Woodstock 1969, Part II: Stuck in the muck for 16 straight hours of music

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

The cliff hanger ending of the first post in my 1969 Woodstock Festival saga left me standing next to my paintings at the art show on the hilltop a couple of hundred yards from the stage, early on Friday evening. Country Joe McDonald was playing by then, and I’d just come face to face with Stephen Greene, my dreaded drawing instructor from the MFA program at Columbia University. As one of the judges, he’d been flown in by helicopter. On Saturday afternoon, I learned I’d been awarded second prize in the art show, and a month or two later, I received a modest check and a congratulatory letter from the promoters of the festival. I hope I can unearth that letter somewhere in my files, since it will help verify my presence and that of my paintings at the legendary event.

By Friday evening, attendance at the art show had slacked off considerably. By now the sloping terrain that formed a natural amphitheater around the stage was jammed with thousands of people. Wandering around was becoming more and more difficult, and folks were reluctant to desert the territory they’d staked out with their tarps and blankets. When the refreshing drizzle segued into steadier rain, I stashed my paintings in the van, then  hunkered down on my beach towel through a number of acts. Midway through Ravi Shankar’s set, I decided to walk back to my motel several miles away. I was soaked to the skin and my feet were beginning to blister where my leather sandals rubbed the wrong way, but the few hours’ sleep in a clean dry bed were worth the aggravation.

For Saturday’s trek back to the festival site, I switched to my Zori sandalsSantana at Woodstock 1969 (that’s what we called flip flops back then.) The day was hot and sunny, and the walk seemed endless, but at last, while Santana played a blistering set, I set up my paintings on the hillside once more. Then I headed down into the mob with my beach towel. By now the crowd was the sea of jam-packed bodies that’s become the iconic image of the festival. I managed to sandwich myself in a few hundred feet from the stage, and there I stayed for the next 16 hours.

Yes, that’s right – sixteen (16) hours. By now moving was impossible. The porta-potties might as well have been miles away, and as for the food stands, forget about it – they were out of food anyway. I’d brought something to eat and drink – maybe bread, cheese, and fruit, I forget – but it was soon gone. And as for peeing, I didn’t. Not even once. Looking back, reflecting on the current state of my plumbing, that’s inconceivable, but my body must have gone into emergency shut-down survival mode. Somehow all the bodily discomforts didn’t bother me. Sometimes I sat, sometimes I stood or danced, sometimes I lay down and closed my eyes, but never once did I leave that soggy, filthy beach towel.

And I wasn’t stoned. The people around me shared a few tokes, the way we shared juice or water, but drugs weren’t a major part of the picture, at least for me. I wasn’t puritanical – I just wasn’t particularly interested, nor was I there to pick up guys. By now the art show was pretty much a lost cause, and I was there for the music, as were thousands of others. Maybe the seriously stoned folks stayed on the periphery of the crowd, but I believe that aspect of the experience may have been blown out of proportion over the years.

The Who - Early Sunday morning

The Who - Early Sunday morning

As for the music, it just kept getting better. The Grateful Dead were off their game, but Janis Joplin was incredible. By late Saturday night, I realized getting back to the motel would be pointless, even if it were remotely possible, so I just lay down on my few square feet of towel. Sometime around 2:00 a.m. I drifted off to sleep, only to be awakened by people jumping up and down dangerously near my head while Sly and the Family Stone exhorted them to “Stand” and “Dance to the Music.” Fortunately I was wide awake by the time The Who came on for a two-hour set. Musically, spiritually and esthetically, hearing and seeing them perform their rock opera “Tommy” as the sky lightened and the sun rose on Sunday morning was my peak experience of the weekend.

Then came Jefferson Airplane, terrific as always. Toward the end of their set, I decided I’d better check on my paintings, which I’d left unattended overnight. There they still were, anchored safely in place and undamaged on the hilltop. There too, unfortunately, was the artist who’d driven the van. He and his wife wanted to leave, he said – they had to get back to work Monday morning and they couldn’t stand the thought of another potentially endless traffic jam. Without much of a choice, I packed up my paintings and we left, with a stop at the motel to pick up the overnight bag of clothes I’d never used. The trip back to SoHo was uneventful and anticlimactic – I think I slept most of the way.

So what did it all mean? Did Woodstock change my life, and how do I feel about it 40 years later? That’ll be the subject of my next post. I hope you’ll check back then, and as always, I welcome your comments in the meantime.

11 thoughts on “Woodstock 1969, Part II: Stuck in the muck for 16 straight hours of music

  1. Hmmm. I can only guess you were dangerously dehydrated, Julie. At that age, I guess, our bodies could take it. I can’t remember that far back, and I definitely can’t imagine sixteen hours of staying in one place like you did.

    Very interesting story to me, since I was totally out of touch.

  2. I was only seven during Woodstock and was still listening to the Monkees and the Partridge Family then. But I’ve been fascinated by Woodstock since I was about 10-12 when my musical tastes evolved and I started listening to all these bands. I’ve seen a few of them over the years including the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Santana. Great posts. Awesome.

    Stephen Tremp

  3. Julie, can’t tell you how I am enjoying these posts about Woodstock. It is my era as well, and even though I was in NY, I didn’t participate in things like that. Wish I had! Your writing makes me feel as if I’m right there with you. Thanks for these memories.

  4. Thanks to Patricia, Nancy, Elizabeth, Jane and Stephen for your appreciative comments. I’m glad you BBT folks are still loyal readers, and I’ll stop by your blogs soon. For other readers: these writers all have wonderful blogs of their own, and I hope you’ll visit them!

    Logging on this morning, I found I’ve passed another milestone in my stats – 4,224 hits to date. I appreciate all those visits, although I don’t know who most of you are.

    I’ll be posting my “what does it all mean” Woodstock piece on Wednesday. But I’ve got a lot more tales of the sixties – like the time Jimi Hendrix bought me a screwdriver and took my phone number. So I may keep blogging in this vein for awhile!

  5. Hi Julie, that’s the most specific account of the music that I have heard or read. Sounds like you had an amazing experience. It’s the only thing I’ve ever read that makes me wish I had been there. Bob.

  6. Your writings and memories are wonderful. I have watched the Woodstock movie-Directors Cut, now my fourth time this week. Looked up internet accounts, history, band members, etc. Can’t get enough. I was only 8 then, and had no idea it was going on then. I do remember when we landed on the moon though. Just absorbing as much info on the time of “peace and love”. Humanity needs to always remember, and learn from our past. Although the world had problems then too, as we do now; they are different but we still have them; we could all make a better day to remember and live as what occured on that special weekend. I’m a musician, I understand the creative side. Lil brother is in FT. Worth, an artist. Its in our blood. You might like his work. Farrisart.com Thank you again for your accounts.

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