People

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content

Archive

Woodstock: Ten Years Later

Posted on

‘I was worried about going there’

Woodstock was the second stop on the maiden tour of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and David Crosby remembers being “thoroughly frightened.” His first chill came when he walked backstage and saw “the whole music business standing around—everybody—I mean the Band and [Jimi] Hendrix and [Jefferson] Airplane.” Crosby remembers looking out at an audience packed dense to the horizon. As a card-carrying “member of the international paranoid front,” he awaited disaster—”a power collapse, a helicopter dropping into the crowd.” Now 38, Crosby (right) is still amazed that catastrophe was averted—and that camaraderie endured. “People down to one sandwich would see the guy next to them with no sandwich and split it. Woodstock pulled the very best out of us.”

Then came Altamont, the Stones’ free concert in California four months later, where Hell’s Angels security forces savaged the spectators, killing one. “The human race has got everybody in it from Beethoven to Charlie Manson,” Crosby muses philosophically now. But at that moment the Woodstock dream seemed as faded as a bundle of old love letters—and just as hard to throw away. “We were ready to believe in liking and sharing with our fellowmen,” Crosby says sadly. “All of us want to believe that, don’t you think?”

‘It was a four-day euphoria’

Joan Baez considers Woodstock about as meaningful as summer camp. “It was a marvelous four-day euphoria,” she recalls. “It affected a lot of people on the personal level—watching the police decide it was more fun to cook hot dogs for people than shoot at them, for example—but it wasn’t a political event. It really didn’t have much to do with anything.”

Then 28 years old, six months pregnant with son Gabriel and still married to imprisoned draft resister David Harris, Baez remembers getting into the festival spirit at one point—at a “free stage” concert for people who couldn’t see the main event. “Some guy—naked, with flowers in his hair—wandered up to the stage. I was worried, but it turned out fine. We took a bow together.”

Now involved in aiding the Boat People and promoting human rights in Vietnam, Baez says, “I never turned into a rock star. I’m still a political package.”

‘My troubles began at Woodstock’

“If I hadn’t been involved with Woodstock, my problems might never have occurred,” says Dr. William Abruzzi, 53. “But no matter what has come down on me I still feel honored to have been there to help carry off the treatment plan.”

Abruzzi was medical director at Woodstock—the friendly “Rock Doc” from New York City who supervised the Hog Farm Commune’s aid station, tending to concertgoers’ illnesses, injuries and bad drug trips. Six years later Abruzzi’s life took a disastrous turn: He was convicted of sexually abusing a woman patient. Though the conviction was eventually overturned (and Abruzzi insists he is innocent), he lost his license to practice in New York. He sees Woodstock as the beginning of his downfall. “In working with patients who had drug problems,” he says, “I concluded the drug laws in New York State were dishonest. I became a threat, and I was made to pay the price.”

Now partially disabled by World War II wounds and polio, Abruzzi is all but unemployed. He remembers Woodstock as a high point in his life—”a magnificent social and human experience.” After presiding there over two deaths, two births and 2,500 drug-related crises, he went on to become a fixture at rock festivals. “Over a five-year period,” he recalls, “more young, anxious, troubled people probably came to me than to any other physician in the country. They trusted me.”

‘I’ve decided to work on myself’

The man who thought up Woodstock—producer Michael Lang—dreamed of a giant outdoor rock festival to ring in a New Age. He brought off the Festival, but he’s still waiting for the New Age. “I think change has come out of those times, but not as dramatic as we all had hoped,” Lang says. “After Woodstock and the ’60s everyone went home.”

Still in the music business, Lang, 34, manages singer Joe Cocker and produces albums and films. Married with three kids now (one theirs, two hers), he shuttles between a four-story Greenwich Village townhouse and a 100-acre spread in—where else?—Woodstock, N.Y. He misses the promise of its namesake nation, but finds it a good place to paint, sculpt and relax. “The ’60s were a very energetic era,” he says. “People were willing to commit themselves to things they believed in. Now there’s a lot of apathy. So I just decided to work on myself.”

‘If you drank the fruit juice, you got high’

“Woodstock is like the Second World War,” groans The Who’s bass guitarist, John Entwistle, 34 (right, wearing gag specs). “You want to say you fought in it, but it wasn’t any fun. I have no fond memories of Woodstock. It was just a big gig.”

Entwistle’s retrospective on Woodstock is a litany of horrors, starting with two hours on a bus inching through the crowds to the pasture. “All the helicopters were being used to fly out dying people,” he exaggerates, but adds seriously, “Backstage, there was acid in the fruit juice and STP in the coffee. People kept handing me pills and I kept throwing them away. I wasn’t into that sort of thing then.” The Who waited until 6 a.m.—12 hours behind schedule—to give what Entwistle remembers as a “below average” performance of numbers from Tommy. During the delay he took a two-hour walk through “mud a foot thick” to see “people shacking up together in tents tied to trees with their belts.” His white shoes were caked brown.

Entwistle concedes that Woodstock had its virtues. “There was definitely a sort of family spirit about it,” he says. “There was a lot of sharing. America is not as happy as it was then.” But, asked to perform at the aborted anniversary concert, Woodstock II, Entwistle says, “I told them to get stuffed.”

‘What happened to the dream?’

Arlo Guthrie (left, before a recent concert on Martha’s Vineyard) was barely 22 at the time of Woodstock. Yet he had been a counterculture hero for almost two years on the strength of his epic parable of draft resistance, Alice’s Restaurant. Almost alone among Woodstock’s principal performers, he calls the Festival “a major turning point,” believing it really did change America. “Back then the universities were rioting and there was trouble in the streets,” Guthrie says. “To have a gathering that large not marred by violence was a major social statement. I’m not nostalgic for it. I just think it was an event that has borne fruit.”

Arlo has little sympathy for the disillusioned. “Everybody asks, ‘What happened to the dream?’ ” he says. “But I don’t understand the question. The purpose of all the energy of that era was to enable people to pursue whatever life they would be comfortable in. During the ’70s everyone has done that.”

Though the lives of some Woodstock performers have changed dramatically since 1969, Guthrie’s is much the same. He still lives near Stockbridge, Mass.—original home of Alice’s Restaurant—with wife Jackie (whom he married that Woodstock autumn) and their four children. He still tours, though his protest rallies are mostly antinuclear these days. Woodstock proved to him that ordinary people can be effective in shaping public policy. “It was like a battle had been won,” he says. “Suddenly there were more of us than of them. That was the ultimate victory.”

‘We’re carrying on the spirit’

No one summed up the spirit of slapstick anarchy and antic liberation at Woodstock better than Wavy Gravy. Wavy (real name: Hugh Romney), leader of New Mexico’s famed Hog Farm Commune, was the Festival’s free-spirited emcee, good-humor man and chief bouncer—and he has been doing the same ever since. “We are carrying on the spirit of Woodstock,” he says of his fellow Hog Farmers, who ran a festival in Arizona last month. “There were 10,000 folks there,” he reports. “We set up a granola kitchen, and there was a tent city.”

The commune is based in Berkeley now—it operates a telephone answering service and organic grape farm—and, at 43, Wavy is much the same. He still has the same wife he had then (though she’s changed her name from Bonnie Jean to Jahanara), and he’s trying to build a better world for their son, Howdy Dogood Gravy, 7—in his fashion. “We’re going to launch the Nobody-for-President Campaign in 1980,” he reports. Their slogan: “Nobody’s perfect.”

‘We had money to burn’

“From the Woodstock Generation,” says John Roberts, “the heroes who emerged were a number of record company executives smart enough to seize the trend.” That may sound like a cynical view of a festival of love, but Roberts can be pardoned his misgivings. He was Woodstock’s co-promoter and money man and only by this year, he says, will film and record residuals have made up for a $1.6 million loss on the concert. (Warner Brothers earned $35 million.)

“From a personal point of view, it was a real growth experience,” says Roberts (left, in Las Vegas pursuing his passion for bridge). “We were young, inexperienced guys who had money and idealism to burn.”

An heir to a patent drug fortune (Py-co-pay, Polident), Roberts is still in the music business via the Media Sound Inc. recording studio. But now, with a wife, two kids and a 65-acre farm in Connecticut, Roberts, 33, is happy to say he’s lowered his consciousness. “As people get older,” he explains, “idealism is tempered with a healthy dose of realism—holding down a job, seeing that there’s milk in the baby’s bottle.”

‘It was an absolute fluke’

Edward Hubert Beresford Monck—”Chip” Monck to everybody but his proper Boston family—was the kind of young man Woodstock was invented for. Forbidden by his parents to indulge his interest in theater, Monck rebelled at age 17 and went on to become a lighting designer for the famous Fillmore rock emporia. While designing Woodstock—where he was also an emcee—Monck recalls, “I stayed in a little trailer backstage for five weeks. I brought two candelabras I liked, and a bed, and cooked numerous omelets.”

Now 40, and recalling Woodstock, he wryly observes, “Peace and Love was a wonderful merchandising campaign. I just wasn’t smart enough to capitalize on it.” Yet he hasn’t done badly. These days Monck is a $1,000-a-day West Coast lighting designer for acts ranging from Bette Midler to Eddie Rabbitt (above in Vegas)—and he’s not eager for another Woodstock. “It was an absolute fluke the first time,” he says. “It couldn’t be reconstructed again. Besides, we’ve all become merchants.”

‘I had a prospect of endless joy’

Jimi Hendrix is dead, Janis Joplin is dead, but, somehow, the queen of acid rock lives on. At 39, Grace Slick has shucked the mantle of psychedelic prophet and joined the ’60s survivors in California’s Marin County. Looking back at the drug-overdose deaths of her fellow Woodstock stars, Slick attributes her escape to fate and some prudence. “In those days I thought almost anything was a good idea but putting a bullet in someone,” she admits. “But at the right time, somebody always held me back from the edge.”

Slick observed Woodstock from an unusual perspective: She was then straight—”maybe the only person there who didn’t take any drugs.” But when she finally went onstage 14 hours late at sunrise, the sight of landscape-like masses of celebrants was intoxicating. “I was sure that people’s desire for this kind of openness and music and freedom would grow stronger.”

But not long after that halcyon summer, something changed. She still admires the spirit of the Festival—”a great mass of people, all feeling positive about something, getting together.” But for her, like so many of Woodstock’s cast, the hope of a new, higher consciousness vanished with the decade—or became a private matter. Having left Airplane’s successor, Jefferson Starship, in 1978, Slick is now focused on a solo album, a longtime drinking problem and marriage to the band’s former light man, husband Skip Johnson, 26, who is studying to be a real estate agent. “I had that kind of naive prospect of endless brotherhood and joy,” she muses, finding her verdict on the spirit of Woodstock in a paraphrase of Buckminster Fuller: “It came to pass—but not to stay.”