By Flash Silvermoon, Guest Columnist
It’s really hard to wrap my head around the fact that Woodstock happened 40 years ago on Aug 15 1969! They say that if you can remember the 60’s, which were really the late 60’s, then you weren’t there but I beg to differ.
It amazes me that my memories of those days and particularly Woodstock are as vivid as if they were yesterday. Considering the substances that flowed through my system that weekend, it is even more amazing.
There were two festivals occurring in my hood that month and I knew that I could only manage getting to one of them and thank the Goddess and all the Muses, that I decided that Woodstock was a better concert than the Atlantic City Fest which also looked pretty good.
During the summer of ’69, I had gone cross-country to California and actually saw and met Grace Slick singing with the Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. She and Janis were my idols and I was still flying high from the experience by the time I returned to New Jersey and prepared for Woodstock. I mention this adventure in Kali-fornia because while waiting on line to get into that Airplane concert, a funny little man saw me at the front of the line and asked me to save him a seat near me and he would “give me some good dope.” I said yes and would have helped him without the offer. I figured that he would give me a joint but instead he gave me a little purple pill that I immediately tucked into my amethyst poison ring for just the right occasion. I was actually traveling with my parents so this was clearly NOT the right time. As I write this part of me is saying, “Are you crazy taking a pill from a stranger?” But you must understand, those were different days and amongst the circles of folks that I traveled, people still had honor and trust with such things.
I didn’t know until a few years ago while viewing a picture book on the sixties, that the little man was actually Ousley the most infamous acid maker of Merry Prankster and rock n roll fame.
As I packed my knapsack for Woodstock, I remembered the magic that had been patiently waiting for me inside the poison ring and slid it on my ring finger with a chuckle. I knew my way around psychedelics by this time and knew enough to know that they were not to be taken lightly, or heavily for that matter.
One wanted to be sure that the energy and environment would support a good trip because once you dropped acid, life would not be the same for some 8 hours or more. I never had a bad trip and I never “abused” the sacrament of good LSD either as some surely did back in the day. My sojourn on that magic carpet ended when I felt that I had experienced all that it had to offer and then I was done.
My knapsack was well prepared with a little food and a clean t-shirt, matches, flashlight and dungarees ironically none of which I used or ate until the festival was almost over.
I was and never have been a big camper so I approached this adventure with both excitement and a little apprehension. No one really knew at the time that this festival would blow up the way that it did. Being intuitive, I had a really good feeling that this was going to be an event of a lifetime and my intuition was right on the money.
Astrologically, this time was a blessed window to higher consciousness with the outer planets Neptune and Pluto in a harmonious sextile. This aspect could elevate and transform the energies of the masses in a most idealistic and mystical way and it did. The drugs, Neptune ruled, were all about opening and getting to the core of things, Pluto likes to get to the radical or root energy. With the positive relationship between those two planets, the highest most Utopian ideals could prevail.
Conversely, just a few years later when those two planets were in a square formation with each other, the culture switched to substances and cult-ish groups that would numb and quell the desire for rebellion.
Words fail to adequately express the purity and blissfulness of the energy that swept over the thousands who huddled together in the rain that weekend but I firmly believe that from that fertile ground, some of our highest aspirations seeded and have manifested now in many of the movements for change and Earth Healing.
As I view the chart of that weekend, I notice that the Moon, Uranus, and Jupiter were all conjoined in Libra, the sign of peace and harmony. With these aspects on board, it is little wonder that Woodstock manifested a huge blossoming of peace, love and understanding in a most cosmic and expansive way with the most perfect vehicle, electric music!
The Angels had set the stage for the greatest show on earth and well beyond and these were not Angels from Hell as in the later Altamont Festival. This was a time of sacred meetings of soul connections and an overflowing of heart energy.
I remember piling into Pepe’s car that Thursday morning with his sister Denise, and my friends Susan and Camille. We had sleeping bags and tents and very little room in his Chevy but we all were thrilled and filled with anticipation. Our car seemed to be jet propelled as rock n roll and weed wafted from our open windows with the Jersey Turnpike disappearing under our wheels. We cosmic kiddies made our way to the New York Thruway, which was still open at that point. It was good that we made an early departure or we would have never gotten in as easily as we did. I think we all even had tickets.
By the time we got within 2 hrs of the location, the Thruway was jammed creating a bumper-to-bumper caravan of hippies and freaks inching along on our pilgrimage to the Promised Land.
The movement was so slow in fact that some people pulled over laying out their blankets and coolers partying on the side of the road while others set up shop, marijuana, hash, brownies, mushrooms, anything to feed your head. Some rode on the tops of their cars passing joints and food from car to car and to people on the roadside. The sharing and communal vibe had begun long before we hit Yasgur’s Farm and everywhere you looked you could see smiling faces. Our joy was so contagious that even folks who were stuck with us and were not going to the festival began joining in the fun. I actually met my friend Juana Weaver whom I hadn’t seen in 2 years sitting on the side of the road. I got out we hugged and swore to find each other at the festival but I don’t think that we ever did.
It was dark when we finally got to the land itself inching along muddy roads with no earthly idea of where we were or where we were supposed to be. We decided to bed down in a cow pasture turned parking lot until sunrise and then make our way to the real camping area.
That would be my only night of sleep until Monday evening when I was back in my bed in New Jersey. Who could sleep at a time like this anyway when there was so much magic to discover.
The sun rose over a purple haze of campers in tie-dye and nothing, all greeting the morning groggy but elated. I hustled my crew back into the car so that we could get a good spot near to the stage and we surely did. We were located not far from where the helicopters would unload the performers as driving quickly became impossible and caused many changes in the lineup of performances. I could see the lake from our ridge and all in all it was a great spot.
The music would not start until much later in the day so I decided that this would be my moment for discovering just what magic the little purple pill in my poison ring could conjure. I told my friends what I was up to so that they could keep an eye on me if necessary. Oddly and quite ironically, I wound up taking the most solo and ecstatic trip ever in the midst of thousands of people.
I wandered around the festival grounds with a huge grin pasted on my face passing Groovy Lane, High Road and the like. Many artisans had brought beautiful pieces to sell or barter and the crafts area was a most magical place to behold filled with colorful tie-dyes, dream catchers, jewelry and even furniture.
The Hog Farmers, a collective from the West Coast, were nearby passing out plates of what I named Woodstock stew which consisted of raw oats with raisins, nuts and powdered milk and even a little honey on the first days anyway. Everyone shared and gave to each other and again words fail to really express what it was like to be inside this cocoon of love. People really cared about each other’s welfare. If you were having a bad trip, there was a tent with several volunteers medical and otherwise to talk you down.
It was starting to get really hot and I was wondering if this pill had kept its full potency when I came upon the Prankster buses at the Grateful Dead’s campsite. These yellow school buses were painted with serpent like paisleys of every color and when I looked at them for a moment, I could see the serpents of color begin to move all over the bus in wavelike motion. It was official; I had “gotten off!” I probably stood there for awhile enchanted by the dancing snakes on the bus as well as the children dancing naked as the Dead noodled around on their guitars with some other musicians.
I thought that my head would explode when I put it under the ice cold shower for a much needed chill. My muscles tightened and I could feel that I was getting higher and higher and that it would be best for me to head back to my camp area while I could still function enough to find it.
I was most relieved to find our space and my friends and decided to lie down in the grass nearby and just feel all the amazing feelings that were coursing through my body. Lying on my belly exploring all the blades of grass that lay before me, I was swept into a deep internal space where everything that I saw became first huge towering over me and then tiny enough for me to see every molecule. My consciousness continued this telescoping in and out for quite sometime until I was overtaken by the most amazing and glorious sounds of the Universe, insects, the rustling leaves, birds, winds blowing through the trees all creating this soothing hum that enveloped me. In that moment, I had heard the Music of the Spheres! I knew that it existed but never expected to hear it.
Bathing in that sound changes a person and indeed I felt initiated into some mystical cosmic order and I do believe that I was.
Many hours had passed since I had entered the psychedelic cafe’ of purple Owsley LSD and I was beginning to re-enter the ” normal world” if you can call the savory soup of stoned out hippies ” normal” however, compared to where I had been, this was Terra firma.
I must have eaten a bite or two of something but I can’t honestly remember eating anything but Woodstock stew.
The concert was trying to start so we moved closer, actually only a mere 10 feet from the stage, as they sound checked and did public announcements of missing children and bad brown acid. Because the highways were closed at this point the musicians were having a hell of a time getting in so Richie Havens opened the show instead of a band called Sweetwater. He was really awesome banging rhythmically against his acoustic guitar “Feeling like a motherless child”singin ’bout Freedom singin’ ’bout Handsome Johnny with his hand clenched in a fist going to the Vietnam War.
His shouts moved the crowd to a fever pitch. We knew what he was singin’ about and we were living the pain of a senseless war that took out our friends in their prime.
On the plains of Woodstock, an Army of Lovers was being conscripted to fight the Power, to show that Peace was the Answer. Our uniforms were as colored and varied as we were and some were non-existent. We were living our beliefs in living color and as Dave Crosby said, “Letting our freak flags fly.”
Sweetwater finally arrived and did a beautiful set followed by singer songwriter Bert Sommers who had a hauntingly beautiful voice. Tim Hardin’s heroin and whiskey soaked words about a “Bird on a Wire” wafted from the humongous speakers. Rumors of Dylan and Beatles were bandied about but never manifested but we didn’t care.
Arlo Guthrie brought us Alice’s Restaurant and a “couple of keys flying in from Los Angeles.”
A very off key Incredible String Band whined through a lack luster set. A little later when the rains came. I remember some dude giving me his shirt to keep it dry while he wandered around. Needless to say, I came home with that shirt.
Everything at this fest took longer than you would expect partly because of the unexpected numbers, mechanical failures, closed highways and lest we forget, THE RAIN!
Joan Baez closed the show that night and blew my mind. There she was, one woman with a guitar, and a couple of acoustic sidemen, playing to this throng of rockers. Her voice was pure and crystal clear and her message tugged at our hearts. Her husband David was newly incarcerated as a conscientious objector to the war and had been on a hunger strike to organize the inmates in his prison. She urged us all to become more active in any way that we could to fight against this cruel war.
When she sang her final number, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, acapella, you could hear a pin drop as her voice rang out over the enormous crowd. Of all of the performances, and I saw them all, hers was one of the most impressive, and I was more of a rock fan.
Because I did not want to lose my incredible spot so close to the stage, I volunteered to stay there over night curled up on my soggy sleeping bag. I was not scared to be there on my own because you never really felt alone. Your neighbor was your friend even if you had never met. Peace pipes were passed and everyone shared what they had. I know its hard to imagine feeling that way in such a large crowd now but you have to understand that Woodstock was everything they said it was and much much more.
For one Blessed Weekend, we all were living the Dream! Anyone who knows anything about magic knows that you must live into your vision to make it manifest and we danced that dream of hope into life for 3 glorious days.
Saturday brought drenching rain. We were either broiling in the summer sun or rain soaked and chilled, but again most of us were not at all discouraged. Some of it could have been the marijuana haze that hung several feet thick over the audience but really most of it was the energy and oneness that we felt as a group.
I think that Santana opened the show on Saturday afternoon and this was their debut! Carlos led the group in a blistering set and was clearly on fire with inspiration from his audience and the Spirits. I had never seen such wonderful percussionists in a rock band before. You must remember that this was truly the Golden Age of rock music and many forms were swirling around in the Cauldron of the Muses that many had never heard before.
If you look really hard during Santana’s Soul Sacrifice segment of the Woodstock movie, you can see my head bobbing around in the crowd scene grooving to the Latin rhythms.
Seems like John Sebastian came on next totally blown away at least by the magnitude of the crowd and its energy.
When Ravi Shankar took the stage with Ali Akbar Khan on Tabla my heart nearly skipped a beat. I had never seen them but loved their music and it was absolutely balm for my soul as I lied down to let the sounds of the sitar, tamboura and tabla wash over me. So many intricate tones and scales not present in western music as the Ragas brought me to an inner peace that I had never known before.
Swami Satchidananda and his devotees were next and spoke of finding peace within through transcendental meditation and led us through some exercises. Whenever there was a stage problem, long sound check etc some guy with a ponytail would get us breathing the fire breadth of Kundalini Yoga. Hell we were getting the education of our lives right then and there.
All through the day musicians would start to play and often would be chased off the stage by pouring down rain. This happened to Country Joe with and without the Fish on Saturday who surely must have felt like he was “Fixin’ to Die” as he sang very water logged Fish Chant. Watch the bouncing blue ball: “And its one, two, three, what are we fightin’ for…don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam…”
We all sang along screaming our lungs out against the pounding rain.
NO RAIN…NO RAIN…NO RAIN we chanted as if to appease the Rain Gods and Goddesses who apparently were turning a deaf ear or perhaps they had another more subversive plan.
Hugh Romney, head of the Hog Farmers, croaked out over the mic,”We must be in heaven, there’s always a little bit of heaven in a disaster area!” And we were a disaster area. The Governor had to call out the National Guard.
Were the paranoid politicos wrong when they raised their clenched fists to the sky railing against the government who had seeded the clouds to make it rain? We will never know. At some point the Guard did drop clean clothes and food on us from large helicopters. We were reminded over the mike that even the Army was with us and that we were all ONE.
Time and space won’t allow me to list every band that played, hell, you can get the album for that. I am trying to share what for me were the highlights as well as the feelings evoked.
The evening lineup for Saturday was one for the record books. Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Mountain, The Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, and The Jefferson Airplane.
I think that The Dead must have gotten some of the “brown acid” because they were somewhat off key and out of sync.
Sly took us Higher and Higher getting everyone to their feet Dancin’ to the Music.
Janis who is and was by far one of my all time faves was not in her greatest voice due no doubt to over work and over play. That being said, the woman on an off day was better than most anybody else on her best day. She was wearing this gorgeous magenta, purple and turquoise tie-dyed velvet outfit. She and the Kozmic Blues Band with Snookie Flowers, the baritone sax player rocked the house with her Comfort saturated vocals delivering every little Piece of her Heart and then some. No Ball and Chain could keep this sister down even on this misty 3AM stage. Believe me, nobody was sleeping.
Grace Slick was a sight for sore eyes when she emerged with the Jefferson Airplane just as the sun rose over the semi-conscious crowd. It was 6AM and they had clearly been tripping all night like many of their fans. Grace announced that they didn’t get the brown acid but took the orange and it was great and as she said, it still is great. One of my favorite things to do at an Airplane concert was to listen to the scorching sarcasms of Grace’s between song patter.
This morning she did not disappoint tanned skin against a white fringed outfit she exclaimed,” Good morning people, you have seen the heavy bands, now you will hear morning maniac music!” Pow, they launched into Volunteers of Amerika. “Look what’s happening in the streets, gotta revolution” Got a revolution we shouted back waving clenched fists in the air.
After a full night of rock and weed this crowd was ready to “Tear down the Walls everyone together…We can be together!” Fomenting rebellion was the name of that tune and when we weren’t busy with that, we were finding Somebody to Love down the white rabbit hole or elsewhere as Saturday night turned into Sunday morning.
By this time, there was very little difference between the sleeping bag underneath me and the ground. Both were soaked and caked in mud and of no comfort. A walk over to the Hog Farmers to stretch my cramped legs and get some Woodstock stew which would be just the thing for this morning maniac.[Woodstock stew was raw oas with some raisins powdered milk and honey if you were lucky] I ate that for days after I got home to keep the vibes flowing.
I only occasionally saw my friends who were intent on sleeping in the tent and keeping earlier hours. It didn’t really matter though because everyone there was my friend and I never gave it a second thought.
I can’t remember exactly who opened the show Sunday morning because again the rain caused a number of false starts but Country Joe and the Fish were warming us up with tunes and chants and I can remember Fish member Barry Melton tossing out cans of soda and goodies from the stage. All around people were drumming and sliding in the mud and basically making “lemonade”out of a very rainy festival.
Joe Cocker told us that we could “Get by with a little help from our friends” as he moved about the stage in spasms of song. He was a newcomer too at the time but he soon had everyone on their feet singing along with him and his band of Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
As you can well imagine, relieving one’s self was not an easy matter. The fact that I was barely eating helped a little but by Sunday afternoon, I do believe that I would have burst had I not found my way to the Port o Sans. You really wouldn’t want to ever have to use these things late in the day but I decided that going when Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young started playing was a good time as most people would want to be listening. This was of course crazy fried brain rain saturated logic because there was no such thing as a good time to use the Port o Sans. CSN and Y were fabulous and this was only their 2nd gig together. Hearing their incredible harmonies wafting through the air to the Port o Sans made the experience almost bearable.
The one sour note occurred during the Who’s set and believe me after seeing that, I won’t be fooled again either! Lead singer Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend were probably discussing their next song when Yippie Abbie Hoffman jumped onto the stage seizing the mike to awaken the audience to the fact that John Sinclair, president of the White Panther party was sitting in prison, serving a 10 year sentence for having 2 joints in his pocket. He wanted to mobilize support while such a large group was gathered. One could say that he should have been more polite and asked for some space to make his announcement, but Abbie was never known for being very polite and was also likely to be flying on one kind of LSD or another.
I have never seen anyone else talk about this and the only reason that I saw what happened was because I was so close to the stage.
Pete Townsend was inflamed by anyone taking a piece of his stage and swung his heavy solid body guitar through the air until it slammed into Abbie’s back sending him flying off of the stage.
I was horrified that anyone would do that to another and especially here where everyone was emanating peace and kindness.
Some of the audience booed the Who while others had booed Abbie but this was the only instance that I saw where people were not coming from their highest and best intentions.
As with many rock n roll festivals of the day, there were very few female performers, save Janis, Grace, Joan, the singer from Sweetwater, and Melanie who memorialized the event later with her song Candles In the Rain. Janis and Grace were the primordial female rock Goddesses that dared to break down the doors of the cock rock establishment and every woman rocker today owes them both a hefty debt of gratitude. They were both incredible influences on my musical style.
By this time, I was starting to finally get tired but of course I still didn’t want to miss anything. Several bands that I wasn’t as enthusiastic about like Ten Years After and Blood Sweat and Tears performed into the night and I took the opportunity to close my eyes for a bit so that I could make it until Jimi was on. I had never seen Hendrix live except back in the day at the Cafe’ Wha in Greenwich Village where he performed under the name Jimmy James and the Flames.Unfortunately Jimi Hendrix was the last act on the bill so endurance would be necessary.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band played an awesome set and I bet you could hear Paul’s wailing harmonica for many miles away. Then, we went from the sublime to the ridiculous when an unknown Doo Wop group called Sha Na Na bounded onto the stage dressed in gold silk’ suits.
What the hell was this, I thought? We are trying our damnedest to get away from those reactionary days and styles. I hoped that this was just a joke for some comic relief but no, this was really their gig and style and they would play for another hour or so. I must admit that they did put on a good show but I was non-plussed. This was a really long weekend and I wanted to see Jimi damn it!
Monday morning at around 9 AM Jimi Hendrix played a final set. They really did save the best for last but that puts that artist in a bad position because at this point, I would say that the crowd was cut at least in half when the Guitar Shaman finally appeared.
Sounds of Purple Haze and Foxy Lady came screaming from his Marshall stack of amps. We were all quite shocked when this guitar master pulled out a very evocative instrumental version of the Star Spangled Banner making that Telecaster shriek and wail the pain in his soul that was not on ice like Eldridge Cleaver and not bound to any political line. The bombs bursting in air as distorted chords boomed and crashed around us as we sat wide-eyed in the early morning light magnetized to the stage yet waiting for the battle to be over.
There were some brilliant guitar players here but no one could hold a candle to Jimi, he was eons beyond what anyone else was playing or could even hope to play on the guitar.
His original band, The Experience, was replaced for this gig by the Band of Gypsies. I don’t know what he had on board to keep him going all morning but after a 2 hr show that was nothing short of incredible, he said, “You all can leave now, we are only jamming.”
Right Jimi, I was going to leave now after waiting all night. He and his Gypsies played for another hour at least mostly jamming on instrumental themes that allowed the mind to wander and take in the enormity of what had happened here this weekend. We had made history and by this time we were all aware of that fact.
There are times in one’s life that are transcendent defining moments and Woodstock was one of those for me. I was adrift on a sea of Utopian thinkers and feelers and we were sharing a most profound dream that came alive here at Yasgur’s Farm 40 years ago to the day.
Woodstock was a cosmic affirmation for many of us and the fulfillment of what seemingly divine intervention could manifest.
I share these words that those of us who were there know that the dream is still alive in the hearts and souls of many who have not dissolved into pessimism and disillusionment.
I write these words for the youth who need to know what can and did happen and that this was not some Hollywierd fantasy blown up by the culture vultures and pre packaged so that you could turn on tune in and not drop out of the status quo, cog in the wheel of oppression that many call life.
I write these words for myself to celebrate life, love, peace, and most importantly MUSIC.
Believe it or not, I actually managed to come home with the Woodstock Program! Because I was so close to the stage, I wound up sitting right next to a large pile of them that were never distributed. Being an honorable woman, I only took one. How this program managed to get home with me clean as a whistle while I was covered with caked on mud, I will never know.
I will close with Hexagram Sixteen from the I Ching that graced the back of the program because I feel like it reflects the energy and beauty that was Woodstock.
“Joy and relief make themselves felt. So too, music has the power to ease tension within the heart and to loosen the grip of obscure emotions. The enthusiasm of the heart expresses itself involuntarily in a burst of song, in dance, and rhythmic movement of the body.
From immemorial times the inspiring effect of the invisible sound that moves all hearts and draws them together has mystified humankind.”
Blessings and carry it on!,
To read more articles by Flash, check out her website.
I grew up in a household full of rock music, studied journalism in college, and then became a scientist.Although my science career has served me well, music has always played a major role in my life. I grew up reading "Creem" magazine; I play several musical instruments as a "hobby";and it seems a camera has always been in my hand. Now, I am combining what I love the most--music and photography--serving as editor of Rock At Night. My motto: life is short...no regrets. Chyrisse