Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reflecting On Woodstock...40 Years On

By Cecil Doyle

Damn, I'm old! Has it really been forty years since Woodstock??!! The absolute apex event of the Peace 'n Love Counterculture, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair was a moment in time that will never be duplicated...the defining moment of a dream realized but never quite attained. One can only ponder the curdled milkshakes concocted by all of those uncontented cows both on and surrounding Max Yasgur's 600-acre dairy farm on that fateful weekend of August 15th-18th of 1969. Planets shifted, rain fell hard and rock exploded in a happening where legend, myth and music converged into what (both happily and with remorse) became the foundation of a brickhouse of bohemia that infiltrated mainstream America, forever changing it's socialscape. 'Twasn't long before headbands, headshops and hippie-inspired flops flooded even the most rural of Louisiana parishes.

Thirty-two acts and a couple of swamis supplied the focus and soundtrack to an event that literally mothered a generation. The opportunity for true social change was in the air and never more tangible than that fateful weekend (only to be infamously snuffed out a mere four months later at Altamont). Alternative lifestyles spread like viruses once the half-million attendees assimilated back into rural USA. A defining moment and cause for riotous celebration.

If you were alive that summer, I don't know what YOU were doing but I stayed glued to my radio. Sweeter music was rarely heard over the airwaves. Music that year was uber-inspired and the line-up for the Festival reflected brightly on what was going down. Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane, Sly & the Family Stone and Blood, Sweat & Tears were already proven chart toppers. Meanwhile, artists like Joe Cocker, Richie Havens, CSNY, Ten Years After, Mountain, Melanie, Sha-Na-Na and Santana were introduced to the world at large and were household names within a year once the three-plus hour Academy Award winning Micheal Wadleigh documentary hit movie theaters and drive-ins a mere year later. We could finally view moving chunks of what we'd all heard it was like to be there. Looking back, one of the most remarkable aspects of this gargantuan social & musical event was the absolute absence of commercialism in so many aspects of the Festival. Not a single corporate logo can be spotted in the miles of film footage shot refreshing as a skinny dip in Fillippini Pond which backdropped the large, crudely-built, bare wooden stage where history was being made. Compare that to the cheese-czar debacle dubbed "Woodstock '99", some thirty years after the fact.

The other night, I watched my Woodstock film DVD with my nineteen-year old son, Dex - he was eager and curious to see a four-hour moving snapshot of what he'd grown up hearing so much about; his dad smiling at not only the thought that maybe his son had grown up just like him (pardons, Harry Chapin) but at the prospect that the very juice that greased the Woodstock crowd had seeped past Generations Us, Me, Blank, X, Y and Z.

Columbia Legacy has issued a series of complete performances from the event earlier this summer by Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Sly & the Family Stone and Johnny Winter dubbed THE WOODSTOCK EXPERIENCE. The Rhino label also reissued the landmark film soundtrack just the way you remembered, a remastered 'Woodstock' film DVD with an extra three hours of performance footage never before seen and a host of books, interviews and celebrations are all readily accessible. My own weekday morning radio program, Medicine Ball Caravan on KRVS (11am on 88.7FM or has been airing performance segments for the past five Wednesdays. This will all culminate with a full five days of nothing but these performances when we host 'Woodstock Week' on August 10, 11, 12, 13 and 17th. No breaks, announcements or concert calenders....just the sounds of a generation. As Hog Farm head, Hugh Romney announced from the stage on that fateful day with gap-toothed glee:

"What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000. We must be in Heaven, man!....there's always a little bit of Heaven in a disaster area". Keep feedin' us, Hugh......we're still just wakin' up.....and hungry.

Cecil Doyle, originally from Mamou, knows everything there is to know about music. He hosts the Medicine Ball Caravan every Monday - Thursday at 11am and Jah Mon heard weekly on KRVS 88.7. He also serves at the station's Music Contact.


  1. Those were the days! I will look forward to the "Woodstock Week" show. Great post!

  2. Brilliant! So what were Dex's comments? Thanks for giving us a link to what's real out there beyond the corporate clouds. Love reading your words and hearing your sounds.

  3. Actually, Dex was admiring the overall mellowness of everyone there and how attitudes in rock festival crowds today are so much more brash and rude (maybe Bonnaroo is diferent - he's never been yet).