Rock Matters JUNE 2017

Truckin’ to Woodstock … 48 years too late
–by Robert Alexander

Robert Alexander; his dog Chico; and Jeryl Abramson, the owner of Yasgur’s Farm, are at the site of the Woodstock Festival in Bethel, N.Y.

On August 14, 1969, the call went out to Jim and Ed. “We’re leaving in 45 minutes.” I picked them up in my 1969 Volkswagen Squareback, and “The Dharma Bums” were on the road to Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel, N.Y. But somewhere in N.J., I turned the VW around. Warnings on the radio convinced us that the police had closed the roads leading to the Woodstock Festival. Missing the most famous rock concert in world history became a lifelong regret.

Forty-eight years later, I knew what I had to do … road trip to Woodstock. So, Stephanie and I and our loyal companion, Chico, our 100-pound black Lab, packed up the RV and headed east.

Would we find empty, mud-covered fields where the stage stood that once held Joplin, Hendrix, Cocker and Havens? Would we find Big Pink, the home where Dylan and The Band recorded The Basement Tapes? Would we be able to visit Levon Helm’s garage? Or would we find that Woodstock is just a sleepy rural town that once hosted a hippie dream of peace, love and understanding that with time, “didn’t burn out but just faded away?”

Woodstock Legends, a vintage clothing store in Woodstock, N.Y.

After a decade, rock ‘n’ roll had come of age, from Elvis to the Beatles with rockabilly, doo-wop, dance, soul, girl groups and Motown along on the journey. But the 60s were a dark period of American history with the struggle for civil rights, political assassinations and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. The music expressed the anxiety, paranoia and dissent of the young boomer generation. Rebellion against authority and distrust of anyone over 30, led to freedom marches, peace rallies and dropping out. The Age of Aquarius had begun! The time was ripe for a celebration of love, peace and freedom.

What started as a fundraising concert to develop a rock music studio in Woodstock became a 500,000-participant event that featured sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. From England came The Who, from San Francisco came the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane flew in, and The Band, well, they were in the neighborhood. In all, 32 different acts performed including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Baez, Country Joe and the Fish, Johnny Winter, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

After three days and 722 miles, we pulled into Yasgur’s Farm (the site of the Woodstock Festival, 43 miles from Woodstock). Today, there is just a beautiful alfalfa field, a barn and two farmhouses, but the owner, Jeryl Abramson, invited us to come back for the reunion concert on August 11. Maybe we’ll return in 2019 for the 50-year celebration.

Robert Alexander finds Big Pink, the home where Dylan and The Band recorded The Basement Tapes.

On to Woodstock, an idyllic small town featuring art galleries, cafes and shops that attract tourists and rock and folk music fans from around the world. In Saugerties, the neighboring town, we traveled up Overlook Mountain on a dirt road and there it was… Big Pink! My rock ‘n’ roll Pilgrimage was complete.
The Playlist   

  • “For What It’s Worth,” Buffalo Springfield
  • “Freedom,” Richie Havens*
  • “Reason to Believe,” Tim Hardin*
  • “Evil Ways,” Santana*
  • “Going Up the Country,” Canned Heat*
  • “Truckin’(What a long, strange trip it’s been)” Grateful Dead
  • “Bad Moon Rising,” Creedence Clearwater Revival*
  • “Stand!” Sly and the Family Stone*
  • “Piece of My Heart,” Janis Joplin*
  • “My Generation,” The Who*
  • “Somebody to Love,” Jefferson Airplane*
  • “With a Little Help from My Friends,” Joe Cocker*
  • “The Weight,” The Band*
  • “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Crosby, Stills & Nash*
  • “Born Under a Bad Sign,” The Paul Butterfield Blues Band*
  • “Purple Haze,” Jimi Hendrix*
  • “Woodstock,” Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (written by Joni Mitchell)

*songs performed at Woodstock