Nobody back in the 1960s or 1970s could have imagined anything this fucking awful—Joan Baez, on America during the age of Trump
The Woodstock 50 extravaganza crashed like an overburdened shuttle copter somewhere between Maryland and organizer Michael Lang’s attorney’s offices. But Woodstock Nation crashed many years ago.
First, the planned anniversary concert. It was a dumb idea from the get-go. Not only since you can’t replicate—or pretend you’re not replicating while trying to replicate—the original 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair festival, either musically or sociologically. But doing so in an age when the host country of America is a global village idiot is beyond laughable.
Maybe it’s come down to getting stoned on corporate-sponsor beer and flashing the peace sign while posing for social media selfies. The peace sign used to mean something, but I guess we needed a war to remind us.
And Woodstock Nation? I’ve seen the documentary of the original Woodstock multiple times. It is a strange experience for one who shares the ideals of many of the organizers and festivalgoers, in theory if not always in practice.
The music, of course, is always a rush. Richie Havens singing of “Handsome Johnny” marching to the Concord war, with skeletal scaffolding and descending chopper framing his intensity. Or Joe Cocker screaming his lungs out in front of his half-million friends. And a former army paratrooper, delivering the most searing and honest version ever of “The Star-Spangled Banner”…honest because there were no words or sentimentalities to muck it up, and the song is open to interpretation, although I think I know what he was saying.
But outside of that…well, one minute I have tears welling up at the innocent promise of that incredible weekend. And in the next, my head is in my hands, sad and disgusted at how that promise was frittered away, with hard drugs, disco, and Reaganomics, with yuppies snoring and snorting and stashing their wealth while the vulgarians stampeded through the gate.
No, I didn’t expect a subculture could change the world overnight, or do it without making mistakes along the way. But like Baez said, no one could have foreseen the backlash that caused this.
In 1969, I was too young to pilgrimage to Bethel without being listed a missing child or runaway. But like many, I’ve visited numerous times in my mind: pitching a tent in green trees behind Filippini Pond; hammering nails through the night to prepare the stage; rolling joints backstage with Jerry Garcia; serving granola and smiles with Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm; searching for Holly and Wheat Germ’s medicine bag…all the while unearthing directional arrows for the adult path ahead of me.
Now that I’m a grandfather and see nothing but a landscape of mud and garbage awaiting my grandkids, I ask myself: have we lost all our directional arrows? Are we insane, stupid, greedy, or all the above? To find “the garden,” will I have to wait till I mix my ashes with those of Richie Havens? And if so, will the vulgarians put up a gun shop or Chick-fil-A along Hurd Road in view of Richie and me?
All we can do is continue to hope for fewer slogans chanted and more trees planted. Hope for fewer concealed-carry classes and more Kundalini yoga classes. Fewer Animal Farms and more Hog Farms. Fewer police forces and more Please Forces.
Then, maybe after another 50 years, we’ll have finally gotten ourselves back to the garden.
By then, I’ll be long time gone.