Friday, August 16, 2019

The Brown Acid Circulating Around

Early on Friday afternoon about a dozen of us got together and spread out some blankets on the grass at a spot about a third of the way up the hill on stage right and then dropped LSD. I took Orange Sunshine, a strong, clean dose in an orange tab that was perhaps the best street acid ever. Underground chemists in southern California had made millions of doses, and the nation was flooded with it that summer. We smoked some tasty black hashish to amuse ourselves while waiting for the acid to hit, and sat back to groove along with Richie Havens.In two hours we were all soaring, and everything was just fine. In fact, it couldn't have been better - there I was with my beautiful girlfriend and all my hometown friends, higher than a church steeple and listening to wonderful music in the cool summer weather of the Catskills. After all, the dirty little secret of the late '60s was that psychedelic drugs taken in a pleasant setting could be completely exhilarating. 
That account is just one of hundreds about tripping at Woodstock, and unlike the bad press and bad trip exposés more readily portrayed about psychedelics, the account above is more typical. Realizing, though, that bummer trips would pervade the concert, festival organizers erected "Bad Trip Tents," colloquially referred to as “Freak Out Tents.” Concertgoers experiencing bad LSD trips came to, or were brought to, the tents in order to work through the moment.  Medical personnel and members of the Hog Farm Commune manned the facilities. The Hog Farmers treated bad acid trips with hugs and soft words. "You had to give them some touch with reality. You had to speak softly," said one of the workers. Medics had Thorazine on hand, an anti-psychotic drug, to chemically counteract the negative LSD experience, but the tripsters insisted that Thorazine would send a drug user further down the spiral, leading to long-term psychological issues. 

The tents were divided into three wards to cover incoming casualties. The first was the Freak Out ward. A second, the largest, was for people with cut feet; broken glass and pop-tops littered the venue like a killing field. The third area was for people with a malady peculiar to Woodstock. "They burned their eyes staring at the sun," one worker said. "If they were tripping, they'd lie down on their backs and just stare. There were five or six or seven at a time. That was something." Despite the accounts, and based on the amount of rain, the latter seems more than a little far-fetched. As with nearly everything at Woodstock, eyewitness accounts were unreliable at best.

During the festival, Edward "Chip" Monck served as Woodstock's master of ceremonies. Anyone who has ever seen the film knows of his somewhat deadpan, but genuine announcements over the PA, including his famous warning: "Uh, to get back to the warning that I’ve received, you might take it with however many grains of salt you wish, that the brown acid that is circulating around us is not specifically too good. It's suggested that you do stay away from that. Of course it’s your own trip, so be my guest. But please be advised that there’s a warning on that one, okay?" But what was the brown acid? Here we can only surmise. Theoretically, LSD is often put onto blotter paper adorned with colors or extravagant artwork, everything from R. Crumb drawings to psychedelic patterns. Long before Woodstock, the myth had developed about the quality of the LSD based on the color or artwork on the blotter paper. The blue acid might give you more of a body trip, while the red tabs, a head trip. The theory doesn't fly on a number of levels though. Pure Lysergic Acid Diethylamide 25 was legal in 1968 and still plentiful in 1969; high quality LSD was commonplace. Blotter was only really identified during the mid-70s. 

More likely, it was summer, you were young and stupid and in an environment so magical that chemical enhancement seemed but an elixir, a potion - and Sly wanted to take you higher. And someone comes up and offers tabs of the compound at a dollar a pop. Having no clue about anything and giddy as a five-year-old at Disneyland, you're advised to eat 2 hits to "see the light," and surprise, you've just had the infamous brown acid. More than likely, the acid you ate isn't bad at all, but quite the opposite. It's as pure, as clean, as perfectly synthesized as it could ever or would ever possibly be. Reality: you just ate 800mcg of the strongest chemical in the history of, like, drugs. Most of Woodstock’s attendees just weren't ready for that kind of mind altering state in a venue that was far from sobering; indeed, it was as surreal as a de Chirico painting, but one way or another, the brown acid was "not specifically too good."