Archive | August 2009

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.

Woodstock 1969: I was there with my paintings. Now if only I could prove it!

 

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

Yes, there was actually an art show!

Would you believe I won second prize in the art show at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in August, 1969? Would you believe that was the event’s official name, and that there was actually an art show? There was, and I was in it, but I have only my memories to prove it – along with an uncollected ticket I collaged into a painting I did after the event. This month, with all the hype surrounding the 40th anniversary of the festival, I’ve vowed to track down some film or photographic documentation of the art show that included my paintings. Several of them are stored in my basement garage, and I’d like to find them a home more worthy of their fabled history.

In June of 1969, I was living alone in a loft on Broome Street, in the lower Manhattan district that had only recently become known as SoHo, when I learned of the upcoming festival that would come to be called Woodstock. There was an article in the Village Voice, saying a number of terrific bands were already signed up. The organizers were planning an art show as well, and were accepting entries. I’d been painting up a storm for several years, ever since earning my MFA at Columbia University, and the event sounded like a great opportunity to exhibit my huge, vividly colored paintings with their images of rock stars and social protest. I registered immediately, then teamed up with an artist I’d exhibited with in an East Village gallery who had a van big enough to hold my work.

By the time we got to Woodstock . . .

Flash forward to Friday, August 15. With help from his wife, we jammed the van full of our paintings and got an early morning start. Within a few miles of the festival site in Bethel, traffic slowed to a crawl, but it was still moving. Despite my avant garde life style, I still had a cautious streak, and I’d had the foresight to book a nearby motel room using my parents’ American Express card. We dropped off my clothes, then continued at a snail’s pace to the site. Since we were exhibitors, they waved our van through, then assigned us our spaces atop a gently rolling hill that was an easy walk from the stage. Each artist’s area was partitioned off by white canvas that billowed in the breeze.

By late afternoon I had my paintings up and wired to the metal framework to keep them from sailing away on a sudden gust of wind. There were few prospective customers, so as Richie Havens took the stage for the first set of the festival, I wandered downhill with my blanket and staked out a spot a couple of hundred feet from the stage. The crowd was building steadily, but navigating between the tarps and blankets was still easy, so after Swami Satchidananda’s invocation, I went back to check on my paintings.

My toughest teacher flies in to pass judgment

Judging of the art show was in progress, and to my amazement, I found myself suddenly face to face with Stephen Greene, my drawing instructor from the Columbia MFA program. As a teacher, he’d been my nemesis – he didn’t like my work, and gave me only B’s. Like the rest of the faculty, he was an abstract painter, but the others were more benign. Since I was stubbornly figurative, and my graduate exhibit consisted primarily of life-size paintings of the Beatles, they didn’t know what to do with me. To this day I’m convinced they awarded me the MFA simply to get rid of me. The only artistic advice I remember from that year was Robert Motherwell’s: “It helps to have a drink before you go into the studio.”

Now here was Stephen Greene, standing atop the hill in front of my paintings. They’d flown him and the other judges in by helicopter, he said. Nattily attired in a shirt, tie, and camel’s hair blazer that was far too warm for the day, he looked as if he belonged on Madison Avenue, not this rolling farmland with its thousands of hippies. “What the fuck am I doing here?” he said with a shake of his head.

 (to be continued)

Where do books go to die? Find out in my poem on library sales.

Bookstore with cat

In last week’s discussion of print-on-demand technology and self-publishing, several folks commented that the new POD technology is far more environmentally friendly than older technologies. I wonder how many thousands of trees per year sacrifice their lives to produce the thousands of printed works no one buys, that end up on remainder tables and in landfills. Even those that once found a home and presumably a reader often end up consigned to library sales.

I’m an avid patron of these sales. I like the heft, the feel and the reader-friendly larger fonts of hard-cover books, and I usually come away with a couple of cartons of mysteries to tide me over till the next sale. I’ve puzzled over why most of the books for sale are by big-name writers. Is it that no one bought the mid-list and lesser known writers, or did they perhaps buy the books and decide that they were keepers? In today’s post, I’m sharing a poem I wrote about some of my speculations.

Library Sale

 

How many books can you cram in a Hannaford bag?

There’s no official number, but beware –

the putty-colored plastic splits

when poundage passes certain limits.

Grab a box of rice, Ritz crackers, maybe Wheat Thins

if you worry about your waistline.

All approximate the average novel

bound between hard covers.

 

Oh, but the weight of words on paper

far exceeds the carbohydrate calories

in their cheerful colored boxes.

Books have heft. Their corners thrust against

the filmy, flesh-toned plastic, struggling to escape.

Better to double bag them. That’s allowed,

on bag sale day in affluent East Greenbush.

 

Twelve books per bag, at least, for just a dollar

on this final day, this final hour.

How can I lose? If I don’t like the book,

or even if I do, once read, I’ll throw it in the trash,

rather than clutter up my house with more forgotten words.

Less than a dime a book – what else comes so cheap?

 

Watching the greedy throngs grab bargains

from the folding tables, scanning author photos

that smile beguilingly from backs of dusty jackets,

I think about the lifespan of these books,

whether someone paid list or bought at discount,

and why they wound up here.

I ask a volunteer what happens to the rejects,

the ones that no one bags. She says they’re destined for

the dumpster, then probably a landfill miles away. 

 

And so these books may predecease their authors.

I picture them entombed with tons of garbage

in rolling manmade hills, decaying,

billions of words struck soundless

as seagulls wheel and scream

above the dump.

 

©Julie Lomoe 2006

This is the first time I’ve shared my poetry on this blog. I’ve been writing fiction longer than poetry, but I find the two complement each other in many ways. For me, poetry is a more spontaneous form of self-expression, a way of processing my thoughts and feelings. It’s not tied in to my more grandiose ambitions as a writer, since publication isn’t a major goal. There’s immediate gratification in spending a couple of afternoon hours writing a poem, then going out to read it that same evening at an open mic in a local pub or coffee house. These venues are generally congenial: people never put you down or reject your work, and they always applaud. And I’m convinced the poetry process has helped me hone my skills as a writer of fiction.

Would you like to read more of my poetry here? Would you be interested in a post about my poetic process? Please let me know. And check out my blog Wednesday, when I’ll write about my experience as an artist at the 1969 Woodstock Festival of Music and Art.