For various reasons, my graduating class has seen two milestone anniversaries sail by without a class reunion materializing.
So, I can understand the disappointment of those on the slightly older end of the baby boom generation who have now seen the 50-year reunion celebration of the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival collapse.
Although the organizers had no aspirations of matching the 400,000 attendance of the original Woodstock, they did originally envision a three-day multi-generational event for 100,000 or more guests, held at a Formula One racetrack in upstate New York. A whopping $32 million in talent fees was guaranteed upfront.
It was sad to watch the Woodstock 50 promoters keep haggling and downsizing the festival. By the time the plug was finally pulled, I understand the talent and venue could best be described as “that annoying guy in the next cubicle, humming an off-key rendition of ‘I Get by With A Little Help from My Friends.’”
Perhaps the Woodstock anniversary is marred by the same mixed emotions as the recent Apollo 11 golden anniversary. We haven’t done a lot with space exploration since the moon landings; and Woodstock, which was supposed to be part of the “dawning of the age of Aquarius,” hasn’t exactly inspired overachievement of its goals of peace, love and harmony. Half a century later, while we keep waiting for the break of day, someone has painted a swastika on the paperboy’s bicycle and threatened the rooster with an assault rifle.
Woodstock 50 was a precarious balancing act from the start. It was envisioned to celebrate the spirit of the original festival while also being relevant to the youth of today. It’s sort of weird for the generation that cautioned “Don’t trust anybody over 30” to try talking their grandkids into finding an Uber driver with a psychedelic Volkswagen bus for picking up old hippie hitchhikers. (“Don’t worry. After 50 years, the shrapnel from the collapsing stage only occasionally gives him nightmares.”)
Don’t get me started talking about Woodstock 1969 attendees who feel compelled to tell their middle-aged children, “Enjoy the ride. This is a bootleg of the 20-minute drum solo you were conceived to. Or somebody was conceived to. You’ll love it. Let me know if you need any more details.”
The world has changed so much in the past 50 years. The newspapers and TV networks reveled in salacious reports of the mind-altering drugs freely available at Woodstock. Now minds CAN’T be altered. (“Don’t bother me with your well-rehearsed talking points. I KNOW that Trump’s fiery rhetoric was directly responsible for the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials.”)
The sort of public nudity that scandalized a nation in 1969 would just lead to confusion among the younger generation nowadays. (“Wait – based on your gender and my gender, I can’t remember if I’m supposed to be turned on or not. Where are my notes???”)
I’ll keep on listening to music from 1969, but perhaps the demise of the 2019 Woodstock is for the best. I’ll bet most of the people who attended the original will remember it as a convergence of cultural forces that could never be replicated. It would be like catching lightning in a bottle.
Or, like the popular LSD-enhanced Woodstock game of catching unicorns in a butterfly net. (“It’s so pretty. It’ll look so good in President George McGovern’s Oval Office!”)