Updated 10/17, 2:45 pm
It was as if life as we knew it in the late sixties was thrown into a blender and out came the Vietnam War, free love, psychedelics, a musical revolution — even a walk on the moon. But emerging from this cultural sea change was an event that seemed to galvanize a generation: three days of peace and love, and muck and mire and music at Woodstock.
The problem with tapping into the collective zeitgeist that was Woodstock, is, as the saying goes, “If you remember the sixties you really weren’t there.” The Woodstock generation is, for the most part, entering their 70s and some of their memories are a little rusty.
The other problem is that “Woodstock” the movie has done so much to shape reality and set the narrative. As one of the people we talked to, Mitch Goldman, said, “The movie made it all look so beautiful and comfortable; trust me, it wasn’t.”
Nonetheless, on this 50th anniversary, we wanted to reach out to people with Vineyard ties who went to Woodstock and see what personally stood out to them the most. There were some common themes: the legendary music, the traffic, the food and rain, but it was interesting how everyone had their own takes. What was pleasant for some was abysmal for others. Very groovy, you might say.
Ali Sullo and her husband Rick have been splitting their time between living in Cambridge and on the Vineyard for years. In 1969, Rick was a photographer and met Jim Marshall who was in charge of the press section at Woodstock, and Marshall managed to get them press passes. Rick had been photographing the Newport festivals for about four years and decided to take a pass on Woodstock, but Ali and some friends went and managed to view the festival from the rather privileged perspective of the press. “I remember there was a platform about as broad as the stage,” Sullo said, “we were just feet from the stage. I recently saw the movie that was just released and I could see the back of my head!”
She remembers the photographers from New York as being a very collegial group, and overall she was well-fed. “I remember large trays stacked with beautifully arranged fruit being offered by beautiful young women. Most of the photographers and filmmakers were male. Overall, I don’t remember any negative experience.”
Jill Murray currently lives in South Carolina, but has been vacationing on the Vineyard for years. In 1969 she was 18, living in Connecticut and getting ready to go to the University of Connecticut in the fall. “We weren’t hippies,” Murray said, “more the madras types. Two of my friends and I decided spur-of-the-moment we’d go to Woodstock, we piled into an old Opel station wagon and off we went. We were so naive, we thought of it as a day trip.”
Woodstock ended up having a profound effect on Murray. “To this day I can’t take crowds,” she said, “and I can’t take mud. When we got home everything stood up because it was so caked with mud.” But the real effects were below the surface. “Woodstock was a real catalyst, it made me more aware of the world,” she said. “I remember my favorite song at the festival was that Country Joe and the Fish song, ‘One-two-three-four, what are we fighting for …’” Woodstock really opened up Murray’s eyes; she was somewhat anti-war at the time but after that, especially with soldiers coming back from Viet Nam, she became much more militant. “I”m glad I went, I wouldn’t take it back. I ended up not going to college in the fall, I ended up spending my life being very politically active. Woodstock taught me not to look the other way.”
In the late sixties, Richard Skidmore had a custom clothing store on the Lower East Side of New York City called Dry Heat and he and his buddy Denny hitchhiked out to Max Yasgur’s farm, along with about a half a million other people, to enjoy three days of peace, love, and music. Skidmore remembers that he brought little other than a pair of American flag pants he had designed. He arrived at Woodstock and had to hike about seven miles to get to the festival. Several things stand out to Skidmore, perhaps most notably the sound. “I’d seen the Beatles at Forest Hills,” Skidmore said, “and the sound was horrible, not loud enough. But this sound was superb.” Skidmore recalls going around behind the stage to try to get out of the hubbub and get some sleep, only to wake up to the sounds of the Who’s “Tommy” … “See Me … Feel Me … Touch Me” waving over his body. “That was so powerful,” Skidmore said.
Another impression of Skidmore’s was just a feeling of well-being, starting with the voice of the Woodstock announcer, Chip Monck. “You never really saw Chip Monck,” Skidmore said, “but he had this really warm, friendly voice that had a comforting presence.” Monck of course most famously made the announcement that went something like this, “You’d be advised to stay away from the brown acid.”
Skidmore recalls that in spite of being part of 500,000 people, there was never a sense of desperation. The Hog Farm commune had the kitchen going, people were sharing things, looking out for each other, and the whole time beautiful music was floating over you.
When it came time to leave on Sunday, Skidmore discussed hitching back to New York with his friend Denny but Denny said we’re not going to New York, we’re going to Martha’s Vineyard. Skidmore had never been to the Vineyard but decided to give it a try. When they got off the ferry they headed straight for Cranberry Acres, a campground off Lambert’s Cove Road in West Tisbury.
What they found was a beautiful rustic setting, fellow hippies, marijuana, psychedelics, cool vibes … a mini-Woodstock nation. He stayed three weeks and ultimately Skidmore would make the Vineyard his home and in 1990 becoming the keeper of the Gay Head Light.
Mitch Goldman is a retired architect who for years has split his time between living on the Vineyard and outside of Boston. He was 18 when he set off for Woodstock with a friend; the two had purchased tickets for $18 a piece, which in retrospect turned out to be a dumb move when it ended up being a free concert. On balance, Goldman said, the concert was good and bad. The music was fabulous and Goldman particularly enjoyed Richie Havens and Santana. But they spent their time sitting on a wet, muddy blanket.
Ultimately, it was hunger that got the best of Goldman. His friend, an engineering student, had gone to great lengths to pack a hibachi grill and a cooler full of chicken, which, given the long hike from where they parked, never made it out of the car. So after two days, Goldman and his friend left to go back to the car to get food but the police directed them to get their car out of there so they cut out and decided to head for home, leaving the concert a day early.
Looking back, a couple of things impressed Goldman. “It could have been a complete disaster but it wasn’t,” Goldman said. “It was so disorganized, it’s a wonder they even got the bands to the stage. The movie made it all look so beautiful and comfortable, trust me it wasn’t.” The other thing that astounds Goldman was in that sea of humanity how, in a pre-cellphone era, anyone could find one another. The last thing Goldman remembers was something called “hip talk.” “I remember someone talking about ‘two chicks and another dude,’” Goldman said, “where I came from, no one talked like that.”
Robbie McGregor, artist, carpenter and long-time Vineyard resident, went to Woodstock from up-state New York when he was about 20 years old. He packed a bunch of friends into an old Chrysler Newport and, like everyone else, was forced to park miles away from the site.
McGregor free associates on that first day at the festival … “there was a tent full of people on bad acid trips … Wavy Gravy, (peace activist and member of the Hog Farm commune) was running around trying to calm everything down … Richie Havens played that first night but the next day we decided to book. Going away I had a feeling of lightness … like I was escaping a lot of mud and misery.”
Martina and Kenny Mastromonaco
Husband and wife, Kenny and Martina Mastronomaco of West Tisbury never met until they moved to the Vineyard, but they both grew up within shouting distance of Woodstock. Kenny’s family used to get their milk delivered from Max Yasgur’s farm, the farm where the festival took place. And both of them attended Woodstock with their parents, although Martina was just 9 years old at the time and Kenny 10.
Martina’s admits she “wasn’t much into music at that age,” and her primary recollection was “sitting on the roof of our car stuck in traffic.” They only went for the day. Kenny recalls that Woodstock was a three-day festival and he and his family went on the fourth day — mostly just to see the aftermath. Kenny’s recollection was of all the trash bags that were piled into a giant peace sign that was featured in the movie. But Woodstock would ultimately cast a bigger spell on Martina and Kenny’s life. They both admitted that having Woodstock in common was one of the things that ultimately drew them together as husband and wife.
Daisy Kimberley, West Tisbury: “We stopped in Woodstock about two weeks before the festival on our way to California. We had 11 people in two VW buses, a case of wine, and a whole lot of Panama Red.”
June Miller, West Tisbury: “Didn’t go… I stayed and worked so my ex could go.”
Peggy Schweir, West Tisbury: “Didn’t go to Woodstock, didn’t want to lose my job at the Vineyard Haven A&P.”
So much for mathematically computed comfort stations.
Ali Sullo was kind enough to send us this press release originally promoting the Woodstock festival:
“Acres of free-space-to-roam on cleared country ground … perfect for a three-day holiday. Offered by the Woodstock festival are free camping grounds which will be the site of free round-the-clock workshops in poetry, crafts, theater, pottery and music, free cookouts and guitar playing around centrally controlled 24-hour fires and free rice kitchens for hungry music lovers with little or no money for food.
“Camping supply stores will sell food for cooking out and organic food stands will offset a major delicatessen (sic)concessionaire contacted for the event.
“Mathematically computed are the number of comfort stations, first aid stations, water supply, and garbage detail to clean fairgrounds daily.”