LUTZ — Vivian Barry has tales to tell, if only she’d tell them.
“She’s shy,” husband Bruce Barry said.
His wife could talk about helping to style Jimi Hendrix’s hair, dating a different member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and “a lot more fun stories.”
For Vivian Barry, those memories are personal, about real people she cared for, not characters in stories.
But, on Jan. 24, she agreed to share what it was like to be a 15-year-old at Woodstock in 1969.
Since 2020, the Museum at Bethel Woods, located on the New York site of the first Woodstock and dedicated to preserving the history of the iconic August 1969 music festival, has embarked on a mission to collect oral histories from those who were among the nearly half a million people who attended the three-day concert.
Around 1,200 stories have been collected so far. The audio and video recordings will eventually be archived and available to the public.
That work brought Neal Hitch, senior curator of the museum, on a seven-day trip of Florida, which included a visit to Barry’s Lutz home to film the tale of her colorful peacock-patterned, mirrored Gypsy vest. She was featured wearing it in a Women’s Wear Daily photograph as part of the fashion journal’s coverage of Woodstock.
“Every time we do one of these stories, we collect another small piece of the puzzle,” Hitch said. “Everyone has a very unique story about Woodstock.”
Barry is donating the vest to the museum. She held on to it for 55 years and kept it in near-pristine condition.
“It represents the fashion of that time,” she said. “But it also reminds me of a more peaceful time, when music brought people together. Whenever I thought about Woodstock, I thought of that vest.”
Barry was born in Canada and then lived in New York for a short period before her family moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, where she was raised. But her home was a short train ride back to New York, “so I grew up in The Village,” she said.
In the 1960s, Greenwich Village, a neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan, was the East Coast hub of the counterculture, where poet Allen Ginsberg and artist Andy Warhol could be found. And it’s where, as a teenager, Barry bought that vest and befriended musicians like Bert Sommer, The Who and Richie Havens.
“Jimi Hendrix used to call me his little flower child,” she said. “We were kids who were really into music, so if there was music we were there. Wherever there was a concert, we were there.”
When Woodstock was announced, Barry and her 18-year-old sister, Eileen Gatt, figured they’d bypass purchasing tickets as they did at all concerts — by just showing up and getting word to one of their friends booked at the event.
The sisters told their parents that they were spending a few days with a friend’s grandparents and packed two suitcases — one with clothes and the other with shoes. They took the train to New York and then hitchhiked as close as they could get to the concert.
“Traffic was backed up for miles,” Barry said. “So, we began walking.”
By the time they made it, on the first day of the festival, the gates were already open to all who arrived.
“We just walked right in,” Barry said.
Then came the famed rain that drenched the site.
“We just covered ourselves with blankets,” Barry said. “The rain brought everybody closer together, brought a lot of fun, created a lot of atmosphere.”
After Joan Baez’s set closed Woodstock’s first day, Barry and her sister ventured behind the stage, where they slept in a VW van. “We stumbled upon a group of people who invited us to stay with them,” she said.
The next morning, wet and dirty, the sisters joined others in bathing at an on-site pond, taking with them only a set of clothes each. For Barry, it was jeans and the vest.
“We left the rest of our luggage at the van,” Barry said. “And when we got back, our clothes were all gone. All we had was the shoes.”
They were in the same outfits for the rest of Woodstock, during which time a Women’s Wear Daily photographer snapped a picture of Barry without her knowing.
The sisters eventually got backstage with the help of The Who.
“They had better food than what I was getting outside,” Barry said.
After the festival concluded with Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the sisters stuck around for another day to help clean up. They then hitchhiked home and sneaked inside to shower and change. Their parents heard made-up stories about where they had been.
Barry doesn’t remember if it was days or weeks before a friend mailed her a Women’s Wear Daily page that had a photograph of her at Woodstock. As she looked at it, Barry’s mom peered over her shoulder and instantly recognized the vest.
“Busted,” Barry said, laughing. For punishment, “she made us clean the house.”
This past November, Barry and her husband visited the Museum at Bethel Woods.
“I became very sentimental,” she said. “I talked to young kids who were in awe that I was there.”
Barry met Hitch, who invited her to be a part of the oral history project.
“I realized that the museum is where the vest belongs,” she said. “I’d take it out at home from time to time to show people, but very rarely. Now, kids can see it at the museum and maybe better understand what Woodstock meant.”