“By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong, and everywhere there was song and celebration.” [Excerpt from “Woodstock” written by Joni Mitchell]
You’ve probably heard them already – those news reports focusing on Woodstock attendees, or Woodstock attendee wannabees, reflecting on that music festival held August 15–18, 1969. I heard a great radio station retrospective marking the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Click here if you would like to hear that audio.
As for me, I really wasn’t groovin’ to the tunes that were the likes of the musicians and singers featured during that first-ever rock concert. In fact, at the time, I’d not even heard of most of the line-up.
Like most teenagers, circa 1969, I walked around with a tiny transistor radio in my hand or tucked into a pocket. Tethered to the radio was an earphone that snaked directly into my ear. Unlike today’s earbuds that give you stereo music by fitting into both ears and tuning out the rest of the world, the earphone went into one ear only, so it was just a mono music experience. The long, skinny, covered wire cord hooked from the radio and ended up as an uncomfortable hard plastic piece that fit into your ear; if you jiggled it the wrong way it fell out. But you were able to play your favorite tunes without your parents complaining about “your music” … so what exactly was “my music” in the Woodstock era in the Summer of 1969?
I know I listened to radio station WKNR-Keener 13 and every Saturday I’d run down to the dime store to pick up a free Keener 13 top hits list, and, if my allowance permitted, a new 45 RPM record to spin on my portable record player. I was not really into the music of the Beatles anymore as their music had ceased being the fun-loving stuff of the mid-60s and had become a little more controversial.
No, this 13-year-old was more into the bubblegum music of the day, like “Sugar Sugar” or “Build Me a Buttercup” or, I was swooning with the other teenyboppers over Bobby Sherman and his hit “Little Woman” or lovin’ Elvis Presley’s snarl and hip swivels while he belted out hits like “Suspicious Minds” or “In the Ghetto”. In fact, if I close my eyes, I can picture those 45 RPM records spinning ‘round and ‘round and listening to those songs over and over. Today I remember songs from the 60s and 70s word for word and can sing along to those tunes, but if I go downstairs to fetch something, I may get to the bottom of the steps and won’t recall what I went there for – go figure.
Unlike the moon landing when I, (just like most of you of a certain age), was planted in front of the TV watching that memorable event, I had to read about this historical musical experience through the years. I was not here to watch the news clips about the crowds, or the music, as I spent the month of August 1969 in Germany with my father, who returned there for the first time since moving to Canada in 1950. My grandfather died in April of 1969 and my grandmother, who lived in Toronto, came to spend the Summer at our house, so my father and I went on a little jaunt over to his homeland.
So, while 500,000 strong came to Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm near Woodstock, New York to enjoy the very first rock concert, I was with Max Schaub, at a bier garden sipping watered-down apfelwein and tapping my foot to German Oom-Pah music. I have photos, albeit somewhat blurry, that memorialize that trip where we were enjoying torte at an outside café, riding down the Rhine River on a day cruise, or there I was bopping around the Alpine flowers and petting bulls in the Austrian Alps.
It was my first trip abroad – the scenery was beautiful, but I spoke no German and thus felt a little left out of the total experience as my father visited with friends and relatives who spoke no English.
I hope you get a chance to reflect on the era of Woodstock and read about a generation of folks who lived in peace and harmony while they enjoyed their music, a sharp contrast to concert attendees who might enjoy such a large musical event today – nuff said.
[Photo of poster advertising Woodstock 1969 courtesy of Pinterest]