Woodstock: 40 Years Out – And Still Tie-Dyed

Woodstock monument

It was the first, and most important, question of the day: just what does one wear to Woodstock?  We were headed to the “Heroes of Woodstock” show Saturday at Bethel Woods Center, on the grounds of the original 1969 Woodstock festival, and we Tie Dyewanted to fit in.  Thinking that a Hawaiian shirt might be a little ostentatious, by the time we got to Woodstock we knew we were wrong.  Because everywhere you looked, there was tie-dye.  Tie-dyed shirts, tie-dyed pants, possibly even a couple of tie-dyed people.   In fact the only thing more plentiful than tie-dye on Saturday was gray hair and body fat.

Saturday’s celebration was a kind of Hippie Halloween, and everyone dressed the part.  If it wasn’t tie-dye, it was a t-shirt from the Woodstock museum or from one of the roadside vendors dotting the highway in Bethel, N.Y.  So where the original Woodstock was a triumph of optimism and idealism, its 40th anniversary was a triumph too – of the capitalism and exploitation that didn’t quite work the first time.  But we hit that note yesterday … on Saturday, Woodstock was big enough for everyone: kids, people from all over the world, countless buzzing news media types and those old hippies who have long since gone to seed.  A good time was bought by all.


Jim Donnery kept his ticket pinned to his pocket

One of those old hippies was Jim Sarles, leaning on a cane near the monument at the overlook above the natural amphitheater where history was made in 1969.  Back then, Sarles came to Woodstock in his girlfriend’s car because he didn’t want to get his own brand-new ride stolen.  We also met Jim Donnery, whose relatives in nearby White Lake bought him a one-day ticket.  On Saturday, he wore that original ticket pinned to his pocket.   Another guy named Jim from White Lake was a volunteer in the Museum and he had to park miles away and walk to the festival.  They all told a similar story: don’t remember much about the music, just remember the mud and the people.  “With that many people you get to a point where it’s hard to tell if there is a couple thousand or a couple hundred thousand,” said one of the Jims.  You sorta get that way too with people who say, “I was really there, man.” 

The museum had to stop selling tickets at noon on Saturday because it was hopelessly crowded.  The museum is a bit small, long on flashy graphics and films and a little short on actual items of historical interest (unless you count Wavy Gravy’s outfit – even behind glass, four decades later it looks like it might be more than a little ripe).  And of course everything winds up in the souvenir shop, where we heard one smartass tell a clerk, “I can’t find the brown acid.”   But we did run into Sam Andrew of Big Brother and the Holding Company in the gift shop, perusing old CDs.

Big Brother was one of the bands on the bill for the sold-out “Heroes of Woodstock” show in the Bethel Woods amphitheater.  Their lead singer is Sophia Ramos who is no Janis Joplin – but she performed credibly on such Joplin franchises as “Piece Of My Heart.”   She did turn “Me and Bobby McGee” into a singalong that won everyone over.  Country Joe McDonald served as the night’s emcee and between-set performer, and after he did “The Fish Cheer” and “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” he sort of wore out his welcome.  At one point in the proceedings, one guy picked his way through the crowd and told some old-timers on a picnic blanket, “Watch out for the brown Viagra.”  Hey!

Tie Dye GuyTen Years After has no Alvin Lee on guitar, but it does have Joe Gooch on guitars and vocals and he’s awesome.  They turned in a rousing set and so did Jefferson Starship, led by Paul Kantner and singer Cathy Richardson.  Richardson is certainly no Grace Slick, but that’s good in this case – Richardson’s got a fiery soulful voice that brought the crowd to its dancing feet for “Somebody To Love” and “Wooden Ships.”  The Starship also has David Freiberg, who was also in Quicksilver Messenger Service, and at one point he brought out his wife Linda Imperial, a singer with Quicksilver, and Gary Duncan, a guitarist with that group.  The onstage congregation was also joined by former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten, who helped out with a version of the Dead’s “St. Stephen.”  More guests came onstage, including Sha-Na-Na drummer Jocko Marcellino and Big Brother’s Sophia Ramos.  They all did a rousing version of the Airplane’s “Volunteers,” then closed it out with a nice rendition of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” Joe Cocker style.

Lest you’d think that super-band climax would be the finale, no – Mountain came out and at the end of its set guitarist Leslie West invited his fiancee and a minister onstage to pronounce them rocker and wife.  Levon Helm was to close it out with his band, but he can’t sing due to throat problems, so we split.  My son was having a great day when something happened that kicked it into the stratosphere: we were walking along a path when he found a tie-dyed t-shirt that obviously fell out of someone’s bag.  Nobody around saw who dropped it, and he was assured it was now his.   A hand-dyed shirt that fits, he found it on the grounds … at Woodstock.  It was a great day for him, and for about 20,000 of his tie-dyed soul mates.

YouTube: Most of Country Joe McDonald’s “Fish Cheer” and part of “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag.”

YouTube: Heroes Of Woodstock concert at Bethel Woods, courtesy of the Middletown, N.Y., Times Herald-Record

2 Responses to “Woodstock: 40 Years Out – And Still Tie-Dyed”

  1. John M. Hawkins Says:

    See what happens when you retire to a place called Hooly Springs, NC. You miss all the fun in New York reliving a great part of history.


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