Random Rambles, USA
Comments 12

Woodstock in White

Well I came across a child of God, he was walking along the road
And I asked him, tell where are you going, this he told me:
Well, I’m going down to Yasgur’s farm, going to join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land, set my soul free 

~ Joni Mitchell (performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), ‘Woodstock’

I’m not goin’ back
to Woodstock for a while,
Though I long to hear
that lonesome hippie smile.
I’m a million miles away
from that helicopter day
No, I don’t believe
I’ll be goin’ back that way.

~ Neil Young, ‘Roll Another Number (For the Road)’

Hippies are squares with long hair
And they don’t wear no underwear
Country rock is on the wane
I don’t want music, I want pain!

~ Dictators, ‘Master Race Rock’

I still have a few posts in mind about my New York trip early this year. Regrettably, in my quest to stay relatively, ugh, “contemporary” on TGTW, my then-recent adventures in the States were soon smothered on my return to Korea by all my aimless driftivating and pointless rantifying on these garlic-scented shores.

But damn it, it was a rough day at school again yesterday; I need me some Americana . Today (a rainy Saturday) I’m heading into Busan to revisit the U.N. War Cemetery (one day I’ll get around to writing that place up) — before I go, I’m going to finally share a few pictures from my Woodstock trip with Kate on January 13 and 14.

Also, I had a pleasant evening last night looking at a ton of clips from the legendary concert, putting together a short set of classic performances. Fun! The word Woodstock has become a lazy shorthand for mud and brown acid and naked hippies and lazy, rambling sets — but there was some terrific, energetic playing and a ton of passion on that stage!

*     *     *     *     *

First off, take a look at this line-up! Hendrix! The Who! Joplin! The Dead! Sly! The Band! Sha-Na-Na! Etc! Etc!

And then a quick challenge: can you spot the spelling mistake in the plaque?


He really should have started it all over again

It was a heck of a road trip. New York State is BIG — almost twice the size of South Korea — and we were driving through the Catskills in Kate’s van for several hours. Woodstock (the festival) was actually held 43 miles from Woodstock (the town), after a lot of last-minute venue-shuffling and panic. Reassuringly, there were no THIS WAY TO WOODSTOCK signs en route; the roads were quiet, the villages slumbering, the afternoon grey and chilly, with glimpses of mountains and snow through the low cloud.

I suspect that we were far from the first clueless flower children to come pilgrimaging into “town” in a van, flowers in our hair and love in our hearts (sadly only good coffee in our bloodstreams). Even when we reached Bethel, pretty late in the day, we had no clear idea where to find the famed Max Yasgur dairy farm site.

When we did luck upon it, it was rather a different scene from those vividly coloured bacchanalia from August 1969 captured in the Woodstock movie (I haven’t watched it since late-night TV in the 70s):

Looking into the famed field

Looking into the famed field

The plaque dates from 1984:


A splash of colour in an icy and monochromatic landscape:


Two hippies refusing to let the dream die


No weather for doves (actually it’s a catbird!)

The adjoining Bethel Woods Center of the Arts opened in 2006. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young returned for a show.


Peace & Speed. A Classic Mix.


I predict a poor crop

We hung around the fence a little while, the only pilgrims that bleak afternoon. It was hard to get a good idea of the scale with the limited views, hard to picture the field choked with half a million mystery tramps. It was exciting, though. During my punkish youth I went through the standard phase of sneering at anything as ludicrously hippie as Woodstock. And now I love a lot of the acts that played there!

Life is weird. Still sneering, though, just with better targets.


While we were there, absorbing the vibe and the lethal chill, another car pulled in. The woman was very excited to learn I was from Brisbane — she knew someone from there, and immediately got on the phone to check if we might be connected.

There are over 2 million people in Brisbane, but I did not sneer, I promise. It was cold, I was at Woodstock, with a really cool flower child, and my face had contorted into a crude, frozen replica of a smile.


Well, we got going, got lost, got lost again, back and forth and in and through and around the village of Woodstock, where we had a great Mexican dinner at a colourful and laid-back beer joint, and then more fruitless driving in search of somewhere to crash. At one place, an old woman with a dog came to the door, asked if we had a reservation, and when we said no, turned around and disappeared into the darkness without a word.

Not yer classic Woodstock behaviour — or is it?

On the highway, the motel parking lot was empty but for two cars, but the sign on the office door said NO VACANCY, and nobody answered the bell.

We ended up at a great cheerless motel-chain box handing over a hundred bucks. The dream was over.

Morning was great, though. Back into town…


Woodstock Guitar

..for French toast and terrific coffee at a cafe with framed photos of The Band and Dylan from when they called the place home in the late-60s.

Then some browsing along the craftsy, woodsy, touristy-in-Summer-I’ll-bet main drag of Woodstock before we hit the highway again for the drive home:







Here’s my pick of the Woodstock crop:

Joe Cocker. A last-minute addition, he had to be helicoptered to the venue. Great air guitar, tie-dye, sideburns. And best Beatles cover ever? Definitely best boots ever:

The Band. They were touring their Music from Big Pink album. Sound and vision are out of sync, but it still rocks:

Creedence. Saturday night headliners. A HUGE band at the time, but had to delay their Saturday night headline after the Dead sprawled on too long, and John Fogerty declined to have this footage and a few others included in the movie. Says bassist Stu Cook:

There were probably no great performances. But in our set I think we probably played 75, 80 percent on the money. We definitely should have been included in the film. It was a huge mistake.

Santana. I’m not a fan (just never heard much) but this ROCKS — and check that drummer, Michael Shrieve, only 20 years old! Santana (the man) had dropped acid, expecting a later set. Consequently he was peaking during this song, and the contortion on his face is from trying to stay focused:

Canned Heat. This is great 12-bar head-banging blues. Check that awesome, moving moment when the fan jumps on stage, possibly the hardest anyone’s worked to bum a cigarette in recorded history:

Crosby, Stills & Nash. Only their second live performance and they were apparently very nervous. Young joined them later in the set:

The Who. Bathed in eerie light, Daltry is in fine, fringed form, and Moon is a joy to watch as always:


~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Penny says

    Love those pictures of small town Americana, in the snow, so romantic….ps what’s the spelling mistake? I am too cold and tired to figure it out…

  2. Phil D says

    Well, it certainly looks to have stood the test of time better than Haight-Ashbury…at least when I was there in ’97. It’s a total shithole..

    • Yeah, H.A. in ’93 was a bit grim as well.

      Woodstock (town) was cute and artsy, but you and I probably couldn’t afford to live there. Reminded me a bit of an upmarket Nimbin — a way upmarket Nimbin…

  3. Goat, you’ve done well with this one. I reckon I could write a post in the reply! Nice choices! I’d have to throw in Hendrix taming an apocalyptic wall of feedback during ‘Star Spangled Banner’ as a highlight. How many years ago was that? I’m still astonished!

    The Who were at the top of their game in that era and it’s a pity a release of their set hasn’t been done. I like how Daltrey went for the frills of the time, but Townshend had the white boiler suit with Doc Martens! They also had the sonic demolition going on. Just one listen to ‘Sparks’ from Woodstock in ‘The Kids Are Alright’ movie had me hooked. The sound whilst he reapplies his guitar strap is similar to a dinosaur in its death throes!

    Don’t laugh, but I saw Joe Cocker playing at the Grand Prix in Melbourne. I was staring at him trying to comprehend it was the same bloke in that iconic Woodstock footage! Incredible performance (back then, not so much at the Grand Prix!) with a voice of anguish to go along with those magnificent boots!

    Yeah, I could go on, but I better stop before I fill your page! Great photos again and regarding the sign. I’m not sure what spelling mistakes are in there, but I reckon John Sebastian might be feeling a little aggrieved!

    • Yeah, I just watched that ‘Sparks’ bit and it was great fun. Loved the interplay between Pete and Keith. They didn’t have much of the hippie ethos on display (despite Roger’s jacket)!

      I love the first couple of Cocker albums. A bit like Rod Stewart, he let a phenomenal talent go to waste, but didn’t seem to care beneath the torrent of money raining down.

      You’re right with J.S. of course. Reminds me of the story I read recently of the tattooist inking “Stan’s Slaves” across TWO biker chicks’ chests!

    • Agreed: there was something there for everyone! I’d love to know the story behind Sha-Na-Na’s inclusion, however. I suppose in the early stages they were worried they might not be able to pad out three days’ worth of entertainment!

  4. Wow. There was something deeply peaceful about seeing you and Kate exploring in the vicinity of Woodstock and seeing the snow-covered field at Max Yasgur’s farm. Although I wouldn’t want to go back in time to those days for anything, it is healing to see these photos from the present. Especially the double portraits of you and Kate and the one of Kate with the wheel sculpture. Thanks so much for the photos and the music videos. (I did catch the spelling error on the plaque).

    1969. My boyfriend was drafted into the Army that spring. We were 19 years old. The war was supposed to be winding down, but the worst was still to come. What happened at My Lai only came to public light in November 1969. Before he left for basic training in May, we had seen The Band at Winterland in San Francisco, one of their first concerts as The Band. The last time he came to see me before he went for basic training, I heard “Bad Moon Rising” begin to play on the radio as he arrived at my parents’ house. I had dropped out of college to be with him and was hoping that we would live together sometime soon, never dreaming he would be drafted.

    He and his friends in Army helicopter mechanic training in Virginia during the summer of 1969 considered going to Woodstock that weekend. I wonder how things would have been different if they had. He had seen no way out of the Army as a conscientious objector because he was a high school dropout and had been a drug dealer and didn’t want to go to prison or Canada. He liked the music of Jimi Hendrix and The Band and Creedence Clearwater. He played guitar and harmonica. He was a surfer. He liked Bob Dylan’s music. He didn’t want to go to Vietnam and almost didn’t. That’s a long story. He was against the war, as were many draftees.

    In 1970, a few months before he returned from Vietnam, I drove up to San Francisco alone to see that Woodstock film for the first time. I loved Santana and had heard them at outdoor concerts previously. The Woodstock footage of them is classic. Mike Schrieve and Carlos Santana and his band at that time were life-affirming in the midst of war.

    Then there was Country Joe and the Fish. I loved their music. Take a look at the man at 1:15. I can’t know for sure, but he sure looks like a veteran to me.

    And Jimi Hendrix, another Army veteran (along with Jerry Garcia):

    It was the footage of Jimi Hendrix and that of Janis Joplin that I found the most moving on the first viewing of the Woodstock film. Seeing Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix brought me to tears, and I wasn’t sure why. Within two months after I saw the movie, they were both dead.

    The morning that Richard returned from Vietnam in December of 1970 was the first time we ever heard “Me and Bobby McGee.” We were driving out to the ocean to see Richard’s family when the song came on the car radio. At first I couldn’t figure out how I could be hearing Janis Joplin because she was dead, but I found her voice to be the only reassuring voice I heard that day. Richard’s brother had given us some acid to take. It was nightmare acid. The war never left Richard. Coming home from the war never really happened.

    Hard to believe that the United States continues to be involved in war.

    On the other hand, what would we do without the music that continually evolves and move us?

    Yes. Peace. Didn’t expect to write so much.

    • Am, first off, don’t worry about writing too much — this is one of the best comments I’ve ever had on here! Also, it happened to arrive (yesterday) on my birthday, and added to the unexpectedly “Woodstockian” flavour of my “celebrations” (which I’ll write up in my next post). I think we people for whom music is far more than mere jingles or background noise or fashion, for whom it’s a crucial part of life itself, are really lucky. I often complain/rant to Kate about the dire state of the “music” over here (manufactured cutesiness, professional cookie-cutter assemblages of screeching, soulless she-dolls and preening haircuts with legs) — in fact she can often hear it for herself as I skype from cafes where it’s on constant rotation. I am so glad I was born in the west, for all its faults. I love how you/we can remember the songs that were key parts of the milestones of our lives. You can’t just play songs like that as background ornamentation — you have to listen

      Also: what a life you’ve had! Lots of tragedy but a lot of joy.Thanks for sharing that very moving story. I think you’re right about the young guy in the clip — I also love the part where everyone stands up and claps along. It was very insightful to hear from you about the part that concert (and the movie and its wider presence as a defining event) played in your life even though you didn’t attend. I seem to find myself increasingly looking for some kind of affirmation that my life is something worth celebrating each time a birthday comes around (and may they keep on coming around for a while more). Last year I found that Stones song resonating as I camped on the little mountain. This year, because of that post, and reassessing some of the music I used in it — and then your comment — it was other great bands, the joy of making and listening to music. For example, I’d never really thought about Canned Heat except as this biker band (incarnations of them used to tour Aust years ago). But that moment in the clip where he hugs that guy: magic. I’m listening to them afresh now.

      Thanks for the nice comment about Kate and I. She dug it. We’re thinking about revisiting in Summer.

      Finally, at the bottom of this page there are several fun reminiscences from attendees back in ’69 that you’ll enjoy:


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