By the time we got to Woodstock
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most iconic and historic events of our time. Most feel it pales in comparison to another momentous event of that year, when Nashuans were glued to their TV sets watching the late Neil Armstrong proclaim, “One small step,” while becoming the first human to set foot on the moon. But looking back upon the half million people gathered on Max Yasgur’s muddy, rain-soaked dairy farm, those three days in August 1969, it too, was truly an extraordinary event.
A half million people amassed in “peace, love and harmony” to watch, who to many folks then, were relatively unknown musicians, that eventually became music legends and later enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, Credence Clearwater Revival, Santana, Richie Havens and Johnny Winter, to name just a few. It was allegedly the first live gig for a new band calling themselves Crosby, Stills and Nash, the namesakes of each band member. David Crosby was known to have proclaimed at the beginning of their set, “This is our first live gig and we are scared sh–less!” But as it turned out, it was a gig that helped launch their careers, while re-introducing the acoustic guitar to rock music. They would later record a chart topper titled “Woodstock,” written by Joni Mitchell, which became just one of their many legendary hits.
What started as The Woodstock Music and Art Festival turned into a history-making event for 500,000-plus. It garnered the attention of the entire world, while putting the tiny town of Bethel, New York, on the map, where today a museum commemorates the event. Woodstock memorabilia is now very much in demand by collectors and curiosity seekers alike. It was a life-altering experience for both attendees and observers. For those who attended, they proved that hundreds of thousands of people could indeed gather to have fun, share resources and cohabitate in “peace, love and harmony.”
For observers, it was a lesson in Sociology 101. Granted, there were mind-altering substances available for those attending, but nonetheless, it was essentially a violence free event, long before the days of mass shootings, sickos driving vehicles through crowds and terrorist bombings. Concert-goers unknowingly witnessed history and by now have shared their stories with many future generations.
So, what changed over the past 50 years? Why do we now hold little hope that another event like Woodstock could ever take place without the threat of violence, or the need to set up metal detector check points, search all individuals, ban backpacks and purses and prohibit carry-in items? We now live in a much different world. A world where events such as Woodstock are in fact, targets for attacks, requiring a massive police presence, hovering helicopters and over-the-top security measures. Today, we wouldn’t even consider attending such an event without constantly looking over a shoulder or preparing for the worst, with images of a much less attended Las Vegas tragedy still fresh in our minds.
So-called hippies of the 1960s were considered peculiar, if not radical. The anti-establishment movement was gaining ground and moving forward. But, there were no front-page stories of mass shootings or terrorist bombings. The political climate was rebellious, but less revolting than it is today.
Maybe this world needs to take another look at Woodstock itself? How were they able to pull off a three-day gathering of a half million people, as free from violence as they did? Perhaps we could learn something about peaceful co-existence? One powerful stanza of that Crosby, Stills and Nash classic says it all:
By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation
With that said, it is indeed a different world in which we live today. …
Don Canney is a longtime Nashua resident and occasional contributing columnist to The Telegraph.