Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Happy B-Day Woodstock Babies... and other news

One of Woodstock's legacies remains its lack of violence; indeed the only violence to speak of occurred on stage during The Who when political activist Abbie Hoffman picked up a microphone. Pete Townshend was a self-described curmudgeonly young man, particularly when it came to the sanctity of the stage; no one shared the stage with The Who. Country Joe McDonald recalled: "The Who [were] well into their set, and all of a sudden, this guy shows up and starts talking politics and anti-marijuana laws. I don’t think Townshend was even aware that he was there. He just kind of looked up and 'Who the hell’s this guy?'" It was then that the actual events become a bit sketchy. Townshend purportedly hit Hoffman over the head with his guitar, and with The Who's violent hijinks an expected part of the act, the crowd reacted almost as if it were staged. McDonald said, "Pete walked over and bonked Abbie in the head with his guitar. Abbie’s response was so funny because he just looked at Peter and then jumped into the press pit and went through the crowd and kept going." While there is no video footage, the incident was captured on audiotape and most reports concur with Country Joe's. Hoffman was no longer in his heyday politically and had taken an unknown number of LSD blotter hits while working as a volunteer in a medical tent. He then stormed onto the stage and incoherently questioned the arrest of John Sinclair, an activist who had been arrested on trumped-up marijuana charges. Hoffman, by the way, has a far different version: only that as Townshend was tuning up, he "bumped into me." His rally cries, by the way, failed to stir up any emotional response from the crowd. The politics of Woodstock wasn't about rally cries and fist pumps, it was a spirit of community that created a collected voice, one of peace and love, of flower power if you will. While it's easy to romanticize Woodstock and dismiss those who looked upon instead it as a muddy Babylon, the lack of violence was an undeniable testament to the human spirit.

While the anticipated attendance was 25,000, the population at Bethel Woods swelled to nearly a half-million on Day 3, roughly the population of Atlanta or Miami. Within the four days of the concert, there were but a handful of arrests, no violence, except on stage, one death by OD, and one tragic accident in which a man was asleep in a sleeping bag beneath a work truck. The driver didn’t know the man was there. Those statistics compared to Atlanta or Miami don't make a blip on the radar.

There are reports of two births at the exposition. The babies reportedly born at the Woodstock festival remain a bit of a mystery, although there is some compelling evidence. John Sebastian was captured on film announcing that "Some cat's old lady just had a baby, a kid destined to be far out," and the concert's medical director told reporters there were two births: one at a local hospital after the mother was airlifted by helicopter and the other in a car caught in the epic traffic jam just outside Bethel Woods. Elliot Tiber wrote in his memoir, Taking Woodstock, that he had actually helped deliver a baby at his parent's hotel, very close to the festival. He never asked for the mother's name nor the baby's. 

Kind of funny really that no one credible has ever come forward, although there have been many claims. Nonetheless, a Happy B-Day to the Woodstock Babies!

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