Saturday Reads and Views: Escape into 1960s Nostalgia

Woodstock Before the Music Began, by Eliott Landy

Woodstock Before the Music Began, by Eliott Landy

Good Morning!!

I must be getting to be an old lady, because this morning I just want to escape into the past. I guess the past wasn’t really all that much better than the present, except that I know how it all turned out. In the present, we’re facing so many challenges as a nation that it really feels overwhelming to me.

I don’t need to enumerate all that’s happening; you know it as well as I do. We’re stagnating economically and politically and one political party is determined to keep any progress whatsoever from happening and the other political party is in thrall to Wall Street and the corporations. And then there’s the NSA scandal, which really has me flummoxed. I don’t like the notion of domestic spying, but I’m very troubled by the way the battle over it is being fought. I’ll try to write a post on that sometime when I’m feeling better.

Today I’m feeling very low energy–I seem to have caught a summer cold from one of my nephews and all I want to do is sleep or watch junky movies on TV. Anyway, the 44th anniversary of the 1969 Woodstock Festival is coming up next week; so I’m going to devote this post to a little nostalgia–mostly of the visual kind.

The event that was originally billed as the “Woodstock Music and Art Fair: Three days of Peace and Music” opened on August 15, 1969 and ran until August 18. Here are some basic facts about what happened there from the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts


* The community was not prepared for the crowds that began arriving. By Thursday, August 14, much of the area had become an enormous traffic jam.

* The festival officially began just after 5pm on Friday, August 15, 1969, and the day’s events ended shortly after 2am the next day.

* On Saturday, August 16, the festival began at noon and ended after The Who played a 24 song set that started at 3am.

* Jimi Hendrix played what many consider to be the festival highlight, on Monday, August 18, when only 35,000 people — a small fraction of the crowd — remained.

* Some residents did not embrace the crowds, yet others welcomed the visitors, supplying them with free food and water when it was apparent that Food For Love, the festival concessionaire, was not prepared to feed the massive crowd that gathered.

* The Hog Farm commune of New Mexico, hired to build a campsite on the grounds for attendees, opened the Free Kitchen serving macrobiotic, vegetarian meals.

* First aid at the festival was provided by the Woodstock medical crew in a field hospital located near the stage. The team tended minor accidents, food poisoning and an epidemic of cut feet since so many were going barefoot.

* A “freak out tent” was established for those suffering bad trips.

* Some concert goers treasured the festival as an adventure that changed their lives.

* Others found it nothing but a messy, dirty, disorganized debacle. But no matter what their experiences, Woodstock was undeniably unforgettable.


The music began with a stunning performance by Richie Havens, who died in April at age 72. From The New York Times:

Richie Havens, who marshaled a craggy voice, a percussive guitar and a soulful sensibility to play his way into musical immortality at Woodstock in 1969, improvising the song “Freedom” on the fly, died on Monday at his home in Jersey City. He was 72.

The cause was a heart attack, his agent, Tim Drake, said.

Mr. Havens embodied the spirit of the ’60s — espousing peace and love, hanging out in Greenwich Village and playing gigs from the Isle of Wight to the Fillmore (both East and West) to Carnegie Hall. He surfaced only in the mid-1960s, but before the end of the decade many rock musicians were citing him as an influence. His rendition of “Handsome Johnny” became an anti-Vietnam War anthem.

You can see a list of the other performers at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts site linked above. Next week a tribute to Havens will be held at the site of the original festival. USA Today:

Folk singer Richie Havens will receive a musical tribute Aug. 18, the 44th anniversary of the final day of the 1969 Woodstock festival.

The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a music venue built on the Woodstock site in Bethel, N.Y., will host a musical tribute for the late singer-guitarist and his ashes will be scattered across the grounds, according to Billboard.

According to The New York Times, Havens requested that his ashes be scattered there from a plane.

The concert, “Back to the Garden: A Day of Song and Remembrance Honoring Richie Havens,” will be open to the public and will feature musical performances by José Feliciano, John Hammond and John Sebastian, among others. The actors Danny Glover and Louis Gossett Jr. are scheduled to speak.

The scattering of the ashes by air is fitting, as Mr. Havens, along with his guitarist and drummer, were flown in via helicopter to perform at the last minute at Woodstock while the scheduled opening act, the folk-rock band Sweetwater, was stuck in traffic.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

And now a little more nostalgia–of the sartorial kind–from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which is showing an exhibit called “Hippie Chic,” from July 16 to November 11.

Of course the clothes on display aren’t real hippie garb; they’re designer duds, but they’re gorgeous and colorful–enough to pull me up out of my funk for a bit.

Here’s a writeup on the show from WBUR at Boston University: When High Fashion Inhaled The ’60s—’Hippie Chic’ At MFA.

Some fun facts about hippie fashion courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts’ eye-popping, psychedelic 1960s fashion showcase “Hippie Chic”: Secret compartments in your metal jewelry could conceal your birth control pills; secret pockets in the collar of your Native American-style fringed suede jacket could hide your “stash”; and around the time Neil Armstrong was making that first “one small step” on the moon, Halston was dabbling in tie-dye and Yves Saint Laurent was experimenting with crazy quilting.

“Hippie Chic” (465 Huntington Ave., Boston, through Nov. 11) rounds up 54 ensembles dating from about 1968 to ’76—mainly from the MFA’s collection, but augmented by some loans—to show how fabulous fashions from the Age of Aquarius were interpreted by the era’s high-end design houses.

MFA curator Lauren Whitley’s eye is on influences—how hippies, and their haute couture imitators, drew inspiration from Middle Eastern caftans; Native American fringe, leather and ribbons; homefront styles of World War II; 19th century gingham pioneer dresses; Renaissance jackets and breeches.

Recycling the past was part of how hippies sought to expand their minds, to find better ways of living, as they dreamed up a utopian future. The youth movement was, of course, a wellspring of the sexual revolution, feminism, gay rights, environmentalism, drug experimentation, anti-Vietnam War protests, personal computers, the Internet, and a general anti-establishment bent. Make love, not war, man. Speaking of recycling, remove unwanted servers from your Office, sell your used servers for electronic recycling. For fair pricing, contact Tech Waste Recycling here.

Here’s a sampling from the show:



02. Pair of womans shoes_Rodarte



A couple more links with photos:

The Well-Appointed Catwalk: Hippie Chic at the MFA Boston

Boston Magazine: The Summer of Sartorial Love

I’ll end with a Woodstock anthem:

What’s on your mind today? Are you living in the present moment or longing for the past or an alternate future? And as always, please share your links to any stories of interest to you in the comment thread.