For those of us old enough to be able to put down ‘hippie’ in our resume of life, there are certain points in time that epitomize an exhilarating shift in the collective global mind. Woodstock 1969 was the quintessential metaphor for my generation. It wasn’t just a concert. It stands out as the concert of the century. Never before or since has a single concert assumed the identity of a movement. All you have to do is say, Woodstock, and everyone immediately understands.
It was supposed to be a gathering of 50,000 people which, in itself, would have made a statement. But, instead, nearly a half million people showed up to Max Yasgur’s little farm in upstate New York.
The logistics of dealing with this unexpected influx of people had to have been a nightmare in epic proportions. Dealing with the human waste of nearly 500,000 people is a far cry from 50,ooo. Food, water, emergency services, communication, ad nauseum, had to be improvised on the spot. But Max rolled with it.
Let’s face it, the fact that Woodstock was an epic party was a huge draw–but I’m sure it was only a way the gods sweetened their invitation to an entire generation to show up and be counted. If there were accidental pilgrims, all the better. No one who was there left the same as they’d come.
The fact that it didn’t turn out to be a major humanitarian disaster is evidence of a shift in consciousness of my generation and the mark of a new form of activism that characterized us ‘hippies’. Everyone pitched in. Everyone took on a job, picked up a soup ladle, organized everyone else. We were united in our common disgust with the war in Vietnam, in our parent’s repressive sexuality, in the materialism that grew out of the prosperity of post-WWII, in the roles we were supposed to play and the attitudes we were supposed to adopt from our parents. We were a generation that began thinking for ourselves. We were idealistic, defiant, and incredulous about inhumane events. We weren’t afraid of anything new. We shocked our parents by hanging out with people who weren’t the same color or class that we were. We flipped the bird to our parent’s generation by growing our hair long, refusing charm school, reading Marx, demonstrating in the streets for civil rights and smoking pot. We pursued dreams and schemes, started movements, raised conscientiousness about our environment, equality, education, freedom and more. We embodied the essence of the original ideals of this nation. Thomas Jefferson would have been proud. We discovered our government was lying to us and that pissed us off. We witnessed our most promising leadership shot down literally in cold blood to silence our movement toward not only peace, but humanity. Ultimately, we stood for what is just and right in any society.
Probably the single most unifying element of my hippie generation was the music which broke all the molds from previous generations. And Woodstock 1969 was the proof. With a venue that would immortalize the musical artists who showed up, every song represented some important aspect of our generation. Janis Joplin, Richie Havens, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Santana, Joe Cocker, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Credence Clearwater, Jimi Hendrix, just to name a few. And the ones who didn’t show up, like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin must had kicked themselves in the ass for the rest of their lives. Only Joni Mitchell had the humility and the guts to publicly regret it. There is irony that Joni Mitchell’s song, Woodstock, immortalized the festival because she’d turned down the gig so she could make an appearence on the Dick Cavett. Show. The gods have a wicked sense of humor sometimes. The fact that the songs from those three days are still full of life only confirms the sincerity of my generation of hippies who felt entitled to a world where love, justice, fairness, and peace are the elements that bind us together as one people.
If we face all of the same old tired issues still in this country and world, it isn’t because the ‘movement’ failed. It’s because it takes time to turn something as big as a planet onto a new orbit.