I want to tell you a story. A different kind of story that I would normally tell on here, on what I've learned from Vision Mountain. Lessons can be learned in the most peculiar, unexpected places, and can shape the part of you that has yet to come.
Fifty years ago on an August day I got a ride with some friends to a music festival being held in a field of a dairy farm in the little town of Woodstock, N.Y. I was going as a participatory journalist, something popular for a writer to be in those times. I was going to BE part of the festival as well as later report about it. Sure I was excited with the thought of hearing some of the most popular musicians of the 1960s, but more, I was enthusiastic about what Woodstock promised. I believed it was going to be an apex of flower power, change, a new age of peace, love and freedom. The organizers expected 50,000 participants to agree. They along with police, the New York Governor and the conventional press were all negative about the 400,000 people who actually showed up, causing massive traffic jams and turning a paying festival into a free one when it became clear fences wouldn’t hold off that number. Dire predictions were made about what would happen at Woodstock, especially on the second day when heavy rains came adding to the mud already there and slowing down the ability of musicians to perform. But none of them came true. Where there could have been chaos and violence there was a feeling, an honest, palpable feeling of (cheesy as it sounds) peace and love.
I don’t remember a lot of the physical details: where we parked, how prepared I was to camp, whether I brought food and water, exactly which group came on in which order. What I remember is the rain, the mud, the gigantic crowd that made it impossible to see the stage, the lack of food, water, bathroom facilities. I gave up on wearing shoes soon after I arrived. The mud sucked them off my feet. I wasn’t particularly bothered by the lack of creature comforts. That was overwhelmed by the feeling of community, the feeling of being part of history in the making, of the beginning of the Age of Aquarius.
Most people shared what they had. A group led by Wavy Gravy and his Hog Farm collective provided “security” and organized making food for as many of the participants as possible. Even if I couldn’t see the music I certainly could hear it. I shared a tent with a new-found friend and a cute puppy. Honestly I remember the puppy more clearly than the person. Psychedelics were shared but I chose not to partake. This was before “roofies” per se but unknown drugs could have unpredictable effects which was amply demonstrated by the people shedding both clothes and inhibitions.
My clearest physical memories are of the mud and discomfort. My favorite musical memories are of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. My outstanding visual memory is of all the people, a field of people, a wall of people around the stage and around the food. Some were dancing, others singing, all seemed to be grooving at being part of this experience. Sure some were complaining about the crowd, the lack of organization, of food, of water, of toilets, and of the difficulty in seeing the bands. I know I had my moments of hoping the new age would learn to be better prepared, better organized, more cognizant that people had bodies as well as spirits.
The organizers of the event went deeply into debt after the festival but later made money from the documentary, albums and future festivals commemorating this first one. The original site of the Festival has become a center for the arts and is listed as an historic site. A fiftieth anniversary celebration is planned for this August and will likely be much more organized than the original.
Honestly I was relieved on many levels when it was time to return to New York City and my normal life. But normal would never be quite the same. When I got back to the city I cleaned up, ate, then went out onto Second Avenue near Seventy Second Street for a walk. As I began walking the rains came. Instead of going for some kind of cover, I took off my shoes and began to dance, not caring who saw me or what they thought. I had entered the New Age and my life would never be quite “normal” again.