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40 years later, they remember Woodstock

If all the baby boomers who claim they were at Woodstock had really been there, the crowd would have stretched all the way to Manhattan.

Dude, watching the movie doesn't count.

But for some Tampa Bay area boomers, Woodstock was one of the most indelible experiences of their lives.

Forty years ago the Woodstock Music & Art Fair unfolded down the road from the town that gave it its name, on Max Yasgur's 600-acre farm in Bethel, N.Y.

Woodstock featured more than 30 of the biggest acts of the '60s, from the Who and Janis Joplin to the Grate- ful Dead, Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Jimi Hendrix. It was to begin Friday, Aug. 15, 1969, and run through Sunday, but didn't work out as planned.

No one anticipated massive miles-long traffic jams. No one anticipated torrential rains. No one anticipated that the musicians would play through the nights until dawn, pushing the festival into Monday.

And no one expected that a festival that sold 186,000 advance tickets would draw a crowd of almost half a million people.

Woodstock did live up to its billing as a weekend of peace and music, and it went on to become a cultural and historical landmark. As the frenzy of anniversary commemorations cranks up like a Hendrix guitar solo, we talk to several bay area folks who were among the Woodstock tribe. And we turned the tables, asking if they would have let their own kids go to a festival like Woodstock.

Paula Rosen

Home: Seminole

Occupation: Retired after 25 years as a kindergarten teacher at Starkey Elementary School

Age then: 26

Now: 66

Memorable moments: I was living near Woodstock that summer, and my friend Susan knew this gentleman named Stanley, who was a white witch. He knew all the musicians who were living in Woodstock (Bob Dylan, the Band, Paul Butterfield), and he said he'd get us backstage passes if we drove him to the concert. But we never got to use them, because they opened the gates and everyone just walked in.

The rain was really important to what happened, I think. It was a heavy downpour, 6 or 7 inches. A lot of people were unprepared for the rain, and I think that's why Woodstock evolved into people taking off their clothes and everything.

We were interviewed because we were practically the first people to leave, on Saturday morning. We had a baby at home, we had our dog with us, and we had no food. But it was amazing . . . It happened because the music was so amazing, all those groups, all brilliant, all together.

Would you let your kids go? We left our (older) son with my sister, and he's never forgiven me. He says, "I could have said I had gone to Woodstock when I was 1 1/2!"

Steve Kochick

Home: Madeira Beach

Occupation: Retired as a lieutenant from the New York City Fire Department, now city commissioner and vice mayor of Madeira Beach

Age then: 22

Now: 62

Memorable moments: I had just come back from Vietnam about four months before (he served there 13 months). As we were walking up this dirt road to the concert, I saw a guy ahead of me wearing an Army jacket, kind of a shirt that we wore. As I looked to the side, I saw his unit patch. It was the 196th Light Infantry, my unit. This guy and I had served together. He left six or seven months before I did. He looked at me and said, "Steve! You made it." Out of all these people, all these faces, here's this guy. We had been in the same foxhole.

It was an amazing experience. There was happiness all around. I think it was one of the reasons I got into public service — to rekindle those thoughts of having a better community, that there are some things worth fighting for.

Would you let your kids go? My daughter went to one of the reunions, I think it was in 1999. She had a good time, but I don't think the whole experience was the same. That just can't be re-created.

Doug Erdman

Home: Largo

Occupation: Information technology director for Boley Centers for Behavioral Healthcare, St. Petersburg

Age then: 17

Now: 56

Memorable moments: One thing that stands out is how hard it was to move away from the crowd. It was a natural amphitheater, and all the concessions and porta- potties were up at the top. So eventually everyone had to go to the top. The tough part was to come back and find your party in all those people. It was their responsibility to find you — they'd all stand up and wave their arms when you got close.

We were bombarded by all the performers, the announcements in between: "You're the third biggest city in New York!" We saw the helicopters. We knew we were a major news event. So I sort of expected a hero's welcome. But my parents were sitting on the porch; they said, "Good to see you. Go take a shower." I was underwhelmed by their reaction to my survival.

Would you let your kids go? So much has changed. (Woodstock) was such a good thing; there was none of the violence you see now. You just don't know what might happen, so I might be reluctant.

Jack and Mary Shea

Home: Tarpon Springs and New Jersey

Occupation: He retired as a brewer from Anheuser-Busch; she is a retired nurse.

Age then: Both 22

Now: 62

Memorable moments (from Mary): We lived about an hour away from Bethel, and because we knew the back roads, we avoided traffic and got there on Friday afternoon on our motorcycle. We were newlyweds; I had just graduated from nursing school . . . We weren't hippies, and most of the people were real young and, I guess, into it, so we were just sitting there with our mouths open. We didn't really fit in, but everyone was so nice and sharing.

All we brought with us was a gallon of wine and a six-pack of beer, thinking we'd buy food there. By Saturday afternoon, they ran out of food, but we traded a sip of wine to strangers for snacks and an occasional hit from a joint being passed around. We did not do other drugs, but saw many people strung out around us.

Would you let your kids go? Our son went to the 25th year reunion. He was 17. We were in Italy for our anniversary, and he goes to the Woodstock reunion. Here he'd been calling us dirtbag hippies for going to Woodstock. He and his friends came back soaking wet. I don't think they even lasted one night.

Thomas Ellwanger

Home: Tampa

Occupation: Retired after 33 years as a lawyer specializing in estate planning at Fowler, White

Age then: 20

Now: 60

Memorable moments: On the way in, my friend purchased some drugs, some kind of acid, and immediately took it, to get in the spirit of things. As a result, I was kind of his keeper for the rest of the weekend.

We set up our tent on the second hillside, and at the bottom of the hill there was this psychedelic, multicolored school bus that was the headquarters of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. We could spot Kesey, he was a big man. They wound up helping a lot of people who had not enough food or too many drugs.

Everybody was sharing. Everybody was nice. I never saw that many freaks in one place.

Would he let his kids go? I would certainly let them go . . . The big moral question I found I faced as a parent was, if you find your child's stash, should you yell at her or smoke it? It's hypocritical to do both.


Marking Woodstock

The 40th anniversary begins Aug. 15. Some notable events:


Taking Woodstock, Oscar-winning director Ang Lee's new movie, in theaters Aug. 28.

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music, Director's Cut (40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition), available now.


Music from the Original Soundtrack and More: Woodstock, two-CD digitally remastered version of the original live album, available now.

Woodstock: 40 Years on: Back to Yasgur's Farm: This 77-song, six-CD set from Rhino Records releases Aug. 18.


Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock by Pete Fornatale: A celebration and oral history of the event by a music historian.

Woodstock: Peace, Music and Memories by Brad Littleproud and Joanne Hague: In addition to recording the original event in words and images, this book offers lots of then-and-now photos.

Woodstock Revisited, edited by Susan Reynolds: Subtitled "50 far-out, groovy, peace-loving, flashback-inducing stories from those who were there."

Woodstock: Three Days That Rocked the World, edited by Mike Evans and Paul Kingsbury: Published in association with the new Museum at Bethel Woods and bearing a foreword by Martin Scorsese.


Woodstock: The 40th Anniversary Re-creation: Community radio station WMNF presents 18 local bands performing some of the original set lists from Woodstock, from 2 p.m. to midnight Aug. 15 at Skipper's Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa. Tickets are $18 in advance, $24 at the door; go to

40 years later, they remember Woodstock 07/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 6:40am]
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