This month marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. For those too young to be aware, Woodstock was a multi-day outdoor concert that became a mega-concert. For some, it was a quintessential moment. It was the touchstone and hallmark for a generation, a defining moment in time.
The 1960s was quite a decade. It started out strong with President John F. Kennedy’s historic words,"ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" and his administration, which became known as Camelot.
We, the people, who had ignored the words of the U.S. Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal" were driven to live up to that ideal thanks to the non-violent efforts of Dr. King. During the '60s, we learned a very costly lesson in Vietnam – or did we? On the home front, we learned that giving money away cannot solve poverty or despair.
Camelot was replaced by confusion, conflict, and chaos. Our cities were on fire. Our schools were in decline. Our colleges and universities began their descent away from free speech, discussion, and debate into this era of political/social propaganda, graduating students with worthless degrees and enormous debt.
Mid-decade, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote a book about JFK. "A Thousand Days" presented President John F. Kennedy as the high-water mark of the time. Then in 1969 came Woodstock. You can decide if it was a high-water mark or perhaps low tide.
July 1969, we landed a man on the moon. It was “one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind” as astronaut Neil Armstrong said.
August 1969, the hippies landed in Woodstock. It was sex, drugs and rock & roll in a field near the Hog Farm commune in upstate New York. “You better stop children, watch that sound, everybody look what’s going down,” as the popular Buffalo Springfield song said.
I do not doubt that there are people living in Moab today who were at Woodstock. For many of them Woodstock may be the highlight of their youth. Nostalgia always paints a pretty picture and memories are selective. Recently, PBS has been showing a documentary on Woodstock. It is worth a look, if you consider the source.
Those who sponsored Woodstock were looking for an idyllic setting that would accommodate about 50,000 attendees. Ticket prices were set to make a profit, after all rock and roll is big business. Woodstock was business as usual. Before the event, word got out through the underground press and 50,000 became 450,000!
Looking back it was "wonderful." It was practically a "love-in." Dress was optional; heck, clothes were optional. Drugs were available and sex was casual. Listen to the flowers! Smell the music! Woodstock! The music: rock, folk, folk-rock, metal. Anybody who was anybody played Woodstock: Credence, The Who, Janice, Jimi, Sly, Country Joe and many, many more. Day after day it was fun for all—or was it?
In reality, security was non-existent except for some guys blowing on kazoos to keep people in line. There were so many people that those who paid for tickets could not get in and those who didn’t have tickets tore down or climbed over the fences to break in. They ran out of food, water and toilets. According to the documentary, the whole place "stank." The stench of marijuana was everywhere. Many suffered from self-induced drug overdoses. Medical services were hard to find.
Then, the rains hit. The skinny-dippers had to get dressed, the "free love" set had to move indoors. It was so wet they couldn’t even burn their draft cards.
The hippies, slogging through the mud, drifted away. The debris and filth they left behind, according to the narrator, made the area look like the aftermath of a Civil War battlefield. Think Occupy Wall Street events, you get the picture.
Recently, there was an attempt to have a Woodstock Two to celebrate the 50th year since the first Woodstock. The promoters wanted to hold the event in upstate New York. They could not secure a permit. Gee, I can’t imagine why, the first Woodstock was such a fun-filled family affair. Recently, I heard a comment on the radio referring to the 60s that opined "if you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there." A high tribute to the era. PBS, in its inimitable fashion, brought it all back home as they tried to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Me? When Woodstock happened, I was just out of college. I had to go to work.
Now, we need to ask ourselves: is Moab becoming the Woodstock of the West? Current visitor numbers indicate we are reaching a population and resource overload. As Joni Mitchell sang in the popular ‘60s song "Big Yellow Taxi," do we really want to "pave paradise and put up a parking lot?"