On August 4, 2009, I returned at last to the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival in Bethel, NY,
which I had attended when I was 17. I
was with Marc Mahuzier, a reporter at large for the French
daily Ouest-France, which circulates to 800,000 in the Brittany-Normandy
region. Mahuzier interviewed me for an August 15 press story, about my experience at Woodstock, took
pictures, and filmed me standing on the gravel patch where the stage
had been playing an fingerstyle acoustic guitar version of Jimi Hendrix's Red House to
the ghosts of Woodstock. It
felt strange being there-as Mahuzier observed, the former cow
pasture where the largest concert audience ever assembled in one
place once sat stoned digging the best rock music of the day is now a well-kept lawn,
looking more like a golf course than the place where the 1960s
counterculture reached its crest. At first I thought the scene sterile and
wondered what had become of the hippy zeitgeist. But as I lingered,
people came in a steady stream to the small Woodstock monument that
sits on the northwest corner of the grounds to see the place where
history was made and pay silent homage to the ideal of peace and love.
Marc Mahuzier's story, which appears below, was
translated from the original French by Mary
Wojtyk and edited by me.- G.W.
the video clip of me playing Red House at Bethel Woods.
View the original story (in French).
15-16 August 2009
The Story - Forty Years Afterwards, Glenn, "The Old Hippie," Returns
The organizers expected 35,000 people. Instead, there were close to
a half-million. From the 15th to the 17th of August, 1969, the
American festival of Woodstock was a world-renowned event, and the
climax of the hippie movement. Glenn Weiser is back on the grounds
where he witnessed "Three days of love and peace".
BETHEL WOODS (From our
Special Correspondent) - He is standing in the middle of the field,
with his massive silhouette thickened by the guitar strung over his
back. With one hand, he points to a patch of the grass: "This is
where I was sitting throughout the concert. Our tent was over there,
at the other corner of the woods." About fifty meters away, there
was a gravel rectangle, like a small parking lot. There was the
scene-a place of magic where for three days, the cream of rock music
played. The dazzling Hendrix, the six-months-pregnant Joan Baez,
Santana with his drummer prodigy, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, Nash
and Young, Alvin Lee, the Who, Credence Clearwater Revival, Janis
Joplin, Canned Heat. We embraced the ground they walked upon.
Glenn Weiser was one
of the 450,000 youths who participated in Woodstock, that festival
that lasted the 15th, 16th and 17th of July 1969, and yet echoed
around the entire planet. Moved by the pilgrimage that took him
back after forty years, he gazed at the amphitheater-shaped hill.
With its grass closely cropped and its fences in good repair, the
place looks like a golf course now. "When I left this place it was a
cow field. Today, it looks like a lawn!," commented the old hippie,
who has since become a guitar teacher, specializing in Celtic and
American roots music.
At the time, Glenn was
17 years old. He had long hair down to his mid-back and protested
against the war in Vietnam. The son of an aeronautical engineer, he
was from the small New Jersey town of Glen Rock. "Everyone knew
about the festival. The radio stations never stopped talking about
it." On Thursday the 14th,
in the afternoon, after having obtained parental consent, he hopped
into an old Chevy belonging to Sergio, the brother of his Argentine
girlfriend Patricia. Another one of her brothers, Claudio, was ready
for the expedition. They brought camping gear, food - which they
barely touched - and diverse illicit substances including acid
(LSD), marijuana, hashish - which they made liberal use of, during
those "three days of love and peace".
"We each had thirty
dollars to get in. But when we arrived, the gates had been taken
down, and we no longer needed it." Coming from the south, they had
evaded the gigantic bottleneck of traffic that had shut down the
main highway through New York State. Such an event was previously
unheard of. Once the tent was planted, the small group took their
place in the crowd.
"From where we were, we could see the whole scene pretty well. The
sound was good, and not too loud despite the huge towers of
The memories of my friend Glenn are a mix of precision and fog.
"The hashish and marijuana were going around. We also passed around
some cheap red wine in jugs." He remembers these benefits with great
detail, but could not recall who played when, or whether it was
night or day. More than anything, it was the ambiance that left a
"It was more than
friendly: it was brotherly, as if we were all followers of the same
religion. I have never found that again." Each person helped one
another. Glenn passed the rainstorm that deluged the festival on
Saturday afternoon under an improvised canopy made of ponchos and
pieces of plastic. He was also struck by the incredibly huge
crowd. "In every little town like Glen Rock, there were a handful of
hippies. They were on the fringe. Me, I horrified my parents with my
long hair, and, to them, strange beliefs. But at Woodstock, there
were a half-million of us. For the first time, we realized that the
counterculture was a powerful movement in the country, and that we
could truly change things."
In the following years,
Max Yasgur, owner of the farm on which the festival took place, ran
the diary as before. In
1984, a small monument bearing the names of the performers was
placed at the site to honor the event. It wasn't until 2000 that a museum
opened on the grounds, and the land became officially open to
visitors. Unfortunately, it does not attract large crowds, even in
this anniversary summer. Only a steady trickle of the curious and
the nostalgic - old hippies with gray pony-tails - come to the site
and walk around the field as if visiting a hallowed battleground.
For today, Glenn has
chosen to live out a dream of his own. At the spot where the gods of
rock once played, he has taken out his guitar and rips into "Red
House", by Jimi Hendrix, for an invisible public. Ah, Jimi! "He
was the greatest. Not just a virtuoso; a creative genius!" At
Woodstock, Hendrix had played last, on the Monday morning.
"Most of the crowd had gone, and we weren't more than 30,000. But I
Photos: (Top) Me
beside the Woodstock Monument, which bears the names of musicians and groups
who performed in 1969. In the background on the left is the gravel patch
where the stage stood; at right is the sloping field where nearly a
half-million gathered. (Below) At the monument with
fellow festival attendee Duke Devlin, the famously who came to
Bethel in August 1969 and never left. He now
works for the Bethel Woods museum as the festival "interpreter."
Among Devlin's Zen-like quips that day was, "We're here because
we're not all there." Looking at the photo of us, it's hard to