With the tragedies and major headlines of last week, an important birthday quietly slipped by most of us.
Woodstock turned 45.
An estimated 400,000 concert-goers turned out for the three-day festival of love, music, and mud in 1969 to tune in and drop out. In the decades since, the number of attendees has multiplied by 10 or so.
But Don Eggenschwiler really was there.
And, no, he didn’t take the brown acid.
Eggenschwiler, a 67-year-old retired chemistry teacher who taught at Sylvania Southview High School for 37 years, was a 22-year-old student at the University of Toledo when he read a bulletin-board notice drawn like a guitar advertising an “art and music festival.”
His curiosity piqued and excited for a weekend’s worth of entertainment, he and two male and two female college acquaintances loaded up in an old Ford Econoline van with no air conditioning, crank windows that barely worked, and a back door they were afraid would fly open on the highway for a long drive to Bethel, N.Y., the site of the festival.
Eggenschwiler said he initially pictured Woodstock to be “taking a long walk looking at paintings and maybe hippie girls playing their flutes.”
What he found was far different ... and much worse.
“I can remember you were never absent from the smell of feces, vomit, urine. Very seldom were you not hungry or very thirsty,” he said. “The bathroom facilities were almost nonexistent.”
So much for mythologizing Woodstock.
And yet, simply mentioning he was at the event Rolling Stone magazine declared one of the 50 moments that changed rock and roll is enough to bring nostalgic smiles and curiosity from those of us too young to be a part of it.
But Eggenschwiler is having none of that.
“Everyone makes such a big deal out of it, like I walked on the moon or something,” he said. “But you want to know the truth, after all these years … 60 or 70 percent of what I remember is misery.”
Of course, there were some wonderful moments, he said: The rousing late-night performance of Sly and the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix’s legendary performance, for example.
More than the music, though, Eggenschwiler recalls the friendliness of it all — thousands and thousands of strangers converged on a small farm and suffered through torrential rain and the cold, lack of food and water, bad trips and bad stomachs, traffic jams and mud, and looked out for each other.
Woodstock really was a place of peace and love.
“We had it together in terms of one world getting along, kind of like the John Lennon song ‘Imagine’ … everybody got along and everybody helped everybody. ‘Hey man, do you need anything?’ I must of heard that a million times.
“ ‘People helping people.’ That’s what I want people to think about in terms of Woodstock: giving and not just me, me, me.”
And for those of us not there, check out the ambitious documentary that chronicled the event, Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music, newly released in a 45th anniversary edition on Blu-ray, featuring the nearly four-hour director’s cut of the film as well as never-before-seen performances by Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Jefferson Airplane, and the Who, among others.
The Woodstock documentary is one trip worth taking.
No brown acid required.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.
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