Woodstock is a study in the principles of freedom.
Settled in 1787, the town was carved out of the base of the Catskill Mountains and its winds still breathe the fire of that hard earned place. By the nineteenth century, artists were flocking to a place that knew and loved them for the color they brought to a mostly colorless world. By the early twentieth century, Woodstock was hosting festivals that would make the three day concert in Bethel almost look tame in comparison. And starting in 1967, a series of “Sound Outs” were held on a farm just over the town line in Saugerties. Richie Havens and Van Morrison were among the musical luminaries in attendance, years before those three days of peace and music changed the world.
Whether you are ‘down’ with this kind of groovy vibe or not, you can’t help but respect the fact that, from its birth, this summer arts colony has had a personality all its own.
It understands itself.
The more you learn about the town of Woodstock, the more you come to realize they deserve to be synonymous with the epochal music event of the twentieth century. Never mind that Bethel is the actual home of the three day festival, and never mind that almost sixty miles of country roads separate the two towns. Because while Bethel took its sweet time in owning the three days of history after those half a million peeps left town, Woodstock never flinched. They were plenty fine with the idea of shacking up with the counter cultural movement. They didn’t mind owning the reputation.
There is no pretense, no bullshit to the place. Even the touristy gift shops possess a uniquely original flavor to them that you won’t find on Amazon. And so, the cosmic happenstance of our thumbtack possibilities just so happened upon the perfect place for me and Q to come together. Because, as it happens, we don’t rely on pretense or bullshit either. We are a bare boned truth of a pair. Special friends who understand the pulse of a righteous harmony and the blessings of its soulful words.
After settling into our first floor cottage apartment, we made way for the grocery store a few miles up the road to forage for the evening’s dinner. Hannaford was reminiscent of a supermarket out of some Stephen King story, and it’s probably because it’s a chain that serves upstate New York and New England. It’s kitschy yet cool, it’s got a modern shine and yet it feels very much like a neighborhood stop. I let the Chef from Quebec proper do her magic as per our grocery list and then we headed back to our home away from home.
This is when Q took my virginity, medicinally speaking. She introduced me to a Bloody Caesar; which is an oh so cool take on the Bloody Mary. In honor of Woodstock, she tossed this tasty proposal with vodka that had been marinating in vegetables from her garden. She married this smooth, velvety goodness with some Clamato, hot sauce and Worcestershire and rimmed the glasses with steak seasoning. And then she followed up that good news with some more.
“I’m starting dinner,”
I stayed out of the way, pulling up YouTube on the flat screen and settling on a mighty river of Woodstock tunes and short documentaries that dovetailed beautifully with the conversation we had going. And then a second round of drinks, and then the steaks were ready and willing and then I popped the top on a couple of frosty Presidentes for good measure.
Our dinner talk availed itself of the education we were busy fixing on as we scarfed down our steak salads and toasted to chances taken. We watched and listened, we chatted and hummed. We learned about the festival and the world; our lives and each other.
Those three days of peace and music were testimony to what dreams can look like if they are allowed to breathe. Woodstock was born inside a world full of graveyards, and it grew flowers. It was told that war was the answer, and it offered love. It made music out of the damnation, it made home out of the hopeless void.
January of 1968 began with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launching the “Tet Offensive”. The surprise attacks produced heavy casualties for U.S. and South Vietnamese forces and are widely regarded as the turning point in the Vietnam War. Months later came the “My Lai Massacre” in which 500 civilians were killed by U.S. troops.
With President Lyndon Johnson swimming through a sea of hurt in which his own party was turning against him for escalating the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, he announced he would not run for re-election. It seemed that LBJ would be the bridge built over Camelot- from Jack to Bobby- and nothing more than that.
Little more than a week later, Martin Luther King Jr.-the leader of the Civil Rights movement- was assassinated in Memphis. His murder sparked nationwide riots. Riots gave way to unrest on university campuses state side and around the world as the televised agony of a senseless war dragged on. And with June came the postmortem of Camelot when Robert Kennedy Jr. was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after winning the California Primary.
The death of heroes and the specter of perpetual American imperialism abroad led to the chaos that was the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Activist groups and enraged demonstrators descended on the city and provided a ball-peen hammer response to all those silk pens that had signed off on a decade’s worth of death and destruction that seemed to have no end.
Me and Q talked about that world and the one that came along later. We searched for answers to the questions we did not provoke. We agreed wholeheartedly to the fact that we hadn’t started the Goddamn fire . . because really, it had always been burning. And we talked about how Woodstock was an oasis in a desert of wrong turns, but how it wasn’t the end of those dark and tumultuous times. Woodstock was simply a lusty breath, before the world got going on bad conclusions once again.
And there we were, arriving forty nine years late. And yet, to us?
It was right on time.