Woodstock? I Walked Five Miles to be There
Woodstock was indescribably intense. The music was the reason for the whole gathering, but that was a tiny part of it all once I arrived. I had to walk five miles to get there. Then I walked five miles back to our tent (stupidly, as I had a sleeping bag with me) to sleep. My friends with the tent had to drive back to Philly on Sunday, but I just had to stay. I walked the five miles again back to the concert. I had a two-gallon jug of water tied around my waist, and a sleeping bag on my back with a couple of cans of food in it. I also had a bag of weed and about sixteen dollars.
Nobody had water. People were offering me money for it (I didn't take any money). There was one working faucet, and I knew where it was (many didn't). I just kept walking the distance to the faucet (considerable) and filling the jug. People gave me hash and joints for water. They insisted, so I took some of that. Oh, I also had candles and dry matches, and everybody (except me) was soaked to the bone. It rained hard every afternoon for at least an hour or two, but I managed to stay dry. Once under a big trailer truck, and again (yuk!) inside a porto-toilet.
I also had a pipe. I remember on the last day, lighting the candle, filling the pipe, and passing both to a stranger. It all went from hand to hand God knows where, and I figured I'd never see it again. I was wrong. The damn thing came back every half hour or so, and always with something new in it! Unbelievable. Even the candle came back, still lit, I don't know how many times. Biggest 'smoking circle' I've ever been in. Who knows how many thousands of people took hits off that little pipe! It was, as John Lee Hooker would say, 'a mighty time.' At night there were little campfires from horizon to horizon. I felt like I was in Spartacus.
One of the main reasons I went to Woodstock was to see Hendrix live. I was as big a fan as was humanly possible. I shook hands with him once in a NY club called 'The Scene,' somewhere back there long ago. It was a great club. 'Steve Paul's The Scene,' was the full title. Famous musicians would go there, and invariably there would be a jam session with the oddest combinations of musicians.
The night I met Hendrix, Larry Coriel played with Hendrix's bass player, Noel Redding, and Ringo Starr played drums! Everybody was screaming for Jimi to play at first, as he was highly visible walking around the club dressed in pale blue and deep purple, crushed velvet from head to toe. I started to feel bad for Coriel, and then Jimi walked on the stage (the stage was only a few inches high). He waited for the crowd to quiet down and said, in a soft voice, "Hey, I play left-handed guitar, there is no left-handed guitar here. Listen to this man. The man plays guitar." And so we did.
Hendrix was scheduled to close Woodstock on Sunday night. All the bands that hit the stage were so psyched by the size of the crowd (5-10,000 were expected, half a million to a million showed up), that they all played way over their allotted time. Twenty-minute-adrenalin-rush guitar solos were common. There were countless announcements all day and night, which interrupted the music, plus numerous band setups and rain delays here and there too.
"Debbie bring the insulin, your brother needs it NOW!" was the first thing I heard when I got there. The result was that Hendrix went on at 10 a.m. Sunday morning! Most of the crowd was gone, and the whole valley was littered with abandoned, mud-soaked sleeping bags. There were still about 20,000 people there at least, though. He had a new band, and I have to say, they weren't very good together at that point. He announced that they'd only rehearsed once. They didn't even have a name for the band yet. They played a lot of never-before-heard music, while the crowd screamed out requests for his big hits. He finally said, "Awww, don't y'all get tired of those same old songs? We wanna play some new things."
The crowd continued to scream out "Foxy Lady," "Fire," etc. While this was happening, I lit up the pipe and candle and passed it on to the thousands of tired, wet, hardcore Hendrix fans. Finally, he gave a rather wistful chuckle, pointed straight out into the crowd, and said, "This one's for the little girl with the yellow bikini panties from last night." Then he delicately manipulated his wah-wah pedal, the guitar feedback screamed like a banshee, but right on key, and he went into "Foxy Lady." It was beyond awesome.
He also played a lot of solos all by himself that sounded like at least three people. My friend turned to me at one point and insisted in all earnestness that Hendrix could not possibly be from this planet. This friend was a young man getting his master's degree, and he was dead serious.
Finally, Jimi played the now famous 'Star Spangled Banner,' and I almost wept. There was an overwhelming sense of something ending, of reaching a place we could not progress beyond. More than merely the end of the Woodstock Festival, it was the end of an era. The place went nuts.
[Written by Roger Kelley of the cult mid-'60s Driving Stupid Band. This article was first published in the October issue (Vol. 2, No. 8) of "The Lance Monthly"]
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