Last night I watched the PBS documentary, Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation. Unlike the hacked-up music documentary released in 1970 presenting many of the festival performers out of the sequence in which they actually performed, this newly released film delves deeper into the social and political environment of the times which led up to the massive event in upstate New York fifty years ago during the summer of 1969.
No, I didn’t attend the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. I was going on 19 years old, working a summer factory job to help defray my expenses as a college student. Though I was a motivated student, the film aptly describes the pressure on young men facing a ubiquitous selective service system which could pluck one out of a normal life to fight, and perhaps to die, in the unjust war raging in Vietnam. I witnessed weekly body counts on the evening news. A student deferment was my temporary ticket to avoid becoming yet another heart-wrenching statistic.
I grew my hair long, smoked pot, and practiced non-violence. I also opposed the Vietnam War, marched in anti-war and civil rights demonstrations, and wrote letters to my congressional representatives. So, yeah, the Woodstock Festival meant something more to me than just three days of peace and music. It meant a life-long commitment to the principles of peace, fairness and equality. That was my takeaway for which I’m grateful. And while younger generations sometimes make fun of Woodstock, or disregard it with a wave of the hand, I embrace it, warts* and all.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting the Festival’s music promoter, Artie Kornfeld, at a book-signing event in the community where I was living then. Ironically, that was in Woodstock, Illinois.
Street signs in Woodstock, Illinois
(*Perhaps the biggest wart was the mess left behind. Only a handful of festival attendees remained to clean up the trash produced over three days by half a million people. Over time, my generation also promoted the overuse of plastic packaging which is currently plaguing our environment. It wasn’t supposed to be “Peace, Love & Pollution.”)