On 50-year anniversary, islanders reflect on Woodstock
Woodstock. The word conjures up images of nearly half a million concert-goers — self-described hippies and flower children — wallowing in a muddy mess for a three-day music festival that began Aug. 15, 1969, on a dairy farm near Bethel in upstate New York.
Janis Joplin, Arlo Guthrie, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, among others, performed 50 years ago at the historic event.
Woodstock, with its sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, became synonymous with the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Participants and historians describe Woodstock, billed a “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Music,” as an experience that never existed before, and probably never would occur again.
Galveston resident Holly Hanson was at Woodstock. In 1969, Hanson lived in Sidney, a small New York town not too far from the concert venue. She was 16 years old. She and four friends bought tickets, sleeping bags and sesame stick snacks and headed south for what should have been a 90-minute trip. It took hours — and as they got closer to their destination, they realized they were in for something special, Hanson said.
“We had tickets, but by the time we got there, the fences were gone and everyone was just walking around,” said Hanson, who co-owns the Antique Warehouse, 423 25th St. in downtown Galveston, with her husband, Scott. Once they settled in and secured a spot on the hill, one of her friends went to get some drinks for their group. He never returned.
“He could never find us,” she said. “There were just so many people.”
The music was amazing, said Hanson, fondly remembering her favorite was Carlos Santana.
“When he hit the stage, the crowd went crazy,” she said.
Hanson also enjoyed the music of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Janis Joplin, she said.
But what she remembers most was the kindness of the local people and the caring spirit of the other concert-goers, she said. A trip to the supermarket revealed shelves stripped of everything, except cleaning supplies.
“It was such an extraordinary event,” she said. “It happened once. It was packed — no food, no water and just miserable conditions.”
But the festival and the people are embedded in her mind forever, she said.
“It was just a sea of people,” she said. “It was not an ideal situation, but everyone was happy and it was absolute magic. I just can’t believe it was 50 years ago.”
Dan Bischof, who now lives on Galveston’s West End, attended Woodstock with a few of his surfer buddies from Orlando, Florida. Bischof’s older brother was a roadie for musician Johnny Winter and he worked at a New York City club and agreed to chaperone the 16-year-olds on their trip to New York.
The group drove north toward Bethel, but walked the last few miles because of the incredible traffic jam, Bischof said.
“We had nowhere to go, but we ended up staying under the Berkley psychedelic bus,” which was parked on the fairgrounds, he said.
Bischof quickly lost his Kmart sleeping bag and canteen, but that was fine, he said.
“I just remember The Who playing ‘Touch Me’ as the sun was rising in the morning,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”
Bischof recalls Jefferson Airplane, Grace Slick, Country Joe and the Fish, Carlos Santana and John Sebastian performing at the festival. It was incredible, he said.
“We really had no clue,” Bischof said. “But as we walked through the crowd, we had never seen anything like this or people who looked like these people. It was transcendental. I’ve never heard anything like that since.”
Bischof and two of his friends — one lives in Dallas and the other in St. Petersburg, Florida — are returning to Bethel to celebrate the 50th anniversary this month. But this time, they won’t be sleeping on the ground — they’ve rented a house for the week and intend to go to all three planned concerts that will commemorate Woodstock.
Max B. Yasgur’s dairy farm is still there and has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. This year’s concert will be held in the original amphitheater. In the past decade, the Bethel Center for the Arts has erected the Museum at Bethel Woods, dedicated to the 1960s and a walk through the decade of peace, love, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.