Woodstock: ‘It Was Like Balling for the First Time’
By noon the day before, 25,000 campers had already invaded the fields surrounding the slopes that formed the natural amphitheater. Vegetable Farmer Herman Reinshagen and his wife, Minerva, reported with some anguish that the campers had been taking corn, cabbage, cauliflower, beets and carrots from their 250-acre farm next to the festival site since early Thursday. “There’s hippies all over the place,” reported Herman, “and they’re hard to watch.”
Eighty-one-year-old Bungalow Colony Proprietor Ben Leon wasn’t much happier. “The sheriff promised me protection,” he cried, “and I don’t have it. Last night I was awake most of the night with these kids coming by and stopping here. They were making so much noise I had to come out with my 30.06 and I shot it ten times into the air. That got them moving. Ten, fifteen years ago, I could lick the whole bunch of them.”
Indeed, the lack of security guards was bothering a lot of people. The festival promoters had arranged to hire 346 off-duty New York Policemen, at $50-a-day each, to provide necessary crowd control. On Thursday, August 14th, New York City Police Commissioner Howard Leary suddenly decided to issue a reminder to all precincts of regulations barring the city’s finest from moonlighting on outside security work. “When we lost the cops,” said assistant producer Stanley Goldstein, “we lost the road. When we lost the roads, we lost control of the traffic. When that happened, we lost our supply lines.”
In the end, local Sheriff Louis Ratner’s own 100-man force was augmented by several hundred State Troopers and deputies from 12 other countries, to work outside the fair site. Off-duty policemen from an area reaching back to New York City genially patrolled traffic-strewn areas within the grounds, sporting red T-shirts emplazoned with the word peace.
Lost in that traffic was the opening act, Sweetwater, and their equipment. A helicopter was commandeered to airlift them out of the stoppage and into the stage area, three miles away. Richie Havens ignited the musical proceedings at 5:07 PM, after workmen finished outfitting the 80-foot-wide stage, and he was followed by Sweetwater; and Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie and Arlo Guthrie, and Joan Baez, who rendered a valued “We Shall Overcome” as her closing.
The two ticket gates, each with thirty entrances, had long before been overcome, obliterating the last barriers against this fair actually being a festival. “Something had to give,” said administrator John Roberts, “and the first thing that gave was the money and ticket collection.” But the fences and gates hadn’t been installed with any great care in the first place, and late Friday evening it was announced from the stage that from there on in, all events would be free. And, by late Friday evening, the crowd had swollen to 200,000 within the grounds. And estimated 100,000 more were reported to be converging on the area, and the crisis reports started chattering out through the channels of the media.
The sanitation facilities (600 portable toilets had been spotted across the farm) were breaking down and overflowing; the water from six wells and parked water tanks were proving to be an inadequate supply for the long lines that were forming, and the above-ground water pipes were being crushed by the humanity; the food concessions were sold out and it was impossible to ferry in any more through the traffic; the chief medical officer declared a “medical crisis” from drug use and subsequent freak-outs; police reported a shortage of ambulances, and those that were available had difficulty getting back to local hospitals through the metal syrup of the traffic jam.
Approaching midnight, while Ravi Shankar was playing, rain and lightning shot down from the sky, and water collecting in the canopy atop the stage threatened to collapse it. There were worried mutterings from the festival guards that the stage, built on scaffolding, might be starting to slide in the mud.
But, as the earth dissolved into slime, the crowd burst into a joyous community. In the dawning of the Aquarian Age, everyone was in the same puddle. Although local residents were reported to be demanding 25 cents for a glass of water and $1 for a loaf of bread and a quart of milk, on the festival grounds, sharing what you had — whether a bonfire, an apple or a joint — was the order of the night. One hundred members of The Hog Farm, flown in from their New Mexico commune by the festival promoters, served brown rice and bean soup from open vats. Containers were set out to catch rain water to drink and pass on. “You can go off and leave your stuff, and nobody touches it,” said a 17-year-old Brown University sophomore. Life already being a disaster, within that concept you could only groove.
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