Let's Go to Woodstock
And I dreamed I saw the bombers / Riding shotgun in the sky
Turning into butterflies / Above our nation
It's been a long, hot summer and summer hasn't even officially started yet. Back-to-back mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas had me reeling. Our nation's response to both was entirely predictable. The later atrocity knocked the earlier one off the front pages, as the body count was higher. And mostly children. Uvalde was front page news for a few days....and now it has started drifting away, destined to be just another Wikipedia entry for anybody who might want to track such things. The last of the news trucks are already idling to leave, just waiting on the tiny coffins to be buried.
Even the discovery that 19 heavily armed men stood outside a single locked door for over an hour waiting for somebody to bring them a key, as children inside were alternately dying and begging 9-1-1 operators for help, couldn't stop the relentless 24 hour news cycle from devouring the story and moving on. We've got the Johnny Depp trial verdict upcoming, so it ain't like there's no firetrucks rolling up the street to distract us. There's also a European war that seems to have fallen by the wayside. Well, unless you are in it of course....but for the rest of us it's there if we need it.
I needed a diversion. Desperately. Something to remind me that our nation is not filled with gun-crazed cowards loaded down with body armor and fake grievances. Not filled with lying unempathetic shitheads. Not filled with politicians stumping for votes standing on the backs of dead 10 year olds. You know....just a reminder that not everybody in this fucked up country is 100% loathsome.
So yea, let's go to Woodstock.
Or Bethel, to be more accurate, where the Woodstock festival ultimately took place when the prospect of thousands of un-washed peace-loving hippies suddenly descending on them from every 2 lane road terrified the Woodstock town fathers some 40 miles away into passing some quick no-fucking-way town ordinance. But by that time the posters/flyers had already been printed so.....Woodstock it stayed. To Max Yasgur's farm. Max, a Nixon voting republican, was enough of a free spirit to say "fuck it, let's do it" over the screeching of his neighbors, who never forgave him for allowing half a million overwhelmingly peaceful teenagers to squat in his mud for 3 days. He was never again welcome at the town's general store, and the postmaster subsequently refused to deliver his mail. Eventually he fucked off to Florida to get away from the same kind of small minded people that today value guns over children's lives, and died 2 years later of a heart attack (probably because he moved to....you know....Florida). A good man who deserved better.
Bit of a tangent there....but required. My friends and I (3 carloads worth) were going to see The Who.
They were of course one of the headliners at the Woodstock festival 53 years ago, and this was the first time they'd returned as a band.
My friend PJ picked me up in the midst of a pissing rain storm and I have to admit, I wasn't feeling the peace and love as of yet. The day had been beyond dreary, and I wasn't feeling great. He set his GPS and we were off....the ENTIRE trip was single lane roads. If an Amish buggy had turned in front of us it would not have been legal to pass it. The show was sold out, so I expected dreadful traffic. There was none. As in, absolutely none. We reached the town of Bethel in an hour. Not sure how everybody else got there, but the GPS had found the yellow brick road from Archbald.
We parked amongst a sea of tailgaters, cracked open a couple of beers, and watched the clouds make way for the sun. Across from us a group was setting up the kind of tables that wrestlers body-slam each other through, but alas, merely for a spirited beer-pong game. Behind us a group was raising a 20 foot high flag poll, and I shuddered thinking MAGA chuds had found me again. But it was merely a Woodstock "peace and love" flag, and that's when I knew that shitheads were not going to ruin this day (and that our car would be easy to find). The vibe was too good. I did not come across a single disagreeable person the entire night. Even a guy who sidled up next to us on the grass during "Baba O'Riley" asked if we minded if he vaped some of his weed. The politeness was enchanting.
Anyway, we had some time to kill so we walked over to the Woodstock monument, from where you had a perfect vantage point of what can only be described as Yasgur's perfect amphitheater. The flattened stage, and then acres and acres of gently sloping grass rising above it. With a large peace sign cut into the grass with golf-course maintenance precision, in case you needed an extra jolt of where you were. Everybody there is quiet.....like they are listening to notes that might still be hanging in the air. It's like a civil war battlefield, with guns replaced with guitars, with the only casualties the poor souls felled by the bad brown acid. It feels like that. Hallowed ground.
We met a guy named John. From Ithaca. It was his first trip back since 1969. He pointed to us where he was on the field. He had a picture of he and his friends on the side of the road....where he left his Mom's car and trekked the last mile in on foot. His eyes were alight in the re-telling. It was a special time in his life. Only afterwards were they told that they had made history. But something about John's demeanor suggested that they knew it before we did. All these years later he was still pissed at his friends who made him leave Saturday night and miss Hendrix's set. Regrets? He’d had a few.
Back to the present tense. The concert itself was better than it had any right to be. The Who today are the nearly octogenarian Daltrey and Townshend, and a rotating cast of sidemen and women, and this time with an hurriedly rehearsed local orchestra in tow. It was a straight nostalgia trip. They played a total of one song that wasn't at least 40 years old, and half the lawn scurried off the the porta-johns during it, as if given dispensation. The band was crisp and Daltrey especially, who has battled voice issues in the past, was near note-perfect. In an interesting twist, the band once in the guinness book of world records as being the world's loudest (measured at 126 db. To level-set, exposure to 100 db for 15 minutes can cause permanent hearing loss. Townshend way back in the mid-70s was advised by a doctor to "learn to lip read") was now barely louder than a Holiday Inn lounge act. You could converse freely on the lawn during songs without raising your voice. This time around, the songs didn't bludgeon you, and with guys like me being the median age of the crowd, that was a welcome relief. The Who have been my avatar since I was 14 years old. These songs had changed my life. Or at least, assisted me in changing it myself. For some 2 hours I just bathed in them as the stars overhead helped to light us all up.
The crowd. Some 15,000 of us. The cool vibes in the parking lot followed us inside. There wasn't even a hint of trouble. It was the first concert I've ever been to that was entirely without assholes. I was reminded that it's still possible for us to come together and not decimate each other. It was the perfect medicine.
I don't know if it's the place, or if I just got lucky. The last Who concert I was at I nearly got into a fist-fight with the dribbling, gibberish-spouting drug addict behind me. But that was in Newark, NJ, and it felt kinda normal there. I feel like the aura of Woodstock today weeds such people out.....which is ironic because Max Yasgur's neighbors were convinced even after the fact that dribbling, gibberish-spouting drug addicts had nearly killed them all. In truth every small town could do with an influx of guys like our instant friend John, and everybody who stood and sat around us on the lawn. The 500,000 there that weekend in 1969, and the 15,000 with us on Saturday night, make up the kind of nation I want to be a part of.
With a pretty cool soundtrack too.
In a bit..
ps and then I came home and tested positive for Covid the next morning, providing once again that we can't have nice things.