By Dave Sweetman
Exactly 40 years ago this month I had one of the most interesting and life-changing adventures. Piling into my ’64 Ford Falcon station wagon with my high school sweetheart and three of my best friends, we headed off to Bethel, NY, to the Woodstock Music and Art Exposition. A list of performers that has become legendary was the draw: Hendrix, Joplin, Crosby Stills and Nash, Santana and many more.
The old Falcon wagon was sturdy and steady and slow on the uphill, but by tagging along behind a semi at a safe distance, we were making good time. After many miles, the front door big rig exited the highway and I continued to haul butt across Route 17.
Rolling off one of the hills at slightly (ahem) more than the posted speed, I found a New York state trooper hiding behind a bridge, working radar. Actually, he found me. This was about the time “Easy Rider” came out and just about anyone with hair covering their ears or longer was paranoid about confrontations with the law – present company included.
Pulling to the side and shutting off the engine, I recall handing the trooper my license and registration and getting the normal official greeting of why he stopped me. I knew to be polite and respectful, and the trooper responded in kind. He asked where we were headed, and in unison everyone in the car responded “Woodstock.”
The trooper politely told us that the roads were backed up, traffic was a nightmare, and it was impossible. He told us it would be best if we turned around and went back home. I volunteered that we all had expensive tickets ($18.50), and we had to be there. The trooper then had me exit the car and follow him to the patrol car. Unsure at first whether I was about to be cuffed and jailed or worse, I kept quiet.
The trooper pulled out a New York state map, unfolded it and showed me how to bypass the traffic. He made note of the routes and an unnumbered gravel side road to help us on our journey. He handed me my first ever speeding ticket and the map with notations, told me to slow it down and enjoy the music.
Visions of paranoia having melted away, I shook his hand and thanked him for his kindness and directions. Locked away in a box of long ago treasures, I still have the copy of the ticket (which I paid, of course) and the map with penciled notations.
Following the trooper’s directions, we not only avoided traffic gridlock but came in behind Yasgur’s farm on a gravel road. Just ahead about 150 yards was the back of the sound stage.
My three backseat passengers grabbed their camping gear, jumped out and said they’d see us inside. We never saw them again until we returned home four days later. We got within about 200 feet of the stage and parked on the side in the low-cut grass. Grabbing a few pieces of camping gear and my camera, we headed for the gate.
The entrance was wide open. At the entrance were boxes of programs listing the performers, vendors and exhibits. I grabbed several and tucked them away and still have those, as well as our tickets that were never turned in. I have seen some of this stuff for sale on eBay, and it makes me chuckle. Mine are not for sale for any money.
Over the next three days, we found an extraordinary gathering of 400,000 of our closest friends. I saw many acts of kindness and sharing; I witnessed some of the most inspiring and defining music of any generation. It’s on record and in the film – and yes I’m in there. No, I’m not the naked guy in the lake. More like the guy with the camera at the foot of the stage and in several places in the audience.
While I certainly don’t live in the ’60s, I can’t help but reflect how those several days changed not only me, but the world, in many ways. I owe a debt to the trucker who led me across Route 17 and to the New York trooper who showed me a different path to a life-changing event. LL
Dave Sweetman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.