Hopping back into my trusty Honda CRV, I left the parking lot of the small gas station slinging gravel from the back tires with a new sense of optimism. I was heading down the same road that over four hundred thousand people had traveled over fifty years ago. Loaded into VW vans, motorcycles, school buses and every make of late 1960's automobile imaginable, the fans (a few armed with their $8 tickets) got as close as they could to Max's farm.
Sliding up to the stop sign, I turned right, and sure enough, there was a little parking lot on the right (the U-turn). I don't know why going to this spot was so important to me. In one sense, it was just another news story during my senior year in high school. The real legend of Woodstock did not take shape until the movie and album came out.
But it was a huge piece of rock and roll history. I was looking over the site that I had seen in photos so many times. I have read many books on that festival. I have eagerly listened to stories of people who said they were there (It is estimated that over five million people claimed to have been at Woodstock.)
This is the place that everyone from John Sebastion to Janis Joplin played. Everyone from Country Joe and the Fish to Crosby, Stills, and Nash...from The Who to Joe Cocker...Sha Na Na to Santana...Jimi Hendrix to Jefferson Airplane. Less than 500 yards from where I was standing, history had been made.
I found the monument covered in snow. I raced back to the car and grabbed some towels to wipe off as much snow as I could.
With the snow and ice scrapped off as well as could be accomplished with a towel, I sat on the monument as recommended (minus the joint part). I tried to imagine the field before me filled with hundreds of thousands of fans listening to music from the best bands of all time. They had no idea that they were in the process of becoming part of history. If I strained, I could hear the announcements from Wavy Gravy, warnings to get off the towers and the dangers of the brown acid going around, and over 433 songs played during those few day.
It may sound like I choked up a bit in the video above at one point, but I really didn't (yes, I did). I offer no explanation because I have none. ( A friend in B'ham accuses me of tearing up whenever a balloon pops, and sometimes at grocery store openings, but those are only rumors.) The experience did mean something to me for whatever reason.
The day was not over. I made the sixty mile drive to Woodstock just because. I bought the obligatory T-shirt, talked with a lot of the locals, and finally headed back home. I had a new brain-load of memories for the future.
I drove until I could no longer drive (I had been in the car for over twelve hours by that time). After going from one exit to the next and finding no hotels, I ended up in a quaint little place that was somewhat reminiscence of the hotel in The Shining, but without the charm. After settling in for the night, I slept for four hours (with one eye open), and made a hasty retreat from the empty hotel at 4:30am and finished out the trip.
Was it a good use of time? Yes...the best. Do I have any regrets? Yes. ( I should have walked out into the field in Bethel and stood on the spot where the stage had been. I would have looked up the hill towards the ghosts of thousands of fans and taken a bow.) Will I remember the trip forever? Undoubtedly.