I read that the site of the Woodstock Festival on Max Yasgur’s farm has been designated as a spot in the National Register of Historic Places. If there was a National Register for Higher Places, Woodstock would be at the top of the list. Just sayin. Gonna take you higher. As above, so far-out below.
I was trying to get to it to do it, but I was waxing fried. The music went on all night and into Sunday morning, truncated because of the rain delays. I slept in the fading grass. I migrated up the hill and slept in the tent, then in the Plumber’s helper, waiting out the rain. Came back down to our muddy spot, got under the plastic tarp with all my friends. We lit up, hovering around each other, taking hits and drinking beer, waiting for the music to begin anew. Our plastic cave filled with smoke until you couldn’t see the person next to you. I lay back in the perspiring mud and fell asleep, the rain hitting the plastic with ping-like precision. I imagined the rain as foot-long rulers, slicing the air into twelve inch segments of hash. Thunder boomed. Lightning screeched. Was that a guitar? Or fingernails wailing on a blackboard?
Sly and the Family Stone came and went, and then The Who appeared on stage. The Who had been one of the bands I was looking forward to. The rain finally cooperated and exited, tail between its legs, into the sky—back to the blackness, where it belonged. At least for now.
The Who/Jefferson Airplane
It was 5am on Sunday morning when The Who made their entrance and sang their new rock opera: Tommy. Full of flash and pyrotechnics. They didn’t disappoint. Their music woke me from the mind-slumber I had been caught up in for the last few hours. I reveled in the one-armed pinball wizard. I didn’t close my eyes, not once, even though I was so tired I could hardly get to my feet.
Jefferson Airplane followed The Who. It was now around eight in the morning and everyone, and I mean everyone, was hungover and fit to be tied. There had been so many rain delays, and all the performances had been pushed back hours. We all needed rest and food. But the Airplane picked us up and soon we were all grooving to their S.F. vibes. Especially, at least for me, the song “Volunteers.” It brought me out of my skin. I took a hit of something from a pipe that was being passed around, and soon I was flying above the stage. Jefferson Airplane had always been one of my favorite bands, and the music that morning put me in a frame of mind to keep me going—stay awake, don’t pass out—you’ll miss the show and there will never be another chance. Here’s to it and from it again.
There was a break in the music, not to start until two in the afternoon, so we went down to Hog Farm. The lines for food, however, were stretched thin clean around the pasture and toward the lake. The hell with eating. I needed a swim. The sun had come out and the heat oppressed the soul with its weight and thickness. The water soothed me and sent me on my way. I wandered into the art festival and looked at the paintings and artwork on display. I had no money to buy anything, even the cheapest stuff.
The music was in full swing again, and I found myself back at our spot. This was, for me, the best day of music I would ever hear. When I sat down in our heated mud bath, Joe Cocker was singing. I’d never really listened to him that much, but when I saw him gyrating and brawling out his songs in that unusual voice that sounded as if he were chewing on gravel, I was hooked. Somehow he pulled it off, with a voice like that. When he belted out “With a Little Help From My Friends,” I was up and out of the mud, shaking my fist at no one in particular except, perhaps, the sky, daring it not to interrupt this performance, or else a pox on your vastness. Of particular note were Cocker’s two backup singers, part of the Grease Band, white dudes singing tenor, high and nearly lonesome, sounding a little bit tinny, having a hard time reaching those notes they were striving for, a direct contrast to Joe Cocker himself. I guess he could have had female backup singers, but then it wouldn’t have been the same off-beat performance that turned out to be brilliant in its execution. The whole thing made my legs go weak. But still, the best was yet to come. This was the day I would remember as if it were only yesterday.
Ten Years After/Crosby Stills and Nash and Young
Alvin Lee, what can I say? The darkness exploded around me before I realized it. Technical glitches ensued. The humidity added to the fervor. Then the song “I’m Going Home” exploded, glitch-free and driving with blues and rock, guitar solos unfurling the air, cutting through the humidity with knife-like precision. Easily my favorite song up to now. Sorry that Alvin Lee died a couple of years ago. I don’t know that Ten Tears After ever got a huge foothold in America, but in my mind it was one of the best bands I’d ever heard, with a topnotch guitarist in Alvin Lee. After that, Crosby, Stills and Nash came on. Neil Young joined them after two or three songs. Their first big concert, really. I knew them from the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. As I listened to Ten Years After and CS&N, I realized how lucky I was to have experienced all those famous bands in one weekend. Even today, when I look back, I have to wonder how it was that I got so lucky to have been at Woodstock.
* * *
We rode out the night into morning, smoking in style. I hardly slept. I knew I could catch up on the z’s when I got back to Denver. The concert had now stretched into four days. Monday had arrived with a half day left of music. Hendrix (oh my God) was coming. Closing out the festival. The darkness was rolled up into one giant joint, the embers turning to dawn, the fade of stars sparking close by. I lit another hunk of hash in a crushed beer can and took a deep hit, the music of three days turning over and over in the soft machine of my head. Would life ever be the same again? As above, so far-out below. Just take me higher.