WOODSTOCK, N.Y. — Chicago was only the labor pains. With a joyous three-day shriek, the inheritors of the earth came to life in an alfalfa field outside the village of Bethel, New York. Slapping the spark of life into the newborn was American rock and roll music provided by the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
And Dylan’s Mr. Jones, who has, indeed, been aware of what is happening, but has preferred to denounce the immorality of fucking around with his values, is now forced to acknowledge both the birth and its legitimacy.
The New York Times, which had given the story front-page coverage for three days running, thundered on its editorial page the Monday-after that it was “an outrageous episode” and demanded to know “what kind of culture it is that can produce so colossal a mess?” But, in a reversal astounding for that Establishment journal, a second editorial Tuesday sheepishly allowed that the gathering was “essentially a phenomenon of innocence . . . they came, it seems, to enjoy their own society, to exult in a life style that is its own declaration of independence . . . with Henry the Fifth, they could say at Bethel, ‘He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will stand a-tiptoe when this day is nam’d.'”
Crusty, elderly Ted Lewis, in his political column in the sensation-mongering New York Daily News, wrote with wonder that for the army that took Bethel it was “a chance, perhaps, to express their emotional outlook on life which society fails to understand . . . if music makes them one, some day a ’cause’ will do the same, as the politicians well know as they face up to the elections in the next decade.”
Forty-nine-year-old Dairy Farmer Max Yasgur, who provided, for $50,000, the 600 acres that were the site of the fair, summed it up most succinctly when he came on stage Sunday afternoon. His voice breaking, he told the mass billowing out into the horizon before him: “I don’t know how to speak to 20 people, much less all of you . . . you are the largest group of people ever assembled in one place at one time . . . we had no idea there would be this many . . . and you have proven something to the world . . . that half a million kids can get together for fun and music and have nothing but fun and music.”
The monstrous crowd before him, an impressionistic pointilistic painting by Seurat, cheered him poignantly, acknowledging his overwhelmed understanding of the potent beauty it had forced into being.
Out of the mud and hunger and thirst, despite the rain and the end-of-the-world traffic jams, beyond the bad dope trips and the garish confusion, a new nation had emerged into the glare provided by the open-mouthed media.
Aging liberal pundit Max Lerner asked in the New York Post: “What is an ‘event’ in social and generational history? If it is something that marks a turning point in the consciousness generations have of each other and of themselves, then the weekened festival at Max Yasgur’s vast meadow at Bethel, N.Y., was an important event … the historians will have to reckon with it … these young revolutionaries are on their way … to slough away the life-style that isn’t theirs … and find one that is.”
Nine days after the passing of the ABM bill by the United States Senate, an act bringing total destruction that much closer to being one man’s temperamental reality, an army of peaceful guerrillas established a city larger than Rochester, N.Y., and showed itself imminently ready to turn back on the already ravaged cities and their inoperable “life-styles,” imminently prepared to move onto the mist-covered fields and into the cool, still woods.
“It was like balling for the first time,” said one campaigner, her voice shredded, her mind a tapioca of drugs. “Once you’ve done it, you want to do it again and again, because it’s so great.”
And they will do it again, the threads of youthful dissidence in Paris and Prague and Fort Lauderdale and Berkeley and Chicago and London criss-crossing ever more closely until the map of the world we live in is viable for and visible to all of those that are part of it and all of those buried under it. —
It was to begin, this Woodstock Music and Art Fair, at four PM, Friday, August 15th, outside Bethel (population 2,366) in Sullivan Country, a Catskills resort area long patronized by the middle-classed and middle-aged of New York City’s more threatened neighborhoods. It had first been planned for the village of Woodstock itself, 60 miles to the northeast, and was then moved to Wallkill, 15 miles to the southeast. When the promoters were thwarted there by a zoning challenge, they packed up for Bethel, just short of a month away. 60,000 rock fans were expected.
On the afternoon of August 15th, at the point planned for musical departure, there was a mire of thousands and thousands of automobiles under the sullen sky, stretching two-lanes on a highway the 12 miles leading to Monticello, the principal town of the area.