Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Ken Levine Headshot

Woodstock from Someone Who Wasn't There

Posted: Updated:

This is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. 500,000 long-haired stoned members of my generation attended this three-day open air music festival. I was not one of them. But at least I admit it. For every person who attended there was another thousand who said they attended but really spent that weekend doing chores for mom. And while half a million rain soaked, bathroom deprived hippies grooved on three days of love and understanding, I was in LA bombarded by news updates on the Charles Manson murders.

I did see the movie Woodstock that came out the next year. Jesus, did that scene look crowded! And uncomfortable! Yeah, Hendrix and Janis were great, but good God, I'd have to go three days without a toilet! I always thought the tagline for the film should have been, "Great Music! Stereophonic Sound! Clean Rest Rooms!"

But like I said, anyone who was east of the Mississippi in the summer of '69 says they attended Woodstock. In fairness, some who didn't were probably so loaded they thought they were there. When their favorite Woodstock act was Lady Gaga that's a clue.

But one friend of mine claimed he was there and I believe him. Why? Because this is what he said, "Most of the time the music was really bad." Everyone remembers the headliners -- Crosby, Stills, & Nash, the Who, Joe Cocker -- but there were a lot of no-name bands that screeched through endless sets. Again, I wasn't there so I didn't hear for myself, but there's probably a reason the movie didn't include Quill (doing a 40 minute set consisting of four songs), the Keef Hartley Band, the Grease Band, and six or seven other headliners that died on the editing room floor. He said at times it was also hard to hear and impossible to see. There'd be hippies staggering around completely lost. Babies screaming, people talking through the music.

Another person I know was there was Grace Slick, lead singer of Jefferson Airplane. As luck would have it, I met her Friday night at the radio station. What a cool lady. She said the groups were housed at a nearby motel and airlifted by helicopter to a field behind the stage. So for most of the festival she watched bored musicians shoot pool.

She and the "plane" arrived on the scene at 9 pm, but the program was running just a tad long. They didn't get on stage until 6 am. Not the best time, I would imagine, to perform rock n' roll. But she thought it was an incredible experience and seeing 500,000 people from the air was a sight she'll never forget.

Amazingly, there were only two deaths. One from an overdose (duh!) and the other was run-over by a tractor. But considering the number of people, in such close quarters, with precious little food and shelter, the fact that there weren't riots and chaos and new Scientology chapters says a lot about my ge-ge-generation.

Woodstock was a statement of peace (I think it was made just before the Sha-na-na set). And a declaration of unity. Whether we were there or not I'm sure we'd all like to go there now -- to recapture those old feelings, to feel a sense of shared purpose, to buy a summer home we could escape to on the weekends.

And read Ken's blog here.