Woodstock 1969

Posted by Seoirse on 1/6/2009 in Commentary

When this blog began, the thought was to provide a forum for individual posting of Ferriter Family histories, anecdotes, and tales that might prove meaningful or entertaining for the rest of the family to read. I’m placing this little piece into the entertainment category, although it is good history as well.

Note: The essay was originally written in 1993, fifteen years ago, but already then nearly 25 years after the fact. Most of the memories remain sharp in my mind to this day, but I’m thinking that back in ’93, these same memories were just a bit clearer.

In Which Young George Goes to Woodstock

March, 1993 Beloit Wisconsin.

In memory, the passage of time often becomes blurred, compressed, or accelerated. In my case, the distance between the Now of 1993 and the eventful summer of 1969 scarcely seems like nearly a quarter of a century. The purpose of this affidavit becomes the documentation of my impressions, perceptions, and memories of what seem even today like such recent activities.

1969 was a pivotal year in the history of the 20th century United States: Richard Nixon was inaugurated as president, men arrived on the moon, troop levels in Viet Nam reached the high water mark, the Draft Lottery was implemented, and what even then was referred to as the “Counter-Culture” was in high gear.

Rock and Roll as a stand-alone musical art form was scarcely 15 years old, yet in those few years had traversed a range extending from Buddy Holly to Jimi Hendrix. What seemd then like a sea change was underway: Rock and Roll music had come to be both a symbol and the voice of a wildly free youth – the youth of children who lived in what was by far the wealthiest nation on earth, children of the Victors of World War II, Children who were blessed by time and circumstance like no others before or since. Children blessed by time, free to attend school, to be creative, and to have fun like no one ever had fun before.

The Counter-Culture was a manifestation of this freedom, coupled with a sometimes violent reaction to the mainstream politics of the time, and and even more violent reaction to the prosecution of the War in Viet Nam. Music, dress, hairstyle, and for some, use of mind-altering drugs were all Counter-Culture related.

I graduated from High School in 1969. Having been born in December 1951, I was still 17 at graduation. My future plans were hazy: I knew that I would be attending the University of New Hampshire in the Fall, but that was then, and Summer was Now!

After High School, my buddy Dave Hislop and I had planned a motorcycle trip to California. We departed late in June, over the protests of my father, who was convinced that we would be killed. We did survive – out and back on Route 66 and partly on the new Interstates still being built in the west. We had many adventures that are not part of this tale, and all the while, whenever we connected with anyone else of our age group, we kept hearing about the big outdoor Rock and Roll concert that would be happening later that summer.

That was Woodstock, and I first heard about in El Paso Texas, about the same time as the lunar landing, which we watched at a Laundromat there.

The word of mouth communication of Woodstock seems to be one of the most remarkable aspects of the event: I do not believe that it was advertised much outside of New York City, and possibly San Francisco, and then only in specialty newspapers , but it seemed as if everyone knew about it, at least by mid-summer. Mostly by word of mouth, it seems.

Man, I knew that I was going! Advance tickets were expensive, but word was, the gates would be open to all. All of the great music groups of the day were going to play – all of them! The concert would last as long as necessary for all of the bands to play. What a scene!

So, I went off to Woodstock – myself and my cool pals from High School. My friend Frankie Drove – his father owned a Ford dealership, and somehow he obtained the use of a brand-new LTD, loaded, which fit the five of us, plus our camping gear: Frankie, Mike, Bill, John, and myself.

We drove westward from the New Hampshire seacoast, across southern New Hampshire and southern Vermont, into New York State. The driving time would have been about five hours, but we stopped for supplies across the line in NY State. Arriving within a few miles of the concert site by early afternoon, we found all of the roads, side-roads, driveways, lawns, and available fields jammed with vehicles. We parked and walked in those last few miles, leaving Frankie, who was fearful of leaving the mint LTD unattended.

As we approached the concert, the world became a crowd, and the crowd became the dominant feature of awareness: The landscape was a sea of people, and the quietest moment filled with a vast ululation of voices.

The first act that I recall was the great Indian sitar master, Ravi Shankar. What time on the first day he played, I do not know, but it may have been late in the afternoon, or early evening. I remeber slipping through the remains of a chain link fence, and moving into the crowd, listening.
The concert was not comfortable. That first night, rain came, and mud quickly became the salient feature of the land surface for the rest of our stay.

I became separated from my friends, and explored a lot, wanting to see it all, and to know where everything was. As darkness became night, I was stupefied by a sea of lights, as the crowd lit matches and lighters during a long and humorous monolog by Arlo Guthrie. This sea of lights was repeated a number of times during the show.

That night, I slept on the ground in the woods, in the rain. Most amazingly, I was found by my friends the next morning, as the literally stumbled over me while cutting through the trees, around dawn of the second day.

Frankie had somehow contrived to bring his LTD in very close to one of the fenceline gates. The car then became our base. Since our sleeping bags were all soaked, we draped them over the car to dry, (the second day began much nicer, weather-wise), where they were stolen as we slept inside, catching up on sleep missed the night before.

During the second day, I once again spent a lot of time wandering. Two of my pals were imagined or genuine victims of the “brown acid”, and went to the medical tent, which was nearby. This was not for me, so I hiked over to the playground ( I recall a giant tripod with a flat rock suspended by ropes being used as a swing, checked out the craft fair (macrame), and finally ended up by a small pond. Throughout this odyssey, the air was alive with music as the Day Two lineup performed. Periodically, I’d just sit down and listen. (Somehow, Mountain’s “Theme From an Imaginary Western” has been embedded in my mind ever since that day).

The little pond was a refuge for a few male and female swimmers, who swam nude. It was at this pond, as I dozed under a tree, that I experienced what remains in my memory as the perfect icon of the entire event: two lovely young women came down to the shore and casually disrobed in the unselfconscious manner of children, and took a dip.

The second night had great music, (hell, all of the music was great, although the Grateful Dead had some trouble ). Creedence Clearwater, and The Who put on great shows, with young George sitting in the crowd, crouched on the mud, enjoying it all.

The third day started with Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, exhorting us all to rise up and endure, and enjoy…Yet by the end of the Airplane’s set, we were talking about leaving. This was Sunday, Frankie needed to get the LTD back on the lot,, we had run out of supplies and money, and were exhausted. People were starting to leave, so we decided to go too. It looked like more rain, so we piled into the LTD, damp and filthy, and headed east.

I believe that I slept the entire way home.

When the Wagons Leave the City
For the Forest and Further On
Painted Wagons of the Morning
Dusty Roads Where They’ve Gone
Sometimes Travelin´ Through the Darkness
At the Summer Comin´ Home
Foreign Faces By the Wayside
Look As If They Hadn´t Known
All the Sad Was in Their Eyes
And the Desert That´s Dry
In a Country Town
Where the Map Was Found…

(Theme From an Imaginary Western, Leslie West/Mountain, c1969)


Afternotes, January, 2009.

In 1993, I drew a map from memory of what I recalled. Last year, I held this against an actual map of the Woodstock Concert site, and was pleased to see that my 1993 recollections had been pretty close. I’d like to think that this extends to my memories of the event in general.

I do not recall all of the music that was played while we were there. Sometimes I was walking around looking at things, sometimes I was asleep. That’s just how it was. We did not have the stamina to stay until Monday, which is when Jimi Hendrix, the last act, played.

The pictures posted are typical. I may be in them, or maybe not. I will say that they are what I saw. Aside from the professionals, there weren't mant cameras visible at Woodstock.

There were drugs and alcohol at Woodstock: Mostly marijuana, LSD and wine. Aside from the misadventures experienced by two of my friends and some others, drug use was pretty low key, albeit pervasive.

Frankie’s driving, and his getting the car to within a couple of hundred yards of the stage by the second day was amazing. Just driving through the crowds must have been an incredible hassle. I don’t think we ever thanked him for that, but walking out that third day, as beat as we were, would have been a challenge. Thanks Frankie.


Final note: As we have discussed before, members of this family whether they be Farritors, Feirtears, Ferritors, et al, are often found near the heart of things, and where the action is. I've posted this little tale as another case in point.


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Know Your Ancestors

Catherine Ferriter

photo b. 1840
d. 11 Jan 1913

Catherine Ferriter was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in about 1840. She was the daughter of John and Honora (Fitzgerald) Ferriter. The family moved to Tioga County, Pennsylvania, soon after her birth, and she lived the rest of her life in that area. She married Edward Mitchell, originally from Dublin, Ireland, around 1856, and they lived in the Morris Run and Fallbrook, Pennsylvania, area.  My mother's notes have her described as a redhead, with a great sense of humor. Edward and Catherine were the parents of at least eleven children, many of whom passed away fairly young. One of those children was my grandfather, Michael Mitchell.... Read More