My son Ben and his fiancée Lindsey are planning a wedding in a reclaimed Catskills barn in Woodstock, shot through with light from a galaxy of knotholes. The celebration in August will resound with live covers of songs by The Band, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead; Crosby, Stills & Nash, and other musicians who were part of a cultural revolution that peaked long before they were born.
It was only natural that a family road trip to tour the barn and find a wedding-welcome party spot would include a visit to the nearby Woodstock Museum at Bethel Woods. There, we discovered that the wedding weekend coincides exactly with the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival.
I was 15 when the festival happened, an aspirational flower child without the gumption to make my way to Max Yasgur’s hayfield alongside hundreds of thousands of others. It was sweet to be there at last, along with my husband, Tom, and Ben and Lindsey. The museum, next to the hayfield, (now a rolling green carpet embossed with a giant peace sign), captured the 1969 event’s jubilance, as well as the torrential rains, epic traffic jam and bad acid trips that plagued revelers.
Woodstock’s electrifying performances came alive on museum screens. Santana’s pulsing “Soul Sacrifice” still thrilled, as did Jimi Hendrix’s incendiary “Star Spangled Banner” before a bedraggled audience on the festival’s final morning. A water-logged Ben and Lindsey would have stuck it out to hear Jimi close the concert, had they been around for it — they’re veterans of dozens of concerts and music festivals across the country.
The exhibit made plain that not all was groovy a half century ago. On a continual loop, Country Joe McDonald’s “Fish Cheer” (“I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag”) and Joan Baez’s renditions of “We Shall Overcome” and “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night,” were a stark reminder that the decade was awash in war, racial inequality and corporate greed.
Despite those harsh realities, the decade was a refuge from a volatile home life. Its purple rhetoric, brimming with expressions of peace and love, was for me an optimistic sign that the Age of Aquarius would soon dawn, bestowing peace and prosperity on all humanity. Nor have current events extinguished the spirit of the 1960s nestled in my psyche. Although older and wiser, I don’t regret that a wily and naïve moment in history framed my outlook on life. It stays in my mind’s back pocket, a reminder of an impossible reality always worth fighting for.
Ben and Lindsey grew up in the shadow of 9/11 and are seeing a rising tide of racism and global sword rattling. They understand that Woodstock is a fairytale that nostalgic baby boomers like to tell their children. But the fairytale resonates for them at a time of hateful presidential tweets, routine violence and soaring economic disparities. Although both work in corporate America, a hippie spirit that goes beyond the music and accessories persists in their liberal outlook and desire for a more just world.
Artist Bob Hieronimus, 73, is seeking information and any parts to the Volkswagen bus he painted that became famous from Woodstock. (Baltimore Sun video)
If our baby boomer reveries have kindled such a fantastical spirit in our children, so be it.
Even if I didn’t claim the 1960s as my emotional-support decade, the era’s music would reverberate among immediate family members, regardless of generation. Recently, Ben and I made a 1960s playlist on Spotify for our wedding-eve welcome party. At 31, he knows the artists at least as well as I do. Each on a laptop, we traded song titles into the night: “With a Little Help from My Friends.” ”Teach your Children Well.” “Purple Haze.” “Incense and Peppermints.” “Mercedes Benz.” “Sunshine Superman.” “California Dreamin’.” And of course, “Woodstock.”
On the festival’s anniversary, we’ll celebrate Ben and Lindsey in a Victorian house not too far from Max Yasgur’s farm. An illuminated peace sign will light the way, tie-dye will prevail, and the soundtrack will be one that millennials and their parents know by heart.