Woodstock in Washington

02/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Part of what made the inauguration such an extraordinary experience is that it felt so different from other times I've been part of large crowds. I always seemed to be gathering in huge human masses because I was AGAINST something. A war. A president. A policy. I don't remember gathering in such numbers when I was FOR something.

This event was all about politics; and yet in some ways it wasn't. In a sense it was as far as you could get from politics. It reminded me of Woodstock -- even though I wasn't there.

It might seem odd to compare a music festival on a dairy farm out in the country -- to the inauguration of a president in the middle of the city. Yet I think the comparison holds up. And here's why.

I was in Europe during the summer of 1969; and I always regretted missing the chance to attend what was maybe the signature event of my generation. In some ways I think the Obama inauguration could be the signature event of my children's generation, so I'm grateful my son was there to witness it, too.

People all over America heard the siren call -- and flocked to the Mall the way they flocked to Woodstock 40 years ago. People knew they would not get close enough to the stage to touch or see or even hear Janis Joplin. The way two million people knew they would never come close to seeing Barack Obama, even on a Jumbotron. Yet still they wanted, even needed to be there. To bear witness. To be part of something big.

I'm not trying to imply that Woodstock compares to the the magnitude or importance of a presidential inauguration. But it did turn out to be more than just a concert. It was a moment in time that expressed the mood of a generation.

At Woodstock, the mood was peace. The mood was love. The mood was coming together. And that's what I experienced in Washington: Peace. Love. Coming together.

In the election of Barack Obama, the mood of fear and anger that has gripped our country for eight years seems to have vanished overnight. At least for now.

I'm a classic worry wart. Standing surrounded by a crush of thousands of people, normally I would have felt a little threatened. Or nervous that I would get caught up in one of those riots at soccer games or sports events when people get trampled.

On the surface there was reason to worry. As I waited on line to get onto the Capitol lawn, I was part of a mob -- and nowhere in sight was a cop, a soldier or even an official volunteer. No ropes. Not even a traffic cone. There were just people. Lots of them.

But no one was rioting. No one was trampling. No one was shoving. Instead, they were talking. They were smiling. They were singing. Everything from Beatles songs to America the Beautiful.

I've traveled all over this country and seen all its most beautiful sights. Yet I've never seen anything to compare with what I saw in Washington that better defines America the Beautiful.

The problems at Woodstock became legend -- not enough toilets, the lack of creature comforts. The problems at the inauguration are already becoming legend -- people with tickets never got through the gates, people were turned away from overcrowded Metro stations. But you don't hear of people getting hurt. Or violent. In Washington this week, despite monumental logistical glitches, people handled things calmly. Everyone, everywhere was happy. Mellow.

Everyone was mellow at Woodstock, too -- they were high. Even those who hadn't personally taken any drugs -- were breathing them in through the air.

And the same was true in Washington. At the inauguration of Barack Obama, all you had to do was breathe the air -- to be instantly intoxicated. In Washington, people were high -- on hope.