I was seventeen in August 1969 and getting ready for my senior year at Tecumseh High School in New Carlisle. My best friend called and said “Get over here quick! There’s a rock festival in New York we have to go to.” So I set off walking over to Bill’s wondering, what is a rock festival?
Why are we going clear to New York?
When I arrived Bill explains it lasts for three days and there will be several bands or more! Several other friends were there also. We talked for several hours and we all came to an agreement on when to leave, who all was going, what to bring, and a host of other details that seemed important then but I can’t exactly remember now. Heck, even Larry had a car and we all agreed to pitch in for gas! Out of sight, man!
Thursday, August 14th I go downtown and clear out my savings of $21, then went home and packed. I just stuffed a few things inside of my Boy Scout sleeping bag and I include my camera. We meet at Bill’s house and our best laid plans melted into disappointment. Larry had to work so he couldn’t go. And drive his car. One friend’s, two years my junior, mother found out he planned on taking his girlfriend and forbade him from leaving. Nobody had enough money for tickets and food and whatever else we were thinking of those days.
That left me, Bill, and his girl friend, and we were determined.
So at 5 pm, Larry drove us to Columbus and the three of us proceeded to hitchhike from there. All through the night we rode, then stuck out our thumbs. The procedure repeated several times until we actually arrived in beautiful Sullivan County, New York State, around noon on Friday. In 1969 it was easy to stay awake for several days and the excitement of seeing the tail end of a traffic jam didn’t bother us a bit when we found out we still had twelve miles yet to go. The cheap local beer and easygoing attitude flowed freely. We walked for a while then sat on cars hoods and made the journey more of an event in and of itself while meeting people from all over the country. That’s when we found out we wouldn’t need tickets.
Not quite sure what that meant but we weren’t worried either.
I mentioned that I brought my camera, long gone now (not sure what happened to it…) but as soon as we arrived in the town of Bethel, I started looking for film. I found a friendly-looking store and walked into a completely empty place. The very friendly people inquired how they could help and I asked about film, “126.” Yep we’re all out but it’s on order, should be here tomorrow. I didn’t count on it. I actually took two pictures with the film I had left.
From Bethel, we made our way out to Max Yasgur’s farm where we were told to step on the fence and mash it down and walk over it. This procedure can be seen on the Woodstock film, but not me doing it. We planted ourselves down in a suitable area and catnapped until the music began.
It is still actually difficult to put in words the feeling of excitement and wonder of what we were experiencing.
Band after band put on first-class shows. At seventeen years of age I saw and did things I still consider myself just plain lucky and honored to have experienced. Oh, I can tell you stories: naked people, stoners tripped out in the mud, I’m sure you’ve heard them all by now. The music just kept playing. Occasionally I went up near the stage to get a close up view of the band. The accounts I’ve read of the performers is that they were as much in awe of the huge crowd as we were to see them.
The last time I saw Bill and his girlfriend was sometime on Saturday night. After Jefferson Airplane was done performing on Sunday morning I was very hungry and tired. I found something to eat (I’m not quite sure what it was) from the “Hog Farm” collective and proceeded to start my journey home.
I didn’t know I could have made a free phone call home and let my parents know how I was. That is the only thing I really got in trouble for.
The return trip took two days. It was scary being alone and dangerous. Finally near Springfield, Ohio, someone from New Carlisle recognized me and took me all the way home. I am still very thankful for that last ride.
My mother had saved newspapers from every day. I became very popular in that small town. I got an “A” on my social studies essay about “What I Did Last Summer” and the teacher asked me if she could keep it. “Sure” I said and she gave me a big kiss!
I’ve told my wife that I want the little Woodstock birdie on my tombstone. That should be enough for those in the know. And for me too.
(Some names were changed, but not mine).
Peace, Love, Later…