Letter From Woodstock
THE NAVEL-GAZING SET GEARS UP FOR THE SEQUEL(S)
We're a tribe now. It'll be this way forever. Ride the snake, man. Ride the snake.
Now you either understand what Jim was talking about back there in the Sixties, or you haven't got a clue. Me? I understand. I was at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair--an event that has come to be heralded as one of the great sociological fault lines of late 20th century American life. And with the hoopla rising in this 25th anniversary year, let me apologize up front to the rest of you: As fellow baby boomer Bill Clinton would put it, I share your pain.
Let's just say I don't ride the snake like I used to. I have a daughter who drives a car. I coach my son's basketball and soccer teams. For a living, I write about international trade. If you've seen that Woodstock-reunion Pepsi commercial, you can accurately imagine me as one of those wispy-topped, paunchy guys in a suit, boogeying to the music. I still get down sometimes, only in pajamas and with headphones on, late at night when my family is asleep.
In short, Woodstock evokes a feeling for me that's hard to convey to people not of a certain age. I may not remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I know exactly what I was doing for four days in August, 1969. Speaking for millions from my generation, I invoke the plea of the cowboy who jumped into the cactus patch. The concert--the whole era--just seemed like a good idea at the time. Then there's my son's description of Woodstock: "It was an outdoor concert. It happened in ancient times, and everybody was naked." That's cool, too.
But now comes Woodstock Inc., and in case you've been in outer space this spring, the commemorative business is in full bloom. But in place of peace and love, there's a battle royal between Woodstock Ventures Inc., run by original Woodstock producers Michael Lang, John Roberts, and Joel Rosenman, and Bethel '94, from rock impresario Sid Bernstein, the man who brought the Beatles to Shea Stadium 29 years ago.
Blessed with the corporate backing of PolyGram Diversified Entertainment and still holding the rights to the Woodstock name and dove-on-a-guitar-neck logo, Woodstock Ventures is preparing an amphitheater in Saugerties, N.Y., for a two-day festival on Aug. 13-14. About 80 miles to the southwest, Bernstein is planning to hold a smaller, simultaneous two-day event in Bethel, on the original site at the late Max Yasgur's farm.
Woodstock '94 is expected to feature such current artists as Alice In Chains, Metallica, and Spin Doctors and is geared toward Generation X, the 16-to-26-year-olds searching for meaning in the spirit of the original event (I'm not making this up). "We want to capture what it means to be a kid growing up today. If you look at their music, our music of the '60s is being reinterpreted in new and interesting ways," Lang told me the other day. You're no kid? Well, Aerosmith, Santana, and Crosby Stills & Nash are among those who'll be on hand to charm folks whose current drugs of choice are Paxil, Prozac, and Rogaine.
The sale of 250,000 tickets at $150 a pop should cover the festival's production costs, its promoters say. Profits will come from a 28-hour, live, pay-per-view TV production, a concert movie and soundtrack album, souvenirs, and possibly a spin-off chain of Woodstock Cafes. The Saugerties site will feature ecology and virtual-reality theme parks, ATMs, campsites, and 8-foot fences to foil gate-crashers. (That didn't work 25 years ago, and I bet it fails this time.) The original Woodstock budget was $500,000, ending up at $3.3 million. The budget for Woodstock '94 is $19.5 million.
"laid-back." Bernstein's show is targeted toward a wider, 18-to-50-year-old demographic--geezers with gold cards, if you will. Among the artists out of the '60s will be a few who were present at the creation, such as Richie Havens, Melanie, and John Sebastian, along with some new names to round out the show. "No headbangers. No drugs or alcohol. Very laid-back," promises project coordinator Ted Yeomans. I tell him I was at the original event. "I was, too," Yeomans says with a smile.
But back to dollars and sense. Bethel '94 is geared to host 80,000 people, and tickets are tentatively priced at $150 per person for the two days. Each ticket holder will be asked to bring four articles of clothing and four cans of food to be donated to local shelters. When the music's over, Bernstein plans to build a museum and 1,500-seat performing-arts center across from the concert site. He calls Yasgur's Farm "a Holy Grail, a Lourdes. It has a mystical, holy feeling."
Five years ago, Lang vowed he would never try to reduplicate Woodstock. Never mind. "These kinds of events have so much to do with timing. And the time seems right. Of late, things seem much more oriented in a direction of helping the environment, the struggles for freedom around the world. It seems like a good time to refocus the Woodstock Community."
Yeah, right. Limo service to and from the airport and satellite parking with shuttle buses to the main event will help, too. For cyberhippies, there's Woodstock Online, a computer bulletin board for anniversary news, gossip, and rumors. And John Sebastian is hawking laser CDs of the original Woodstock movie and soundtrack on cable TV, reminding all of us that our old vinyl LPs are getting mighty scratchy.
SUCKERED SIBLINGS. Forgive my skepticism. But just what is it about my generation, anyhow? People my age possess a self-absorption about their lives that borders on the asinine. From childhood on, we've been living with the notion that everything that happens to us is some great leap forward. We shell out big bucks for anything promoting that illusion. And for years, we've suckered our younger siblings into thinking they missed the show.
Richie Havens, who opened the legendary outdoor concert with the song Freedom, lamented recently: "It's been a 20-year job for me just defending Woodstock's actuality." Richie, all of you, forget the actuality. It was a long time ago. Move on, man. Nixon's dead. Look what our spirit has brought: Greater economic freedom. Mutual funds for everybody. IRAs....
What saddens me is that Woodstock--a demographic accident in which 400,000 kids and kid-like adults descended on a farmer's field and left after the toilets overflowed and the food ran out--is my generation's Gettysburg, its D-day. For me, it conjures up reports of the time in 13th century Belgium when hundreds of villagers emerged from their homes one day and howled, wiggled, and danced themselves to death. Scholars say it was an outbreak of ergotism, a mass hallucinogenic poisoning caused by tainted rye bread. I suspect it just seemed like a good idea at the time.DOUGLAS HARBRECHT