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GUEST COLUMN: Mom talked us out of attending Woodstock 50 years ago

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Nadine Wark

Nadine Wark

It was billed as “three days of peace and music,” and technically was known as the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, in Bethel, N.Y., taking place over three days in August of 1969. It became a countercultural phenomenon that defined a generation.

My sister and I were living in our hometown of Corunna, and we both loved peace and music. We really wanted to go, but driving my small Vauxhall all that distance was an issue.

Our mother changed our plans. “You can’t be serious! Are the both of you crazy?” she asked. “The whole thing is rubbish!”

Dear old Dad came to mind. I circled his Pontiac Parisienne in the driveway like a hawk ready to pounce on prey. But we didn’t dare ask as we already knew the answer: “Check with your mother.”

They would not support us travelling to New York for a “hippie happening.” So we never did join the young people trudging to an open farmer’s field with the fabled “half a million or more.”

Woodstock began in February of 1969 when four young entrepreneurs acquired the use of the land of dairy farmer Max Yasgur for a music festival. They hoped it would draw 50,000.

Little did they know Max would host more than 400,000 people from all walks of life, or that the small town of Bethel would temporarily become the third largest city in New York State.

Traffic was backed up 20 miles, the state freeway shut down and performers had to be flown in by helicopter. Heavy winds and rain arrived on Friday, but didn’t dampen enthusiasm. Popular activities included mud-sliding and nude swimming in the lake.

One of the many colourful characters from Woodstock was a skinny, toothless hippie entertainer and activist by the name of Wavy Gravy. He ran a communal pig farm in California and arrived with 85 hog farmers, who became the ‘hippie police.’

They built shelters from tarps and tried to feed everyone. One morning, Wavy Gravy announced from the stage: “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000.” It turned out to be some sort of oatmeal concoction. Dinner was a rice-carrot-raisin combo.

Food was lacking, the sanitation facilities were poor, and drug use was rampant. However, no crime or burglary was reported. Nurses and doctors flown in treated about 6,000 people; there were two reported deaths and one birth.

In 1984, a concrete monument was erected at the site.

Attempts were made to recapture the spirit of Woodstock in 1994 and again in 1999, but both endeavours failed. However, a 50th anniversary Woodstock Music and Arts Fair is planned for Watkins Glen, N.Y. this August.

My sister and I still chuckle today when we recall our quest to get from Corunna to Woodstock in ’69. And darn, we missed Wavy Gravy’s breakfast in bed!

Nadine Wark is a retired office administrator and freelance writer who resides in Sarnia

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