Sunday, February 11, 2018

An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music - Woodstock, Part 3

The first day of the Aquarian Exposition officially kicked off at 5:08 p.m. with Richie Havens, who played a series of Beatles’ covers including "Strawberry Fields" and "Hey Jude," with the improvised "Freedom/Motherless Child," a highlight to what would be four days of peace and music. Havens was followed by Swami Satchidanada, who gave the festival’s invocation. The Swami, a Hindu spiritualist, while tolerant of the heavily self-medicated hippie crowd, urged the half-million to hear his message as an alternative to drugs. Of the Woodstock generation, Satchidanada would go on to say, "They are all searching for the necklace around their necks. Eventually they will look in the mirror and find it." Brought to America by artist Peter Max, the Swami had followers in Carole King and Paul Winter.

Next up, Country Joe did an acoustic set without The Fish, followed by John Sebastian, who wasn't scheduled in the lineup. Sebastian's performance was memorable, not just for the music but for his overt enthusiasm, setting a precedent that would pervade the festival. Several folky acts would follow before a stellar 40 minute appearance at 10:00pm by Ravi Shankar, a five song set in the pouring rain.

Both Melanie and Arlo Guthrie would have 30 minute sets that ended after midnight, before Joan Baez performed 12 songs and the encore "We Shall Overcome." Appropriately, as she took the stage, Joan wished everybody a good morning. Her perfectly orchestrated set, combined with her beautiful and skillful voice, and her tribute to imprisoned husband, David Harris, was a fine summation for a chaotic and exhausting first day. Throughout the performance there was a persistent drizzle, foreshadowing the weather to come. After she finished, it started to again rain heavily.

What today is a large grassy knoll, by the end of the day, August 15, 1969 (officially it was already Saturday), Max Yasgur's farm was nothing but mud. Those who were there are quick to comment about the music, the vibe, the pot and the mud. Despite the rain, during the night the crowd swelled from 200,000 to 400,000 people.

All of us wish we were there, though it would be poor journalism to evade the realities or to portray the event as a psychedelic utopia. Indeed, a medical tent was set up post haste to treat bare feet cut by the broken glass and metal tin can lids that littered the site. Bad acid trips, and retinas burned when their tripping owners stared directly into the sun, were commonplace. A young man, asleep in a trash-strewn field, hidden under his sleeping bag for protection from the rain, died when he was accidentally run over by a tractor hauling away sewage from the site's portable toilets. One young man died of a drug overdose; another fell to his death from the scaffolding. There were three miscarriages during the festival and two births (although no one has ever stepped forward as a Woodstock baby). In nearby Bethel, volunteers began making thousands of sandwiches that were sent by helicopter to feed the hungry masses. The day's festival performances, originally scheduled to start in the evening, began shortly after noon so that the crowd wouldn't get restless or unruly. Critics will note as well that a city of 400,000 will work through its issues on an ongoing basis. The Aquarian city, instead, would disburse on Monday. Before the end of the day, though, Woodstock would entertain nearly half a million.

Woodstock Ventures was wise in its hiring of Tom Law of the Hog Farm Commune to provide morning yoga, the partners' method for creating an aura of calm. Law touted yoga as a drug free alternative to "getting high" and was awed by the way in which "thousands of young people took part in these exercises as one." These sessions proved the most tranquil of the festival.

A full day of music began at 12:15. The day’s schedule included Quill (technical issues kept the band's segment from making it into the film or the soundtrack – Quill's record label subsequently dropping them), Country Joe, Santana, Creedence, The Who and the Jefferson Airplane. Rain and other setbacks pushed everything back several hours. The Who's performance didn't end until sunrise, and the Jefferson Airplane took the stage at 8:00am Sunday morning. Janis Joplin’s set was marred by rain, but eased up throughout the performance. She performed two encore’s: "Piece of My Heart" and "Ball and Chain," but was unable to duplicate the incredible renditions of each at Monterey Pop.

Sly and the Family Stone took the stage at 1:30am in one of the most electrifying and interactive sessions, despite the late hour. Creedence would follow as the rain recommenced. Electrical problems and ankle-deep water on stage during The Grateful Dead created a shock hazard when anyone touched a microphone or electric guitar strings. The jamming nature of The Dead's brief performance mellowed the crowd in the wee hours of the morning, but The Who’s 24 song set, which included Tommy, was the festival's wake-up call at 3:00am. A relatively uninspired Jefferson Airplane performance would cap off Saturday's activities; the band only playing eight songs in a set that lasted but half an hour.