I studied Latin for two years in high school and served Latin Mass as an altar boy back in the day. I do not actually have a good sense of Latin but I don’t think you do either, especially with this “ad hominem” stuff. How can I be making at anti-personal attack against someone when the Post has already written about it and raised the issue? What’s your point?

    • Fantastic reminiscences. Very vivid. Great writing.

      However, I did not see Steve’s comment as a put-down. I’m not sure why you responded as if it was. He was just remembering where he was when he heard about Woodstock, that’s all.

  4. Following along with Acbar, that was my “where were you that weekend” remembrance. That’s all. It is an interesting historical footnote that Camille and Woodstock overlapped, and the book on the Nelson County flood opens with that, as I recall. Texas-born, Virginian on my mother’s side….

    You have my solemn oath, I will never comment on one of your posts again, if you make me the same pledge. Now that we’re both in our mid 60s, this “I’m older than you are” and “I worked on a better paper than you” schtick is a bit lame. Does “arrogant” have a Latin root?

  5. Very well written, Peter! Thank You!

    In 1969 – I was either working at a Phillips 66 service station or the Shoe Dept at Leggetts and thinking that Woodstock would become iconic and with that many people and likey few or no porta-johns – it had to be poo-city but hippies were that way… it was “cool…. man………”

    And I do remember Camille – it tore up Nelson County.

    And I suspect that Conservative types don’t see Woodstock in the same light as more normal type folks…… 😉

  6. Hitching rides around British Isles that August, I missed Woodstock altogether. Caught a great ride on the M-I outside London to the just over Scottish Border from a Scott who had carried his homing pigeons over the Channel to Cherbourg, France, released them there, and was racing home to meet them. Next, over the border, I got a lift in a Yellow Rolls Royce whose owner had driven it from Burma, his last Army post. He dropped me off in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival where I got enthralled with Group Grope, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Camino Real, all of which cost next to nothing to see. Got home in September, and only then heard about Woodstock, so went from Tennessee Williams to Janis Joplin.

  7. You all led much more interesting lives than I. I spent the summer of 1969 working at the Montgomery Ward catalog house in St. Paul. I opened big cartons of sheets, towels and draperies; filed bins; repacked the remainders in smaller boxes; filled out records indicating what was in each box and their location in the warehouse and finally put them in storage. But a job was a job.

  8. Tmt. Thanks for the comment. Two summers later on college break i was in an eastern north carolina swamp waist deep in water helping build docks , getting horribly burned by the sun and creosote and worried about made Woodstock seem pleasant

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