The above is how I recall Woodstock; at least that weekend in upstate New York 40 years ago.
Confined essentially to my bedroom this week, I have watched a lot of TV. And the airwaves are full of the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, summer of love, yadayada. In my drugged state I find the TV images evoking all sorts of memories of that weekend. At the time, you could say was a child of Woodstock, since I lived about 15 miles away.
I actually remember that weekend very well. I had just turned 13 and growing up on a farm did not seem so wonderful. I had already made up my mind to study China as it was the farthest away from Ulster County New York. To be sure, both parents were college professors, and they were more worldly than most.
Yet, my father maintained his father’s farm minus the chickens and I was a 4-Her. I remember my summers weeding and hoeing his very very large garden or going fishing at the Esopus Creek past the fields he rented out for sweet corn farming. I have yet to taste tomatoes and corn as good as my father’s and I still find it hard to actually buy rhubarb or pumpkins (we grew both).
My parents were exceptions in the rural neighborhood. The old farmhouse was a jumbled mess of books and papers and all the walls were covered with artwork. As professors in local community colleges, my parents were not quite part of the working class of laborers or of the middle class of Jewish merchants or of the upper class of doctors, lawyers, bankers and other WASPs. They were the “intellectuals.” Thus, most of the family’s friends were from the greater Woodstock, New York arts community: musicians, writers, artists, actors, and foreigners.
It was quite a creative and energetic mix, especially if you added my mother’s students—she was the visual arts professor at Ulster County Community College and directed an arts program just before art became a big business. To be “like everyone else” was the worse of accusations and my mother often accused me of this. Before computers and before big money, more risks were possible and excellent basic drawing and drafting skills were necessary. Only now, do I appreciate how truly talented some of these people were.
Despite the hype, most of their friends were surprisingly conventional: married, families, and no drugs. Even the many gay couples did not stand out. Everyone’s energies were focused on their creativity and originality. Yes, my mother tended to design her own peculiar clothing and her friends were anything but housewives. It was all so very embarrassing.
Anyway, my mother was intrigued by the Festival. All her students were going and she was a big fan of “happenings” as they were called at the time. She threw a few at the school much to the consternation of the Administration. She, however, being in her mid-50s, was not much of a fan of rock music and coming from the Bronx had only recently learned to drive.
I was willing to do anything but what I was doing, which was getting ready for the Ulster County Fair with my 4-H club. It was hot, humid and my cakes and breads were not baking well. Worse, I had reached that moment when any place but home seemed better, which was reinforced by all the art and history books in the house.
Thus, my mother and I asked my father if he would take us to the festival that had moved from 20 minutes from home (Woodstock) to nearly an hour a way (Bethel). The local news was full of reports of traffic, mud, medical emergencies, lack of food and water, and just sheer chaos. My father, the mathematics professor and local, who had probably, also had enough of never-ending festival in our living room, responded without taking a breath: “NO.”
So that was that.
And I spent the three days of the Woodstock Festival at the Ulster County Fair with my 4-H Club and my baked goods just out side of New Paltz. The rain and the mud and the animal smells were intense. I still remember sitting a picnic bench under a tarp with my funnel cake thinking I was missed the biggest thing ever.
I swear I witnessed the above scene at the fair, although this picture was taken only recently at the Ulster County Fair. I have disliked farm animals ever since. I believe I did win a few blue ribbons for my apple pie and brownies. My angel food cake was a disaster and I have never again tried to bake one.
At the end of this month, I am supposed to return to Woodstock for a memorial to one of my parent’s friends. It will be a chamber music concert at the Maverick. Since 1916, Maverick has been an essential part of Woodstock’s artist colony of free and creative spirits. I hope I am well enough to return home.