by: Kyle K. Mann
That freaky summer of 1969 that I turned 18, I choose not to go to Woodstock.
I was on the East Coast in Rhode Island with a couple of fellow-musician pals. We were spaced-out 60’s kids off the leash, with tickets to the show and very little cash, especially me.
We had roared across the country that July from California, headed for the Newport Jazz Festival, an incredible four-day event that featured a wide range of music styles and included “An Afternoon with James Brown,” the Frank Zappa-led “Mothers of Invention,” blues master B.B. King and Sly and the Family Stone, and most jazz superstars of the era from Miles Davis to Herbie Hancock.
Thursday night we arrived early at the outdoor amphitheater of Festival Field. I found a lost set of colorful laminated all-access media passes, and immediately scalped my tickets for a handsome cash profit which cheered me up considerably. We camped on the beach, swam in that surprisingly warm Atlantic Ocean, and enjoyed days of truly great music.
There was a buzz about an upcoming rock festival called Woodstock in a few weeks. The line up looked a bit sketchy to me. Sure, Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and my favorite late 60s group, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band were going to be there. But some of the performers I wanted to avoid. I mean, “Melanie?” And a lot of the groups I had already seen in San Francisco, like Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Santana, and Country Joe. No Stones, Beatles, or Doors.
Getting out of high school a few weeks earlier, actually getting the diploma despite years of cutting classes and general rebellion, was liberating in the extreme. Senior year had been dreadful torture, featuring growling teachers, a threatening counselor, a nightmarish Dean of Boys, and assorted annoying classmates, most of whom were outright un-psychedelic straights, or worse, wanna-be hippies. To use today’s term, they were hapless noobs.
We had protested the Vietnam War at Redwood High School. I was detained and questioned. I had been radicalized by that and dozens of acid trips. For a 17 year old kid, I was hip.
The 60s were an ugly time, really, and got worse as we went along. 1966 was the set-up year, when music changed and minds opened. For me the best time of that era officially started with the music and poetry festival of the Human Be-In on January 15, 1967 in Golden Gate Park. It was free, and the lack of commercialization was one of the charming factors. I loved it.
Later that year came the first pay-festivals at Monterey and Magic Mountain. Nah, I thought. Sure musicians have to eat, but I’ll support them at ballrooms and clubs. Festivals should be non-profit gatherings. I could easily see where this was going. Sure enough…
So here we were, a couple years later in 1969, hearing about this Woodstock Festival. The bands I had either seen or didn’t wanna see. It was still weeks away, and likely to be crowded.
When we asked how much, the answer was eight bucks a day, about twice what we had originally paid to see the great Newport show. We California kids looked at each other. I forget who said it.
It’s often said that the Manson murders ended the 60s. Some, including me, make a case for the bummer that was Altamont. But if I try to pick cheerful framing, I’d go with the good-natured mess that was Woodstock. I’m glad for the folks who went and enjoyed themselves. Overpopulated and muddy, but a celebration of love and music.
However, it was as far as could be gone in that direction. Too big, too muddy, too much.
And hey, I’m glad that the movie and concert albums made enough money to justify the expense of the festival. It even helped save Warner Brothers. But the reunions have appeared to be pitiful shadows of the iconic 60s show. And the reunions seem disgusting in the attempt to cash in on nostalgia.
MONEY MONEY MONEY!
The 50th anniversary concert couldn’t even get off the ground. Great, now I don’t have to read about it. Which brings me to the core reason I say “Fuck Woodstock” today…
I hate feeling like a God-damned old hippie.
by Kyle K. Mann
August 18, 2019