Fifty years ago, a lot of my friends thought it was cool to be a hippie.
You wore what you wanted, thought what you wanted and said what you thought. At times, you displayed a certain sense of freedom and used words like "beautiful," "cool" and "cat."
I wish I had been more hippie-like. At best I was a pseudo-hippie. I wore bell bottom jeans, paisley shirts, sandals, and let my hair grow out, just a little.
If I had to do it all over again, I would have been more like a real hippie, at times. In 1969, for instance, I would have found some friends of like mind and headed off to upstate New York for three days of peace and music at Woodstock!
This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the festival, when a half-million real hippies and a much, much smaller group of pseudo-hippies came together for a weekend.
Originally, the event was going to be held in Woodstock, New York. About a month before it was to open, and after much of the construction of the stage, medical facilities, food outlets, portable bathrooms and other services essential to hosting a massive crowd were on schedule for completion, the towns of Woodstock and Wallkill pulled the plug — fearing the worst would happen when that many people were together for three days.
So the show's promoters had to find an alternate location and start over, quickly.
At the end of the frantic search for a new site, dairy farmer Max Yasgur, gave his permission to host the festival on 600 acres of open land near the small town of Bethel, about 50 miles from Woodstock. It was the perfect spot — the land formed a natural amphitheater.
The construction crews worked around the clock at the Bethel location — known as White Lake — to build the stage, lighting and sound towers, install long runs of power lines and put up a mile of chain link fence. The closer the crew got to the start of the festival, the clearer it became that they would not finish in time.
The work crews had a choice to finish either the stage or the fence. They chose the stage because without it there would be no concert and several hundred thousand people fenced inside the 600 acres wondering when the bands would perform.
Then as thousands of cars began descending on the little town of Bethel days before the show was to start, the promoters of the festival, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfield and Michael Lang realized they had no idea how many folks were about to show up.
Little did they know just how many attendees were en route.
By the time the Friday afternoon lineup was set to perform there were 400,000 people covering the hillside and no bands. The promoters were relieved when somebody spotted singer Richie Havens, and he reluctantly agreed to appear as the opening act.
How difficult was it to get to the concert site? The state highway through Bethel now looked more like a parking lot than a road. The normally short car ride from the hotels where the bands were staying now took six hours.
The promoters reacted quickly and chartered several helicopters to shuttle the performers back and forth to and from the festival. The choppers also served as aerial ambulances, a food delivery service and the only quick method for getting people in and out of the festival.
The partially completed fence was breached by the crowd, and eventually, the announcer told the crowd the promoters had decided to make Woodstock a free concert, much to the delight of the growing audience.
In turn, the crowd was very patient in waiting for the headliners and other groups. The schedule for acts ran hours behind, but there was nothing but a positive reaction once they made it to the stage.
Friday was "folk day" featuring well known acts like Joan Baez (who was that night's headliner starting at about 1 a.m.). Earlier, Arlo Guthrie, Ravi Shankar and five others had performed.
By the time Saturday rolled around, most of the 600 acres of pasture land had turned to mud, thanks to heavy rain and blustery winds.
Again, on "rock day" the crowd seemed unfazed, playing in the mud between rock acts. And they were not disappointed by the likes of the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Jefferson Airplane (who went on stage at about 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning), Joe Cocker and more playing through Sunday night.
After Jimi Hendrix closed out Sunday night's lineup at about 9:30 Monday morning, few people were left to hear him — those who helped with the initial cleanup. One person described the concert site as the aftermath of a battle.
When the concert ran out of food, drinks and bathrooms, folks in the surrounding area pitched in by bringing whatever they had in their refrigerators and pantries.
At one time, the neighbors, who had initially been leery of the hippies, reportedly brought more than 10,000 homemade sandwiches for them to eat.
Those helicopters that brought the bands to the site were also bringing in food and supplies. And still there was no unrest by the hungry concert-goers.
Remarkable, don't you think?
Woodstock was unique. With it's well-documented shortcomings, or out-and-out failures, I'm not sure anyone would ever try to replicate its format again.
I wish I had been more like a real hippie for that long weekend and had been at Woodstock 50 years ago, experiencing the peace and music for three days.