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Eyewitness to Woodstock: A monumental moment in American pop culture

Written By | Jun 13, 2018

WASHINGTON: We are closing in on the Golden Anniversary of Woodstock, held in August 1969, and its 50th anniversary is a little more than a year away. So it is not too early to start collecting sharing stories of this event.  (Scroll below for contact link).

In an exclusive interview with a current North American university professor, who was a first-hand witness (as a then college student) for the duration of Woodstock, writer Bill Randall and CommDigiNews (CDN) brings his unique perspective of that historic event to the page.

Per his request of confidentiality and anonymity, he will be referred to by the pseudonym: Professor Elston.

CDN:

Professor, thank you for taking the time to provide your personal perspective and insight on the iconic Woodstock event back in August 1969.




Prof. Elston:

It’s my pleasure.

CDN:

Next year (August 2019) will mark the half-century (50th) anniversary of the watershed moment in rock history in the USA, Woodstock.

Prof. Elston:

The actual music festival was held in Bethel, NY. However, promoters of the event didn’t want to advertise Bethel (which literally means “House of God”) as the namesake of the location. So they chose to use Woodstock (which was less than 50 miles northeast of Bethel) in its promotion.

Incidentally, Woodstock had historically been a cultural location of choice for New York musical artists, and its heyday was the 1930’s through the 1950’s. For this reason, giving promotional notoriety to Woodstock seemed to be far more appropriate than Bethel.

CDN:

What was the day in the life of young Americans in the mid to late 1960’s?

Prof. Elston:

As I recall, those times were turbulent. Personally, I was opposed to the War in Vietnam. There were also domestic tensions. Let’s not forget that many famous figures were assassinated: Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Fred Hampton (prominent leader in the Black Panther Party), and Malcolm X. It was a polarizing time, race relations were still fractured, and social upheaval was pandemic.

CDN:

How did Woodstock affect your life?

Prof. Elston:

As I mentioned before, I was an art major in college. I had been creating paintings, and I decided to take some of my better ones to the event for possible sale. We were informed that we’d be able to hang our artwork on the inside of the perimeter fence.

To my utter astonishment, there was no fence at all because attendees arrived early, and the numbers overwhelmed the planners who decided to forego the construction of the fence. As far as its effect on my life, Woodstock was NOT a turning point; it was just one event. It was a reaffirmation of the unconventional frame of mind I was in. I’m sure there were many others who felt the same way.

CDN:

In retrospect, would you qualify Woodstock as an anti-establishment event?



Prof. Elston:

It certainly appears to have become symbolic of that. But we have to realize that 1969 was not the genesis of the counterculture. This is not to say that Woodstock was not a pivotal event; it was. It struck many, in all generations, in a powerful way. But in my opinion, Woodstock was turned into a myth that it embodied all the values of a particular generation.

Organizers of Woodstock were business people, looking to seize on a capitalistic opportunity. Instead, it morphed into a cultural legacy that was labeled the “Woodstock generation.” Actually, the spirit of Woodstock pre-dated the event. Militant attitudes and the so-called generation gap was well evident in the early to mid-1960’s.

The anti-war sentiments were expressed at the event through several groups, but best personified through a group called Country Joe and the Fish:

 

 

CDN:

You are now a University Professor. What are some of the ways you draw from Woodstock to impart knowledge, or impact your students?

Prof. Elston:

Interesting question. I strive to impress upon them that people who see a problem and have the mind and attitude to work together, can solve nearly anything they’re confronted with. The key is to NOT wait around for others to get it done. Self-organizing without external authority is a very empowering solution; that is: improvising with imagination.

CDN:

Did you bring back any artifacts or memorabilia?

Prof. Elston:

No, I didn’t. And I don’t have photos because I didn’t have a camera. My students look at me with their eyes and mouth gaped wide open when I tell them that because they cannot imagine not having a cell phone with a digital camera.

I actually owned a few vinyl albums from artists who performed at Woodstock, but I gave them to my nephew several years ago. I don’t have any left in my personal collection.

CDN:

Public bathing and nudity were not uncommon. Any recollections or comments about that?

Prof. Elston:

Yes, it was common. I’ll refrain from any elaboration (chuckle).

CDN:

The weather was not too cooperative (rain). How did that impact the attendees?

Prof. Elston:

We had periods without rain, which made it nice. Unfortunately, there were also periods of wet weather. An unpleasant reality was that the planners of the event underestimated the number of attendees. That resulted in porta-potty facilities were too scarce. Add rainy & soggy conditions along with a few porta-potties overturned, and you can imagine the unsanitary conditions. Since many relied on sleeping on the open fields, they wound up crowding under any trees and structures at the site. The rain also reduced the number of attendees somewhat, especially on and after the third day. Had the conditions been sunny for the duration, the crowd size would have easily eclipsed a half-million.

CDN:

Jimi Hendrix was the last performer on the last day of Woodstock (which was extended a 4th day). By the time Hendrix performed, the crowd size had dwindled down to about 35,000 from the original 400,000+ days earlier. Did you stay to hear Hendrix?

Prof. Elston:

Yes, I stayed to watch and hear him perform. My only adjective to describe what he did is: spectacular! His rendition of the Star Spangled Banner was astounding! If you listen to the chords he plays at the stanza “…and the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air…” you’ll hear sound effects that mimic bombs being launched and exploding.

Hendrix played other songs as well, and I will never forget what I witnessed.

CDN:

If you were to do it over again, what (if anything) would you have done differently, and why?

Prof. Elston:

1) I would NOT have driven up there with my girlfriend; we weren’t prepared for the very inconvenient accommodations (or lack thereof). We slept in the car, was bad enough. But it was further compounded by the weather and meager or inadequate accommodations. To get an idea of how many people were there, imagine attending a sporting event of 40,000 fans and you could only leave via one exit. Picture in your mind WATCHING those 40,000 fans file past you by the hundreds until the entire stadium was emptied. After doing that, replay it in your mind nine (9) more times! That’s what over 400,000 people looks like! 2) I would have made sure that my vehicle was in better shape to handle the trip; it died on me the day I prepared to return home. 3) I probably would have stashed more food in my car for the duration.

CDN:

Is there any other aspect of Woodstock that you’d like to comment on?

Prof. Elston:

The experience was unique and special. Attempts to monetarize Woodstock was somewhat abhorrent; the post-event shouldn’t have been exploited financially (but this is America)! Woodstock happened; it ended. For those who attended, take the experience with you.

CDN:

Professor Elston, on behalf of CommDigiNews readers, posterity and attendees of those who attended Woodstock, thank you very much for your unique and invaluable recollections.

Prof. Elston:

I appreciate your giving me the opportunity. You’re welcome.

Bill Randall is a contributing writer for CommDigiNews. He is a retired U.S. Navy Command Master Chief (E9), and resides in Dallas, TX. Share your Woodstock story below in comments, or if you would like to work with CDN to create a story, email, publisher Jacquie Kubin at jacquie.kubin@commdiginews.com

 

Lead Image:  Opening ceremony at Woodstock
Date 14 August 1969
Author: Mark Goff
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Swami_opening.jpg

Bill Randall

Bill was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the neighborhood known as the Lower Ninth Ward. His U.S. Navy career spanned from August 1974 through January 2002, during which he had a decorated and distinguished span of honorable service. His profession and specialty was Earth Science (Meteorology, Oceanography and Geodesy). After retiring from active duty on January 1, 2002, he entered the private sector as an Independent Insurance Agent (AFLAC) and garnered recognition as a top performer as a new member. Shortly thereafter he earned his B.S. degree in Business Management, and later earned his MBA degree. He has also earned Information Technology (IT) Certification from Wake Technical Community College (May 2013). Bill worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Milwaukee VA Pension Center (2002 –2005), processing hundreds of benefits claims for veterans and their family members. Bill subsequently relocated and served on the staff of a local church in Pensacola, FL (May – Dec 2005), and then accepted a business opportunity as a Generalist with a major Management Consulting Firm (2006 – 2008). In 2010 he started and now owns a private Management Consulting company, which is now based in Phoenix, AZ. He once ran for Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party (June 2009). He has also twice run for U.S Congress (NC-13th Congressional district), winning the GOP nomination in the 2010 Primary, and losing in the GOP Primary in 2012. Bill was a teacher (elementary, middle and high school), teaching English Language Arts, Geometry and Physics from July 2014 through December 2018. He is author of the book “Examining God’s Purposes for Fasting and Prayer” (Author House, 2005), and is a full time Evangelist. Bill has a son, four daughters and four grandchildren.