Saturday, August 15, 2009

Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music…and Food?

As much as we’d like to believe it, the hippies and radicals of the sixties did not survive on peace, love, and happiness alone. This weekend, on the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock, when most are thinking about the music and momentous event, it is curious to contemplate what the people at Woodstock actually ate during the three days of peace and music that took place in Bethel, New York from August 15–17, 1969. I recently interviewed one individual who attended Woodstock, and he had some interesting recollections of food at the concert:

“I had tickets, $18.00 I think, for three days—Friday through Sunday. My twentieth birthday was on Thursday. We had heard that they limited the sale of tickets— I don’t remember how many were available, but the tickets were easy to get and concession stands and port-o-sans would be available, as well as ample camping grounds.

To be sure we got there we left the Bronx in the Volks at about 5 am on Friday. I’m not sure how far it was—or exactly where it was. We brought a cooler with beer and sandwiches for the day and cash for the concession stands.

Friday was folk music day and I liked that—I wanted to hear Richie Havens, Tim Hardin, and Joan Baez. By the time we got off Route 17 around Monticello—that was it—we simply stopped moving miles away. We ate the sandwiches while waiting, and that was the end of the food we brought as I knew it.

I left the car—to walk and see how long the wait was—and that was the end of my connection with the folks I went with.

We had a plastic tent and sleeping bags. It was so crazy—I never got back to car and never saw my friends again.

And as far as food goes—on Friday night I went to the concession stands and stood on line, in the dark and a light rain, I guess for about an hour. And they spread the word—no more food unless for an emergency. Strange feeling, but it was about 1 am and Joan Baez was coming on.

Then for no reason folks just began passing around food—chips, bread, water in jugs. From the stage a guy announced that we should share what we had, and everyone just did—imagine. All sorts of food was everywhere that night. Some were grilling hot dogs and handing them out. Others had candy bars. Amazing, really, to this day

Saturday morning was tough. What I remember most was being up all night and it was like a sticky, smelly jungle. The port-o-sans were really unusable, and the music wasn't going to start till noon, but it wasn't raining.

I walked into the hills to look for my friends. Instead there were trucks and flatbeds—I still don’t know how they got there. But, food was being handed out. There were paper cups of something called granola—it was new to me—by folks from a place called the Hog Farm…all an accident. I waited in line for a cup of soup—I had a blanket with me, but my little plastic tent had been demolished overnight. I mentioned to someone in line that I’d lost both my tent and my friends and had no place to stay—then from all around me I heard strangers saying, “Stay with us” and “No, you can stay in our tent!” I realized at that moment that something remarkable was taking place.

I stayed, ate, and went swimming—I felt pretty good and the Hog Farm folks were cool. I remember beans too, cooked, and again they passed around jugs of water.

Later that day when the DEAD were on stage they announced that the Hog Farm had set up in the back and had food. (Note: I remember thinking that the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin weren’t that great.)

I walked back and on the way some folks just handed out bread with jam spread—good. I didn't leave—Santana was amazing. I just found out recently that they were still unknown and had not released an album yet, but I heard about them somewhere.

By night I was beat and the rain was coming again. I paid for some beer—cheap but I paid a guy—and went to the back. They said there was a lost-and-found sign board. So funny—crazy stuff was written on it. Someone ought to write just about that sign board.

I was thinking of leaving, but rumors were spreading that Dylan was coming…he didn't. But I’m glad I stayed—I went back to the lake. Now that I think about it, it was a long walk. I met some folks swimming at night.

Then the showers began…

I got back to the stage—I always managed to get right up front—and I was by myself. Sly and the Family Stone was incredible, and then at about 2 am, I think, THE WHO. Everyone loved it. And everyone was talking about the coming rain storm.

Sadly, I left and hitched a ride back to Monticello—no problem. I got there about 5 am— they had tables with food everywhere. I have no idea who did that, but I ate—a lot— including hot eggs.

I waited for the bus for about two hours and got to Port Authority in New York City at about 11 am Sunday. The bus was free—no one had any money. I was glad I left when WNEW Radio talked about the storm on Sunday.

I missed Joe Cocker and Jimi, but I was never hungry. But I wonder—would I now eat whatever was handed to me? Would I be so cool about drinking out of a jug of water passed along a line? I know never ate, and never will eat, granola again. Sorry Hog Farmers, but thank you for the soup…”

The Hog Farm referenced above was a commune headed by Wavy Gravy (who would later be memorialized as a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream flavor). The Hog Farmers were stationed in New York City when they were asked to participate in Woodstock and help build trails and fire pits. The commune also volunteered to set up a free kitchen—a simple notion that ended up providing many a concertgoer with food and water. After their supplies ran out, Hog Farmers went to local farms and bought up all the available produce so they could continue feeding the masses at Woodstock. Granola, which is common today, was first given to a large amount of people at Woodstock. It had already been created, but few people knew about it. Apparently, many people were confused by its appearance and did not realize that it was food at first—they thought that it was gravel.

Here are some other recollections of food at Woodstock that are excerpted from Woodstock: Peace, Music & Memories by Brad Littleproud and Joanne Hague

“I remember having a bonfire one night and trying to make the world’s biggest marshmallow on a snow shovel by melting bags of marshmallow together”
—Jean Nichols, a Hog Famer

“We made blueberry pancakes on our Coleman stove! The blueberries were picked from some bushes that surrounded our meadow and someone had brought boxed pancake mix. Our pancakes stuck without any oil, but we didn’t care. They were so good!”
—Randy Sheets

“There was always some kind of food available. There were certain areas where you needed to buy it, but you really didn’t need money, most of the people just welcomed you in. Whatever you needed seemed to be available through the people. It was very much communal living in the hippie sense.”
—Alan Futrell

Want to know more about Woodstock?

Check out the Woodstock Museum at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts—it’s well worth a visit! The museum is informative and interactive, and you can also visit the field where it all happened:

A documentary entitled Woodstock, directed by Michael Wadleigh, was released in 1970:

The film Taking Woodstock, directed by Ang Lee, will be released on August 28, 2009. Check out the trailer:

A plethora of books were released this summer to mark the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock. Some titles include:

The Road to Woodstock, by Michael Lang
Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock, by Pete Fornatale
Woodstock: Peace, Music & Memories, by Brad Littleproud and Joanne Hague

No comments:

Post a Comment