Monday, August 15, 2016

Three Days of Peace and Music, Woodstock, 1969

Earlier this year, I read Michael Lang's book, The Road to Woodstock, published in 2009 for the 40th anniversary of the festival.  Michael Lang was the young producer of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.  He was only 24 years old in 1969.

A decision was made early not to have strong security at the festival site; that was considered a bummer and totally out of step with the character of the festival, which was, Michael Lang said, "a test of whether people of our generation really believed in one another and the world we were struggling to create. How would we do when we were in charge? Could we live as the peaceful community we envisioned? I'd hoped we could. From the beginning, I believed that if we did our job right and from the heart, prepared the ground and set the right tone, people would reveal their higher selves and create something amazing. The idea is to get the audience almost as involved as the performers. If the crowd participates in the festival, people will want to respect the rights of others."

Earlier that same summer, there had been violent confrontations between kids and the police 
at other concerts.  Lang said, in his book, "It seemed obvious to me that the confrontational approach taken by the police [vicious police dogs, mace-spraying machines, and hundreds of cops suited up for battle] provoked the violence. I decided we would not have a uniformed police presence within our event."

Wes Pomeroy, head of security for Woodstock, told a town hall meeting: “We plan to create a community among all the people who attend the festival.  What happens then will be the responsibility of the audience as much as the promoters. If you give people enough to do, and give them what they pay for, there won't be any trouble."

And that's exactly what happened.  There was no violence at Woodstock; there were no confrontations between the police and the concert-goers,  It didn't happen.  The crowd, as Lang had hoped, was self-policing.  From the stage, announcers constantly reminded the people that they should look after each other like brothers and sisters.

At a time when millions of Americans, and billions of American dollars, were being devoted to the mechanized slaughter of at least one million people in a tiny, impoverished Southeast Asian country, Woodstock was truly a remarkable event.  A once-in-a-lifetime event; I only wish I'd been old enough to attend.  I was only twelve.

Hugh Romney (better known as "Wavy Gravy") and 85 members of a California commune called the Hog Farm, acted as impromptu security guards.  When asked, "What do you plan to use for crowd control?", Wavy Gravy answered, off the top of his head, "Cream pies and seltzer bottles!"

The Woodstock Music and Art Festival will surely go down in history as a mass event of great and positive significance in the life of the country.  That this many young people could assemble so peaceably and with such good humor in a mile-square area speaks volumes about their dedication to the ideal of respect for the dignity of the individual.
In a nation beset with a crescendo of violence, this is a vibrantly hopeful sign.
 If violence is infectious, so, happily, is nonviolence.
The Boston Globe, post-Woodstock article

Even today, I will not take a hit of brown acid from a complete stranger.
Charles Aulds
August 15, 2016

Tickets are now on sale.