Once in a while, Boomers reconsider Woodstock.
Every five years, or so, Woodstock invades our collective consciousness. Another momentous Woodstock anniversary arrives and suddenly it’s 1969 again.
This is good news and not-so-good news.
The good news: Jimi Hendrix; Janice Joplin; The Who, no curfews; naked adults, preferably those of the opposite sex; free admission without scanners, backpack searches or burly weight lifters restricting access to a star-studded stage; and someone else had to clean up a momentous mess.
Woodstock is the ultimate Boomer tribal narrative. Close to half-a-million young people carpooled to Max B. Yasgur’s farm near Bethel, New York, but millions more hitchhiked to the Woodstock Music & Art Fair vicariously – by wearing out the eponymous LP album or watching the documentary film, first in movie theaters; now via a DVD player at the nearest home theater. How many of us are guilty of making up tall tales about an imagined heady excursion to the Land of Aquarius in a converted school bus? (Fact checkers get lost.)
The not-so-good news: We’re getting older and barely resemble our svelte former selves; our hair is either graying or gone; brown acid has morphed into Metamucil; social neoconservatives really hate Woodstock and have made it a symbol of all that’s wrong with America today; too many rock legends (and a share of their adoring fans) have departed for the great Woodstock Festival in the sky.
Woodstock was only three days of suspended disbelief that 450,000 young rockers could come together and actually get along, lovingly, while driven by the unpredictable forces of psycho-pharmaceutical bliss. But that belief — incorporating triumvirate Boomer values of peace, love, and partying — has been enshrined.
Now, for a mere investment of 13 lucky dollars, you too can go to Woodstock (the festival site, not the village, which isn’t where the festival happened — a common misconception). The shrine is called The Museum at Bethel Woods, and it’s as much about the sixties as it is about a legendary rock festival.
Sylvia Carter, a freelance reporter for Newsday, described the enticing, interactive museum in this way:
If Woodstock itself was a simple idea that grew big, the museum about it is big from the beginning. The main exhibit gallery is 6,728 square feet (roughly the size of an average Long Island property lot), with 20 films, five interactive productions, 300 photographic murals and dozens of text panels, in large, easy-to-read type. In addition, there is a special 4,626-square-foot exhibit gallery, with borrowed items from collectors and other museums.
The soaring structure is a time capsule back to the '60s, with pulsing surround-sound music, history timelines from the era and recordings of musicians, Woodstock participants and locals giving their stories of the festival. Footage from Woodstock, some of it never seen, is projected on a 21-foot-high screen in full high-definition. You can even lie on the floor (or sit on a bench, if you prefer) to take in a nine-minute immersion media experience. Oh, those tie-dyed shirts and long skirts bring back memories. It's like living inside a documentary film and, in fact, film production is by The History Channel.
The reason I bring Woodstock up now (other than August 15, 2008 being the 39th anniversary) is because I just had a sort-of-vicarious Woodstock experience earlier this week, sans drugs and long hair. I attended the Jethro Tull 40th Anniversary Concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater and beheld a sea of wizened faces, my contemporaries and peers.
I witnessed Tull’s master flautist, Ian Anderson, still balancing on one foot, Pan-style, while enrapturing the crowd with his mastery of the most unlikely rock ‘n’ roll instrument ever. Aqualung has never sounded as good as it does live and loud amid towering red rocks, the lights of Denver twinkling far off to the east and a lambent half-moon hanging overhead as if an intentional part of the high-tech set.
Anderson reminded the crowd of sordid history: When Jethro Tull played Red Rocks in 1971, a riot broke out among angry hippies fighting over unassigned general seating, and thus closing the city park to rock concerts for five long years. He didn’t mention that Jethro Tull refused to perform at Woodstock. He is reported to have said he “didn't want to spend his weekend in a field of unwashed hippies.” Now he’s happy to make a mint from the formerly unwashed.
What fascinated me most was this audience. It was Woodstock Revisited, only the crowd has aged 39 years. I saw hippies, yuppies, Earth Mamas, bikers, beatniks and babes wearing bellbottom jeans. I saw buttoned-down corporate CEOs with tightly quaffed hairdos wearing earplugs to protect their delicate ear drums, and a few men with ponytails that have only been slightly trimmed since the sixties. I saw a reflection of who we were then and somewhat of an unsympathetic statement of who we are now. I was captivated by the Boomer aging process, so concentrated in this setting, and inspired by the ageless spirits still living in aging bodies.
I also saw our future: an aging generation forever linked to a time and place when youth played eternal. And I thought about the meaning of aging, which our tribe is changing … hopefully for the better. Much better.
So, who’s ready for a road trip? I am envisioning a caravan of half-a-million Boomers packed into SUVs and hybrids in an intrepid, unequivocal road rally to the bounded Woodstock museum and the boundless moment in time it represents, suitably timed for August 15 to 19, 2009. Judging from the crowd at Red Rocks Amphitheater, we have the collective spirit and the means.
Now all we need is one indisputable reason, and here it is: Life is short and we’re not getting any younger.