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Reflecting on Woodstock, Fifty Years Later

Ellen Levitt

Posted on August 16, 2019 13:13

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Thoughts on the legendary musical festival held in upstate New York, from a fan who did not attend.

This weekend is the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Aquarian Music Festival. Since I was a preteen I've been enamored of this four day music festival, which I didn't attend because I was just 5 years old in August 1969, and my parents had no interest in going. But I have the film on DVD, and the three disc record set, and a best-of collection on CD. Each year during mid-August I indulge in listening to and watching the music and the filmed footage. I pay homage.

My husband and I attended Woodstock '99 and enjoyed it despite the hassles (traffic, a rental car that broke down, subpar food, disgusting toilets). But I'm pretty sure that it was nowhere near as fascinating, special nor iconic as the original festival on Max Yasgur's farm in 1969.

I'm reading The Road to Woodstock by Michael Lang, one of the festival's organizers (like me, he's from Brooklyn). I have been watching various videos, famous and obscure, of Woodstock performances. I crank up songs from the festival on my car radio. For another website I wrote an article a few months ago that touched upon music in the Hudson Valley/Woodstock region. I found a radio station that is streaming most of the festival (WXPN) and have also listened to other stations featuring music from the festival.

If you're a music lover as I am, and a frequent concert goer (look at my last few pieces for this site!) then you would have at least some interest in this cultural touchstone concert-- if not a great deal of affection. I appreciate deeply the variety of genres reflected in the original Woodstock, from rock 'n roll to Latin rock to funk-soul to folk to experimental to Indian classical and more. The mix of big-name acts along with lesser knowns, acts that were fairly new and acts that were veterans, also added to the depth.

The audience as well had such an important role: they were more than consumers, passive listeners to music. The Academy Award winning film shows scenes with concert goers interacting with each other, making music, phoning home, dancing, hawking alternative goods, and more. 

I've attended many music festivals over the years: the Charlie Parker Jazz fest, several editions of Warped Tour, the Tibetan Freedom Concert, the Fleadh, early versions of Lollapalooza, and many others in New York and elsewhere. They were all fun... but I have this nagging feeling that none were as magical and earthshaking as the original Woodstock. I know a few people who did attend parts of the festival and I have listened in awe to their reminisces.

Reflecting now on Woodstock, of course there is hyperbole, head scratching, reverence. I wish I'd been there to watch Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, acts I've never seen live. I'd also have liked to see lesser lights such as Bert Sommer, the quirky Sweetwater, the rocking Quill. 

Listen to the music this weekend.

Ellen Levitt

Posted on August 16, 2019 13:13

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The 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair will be celebrated in August.                

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