It was 4:30 pm, Thursday, August fourteenth, 1969 and I was just finishing work for the day...leaving the foundry, as I dragged my dirty, sweaty butt across the parking lot of New Holland Inc. in Belleville, Pa. I was only a quarter mile from where I lived, but I often wondered if I would survive long enough to get into the shower. I was fresh out of high school, working for that big farm equipment manufacturer, completing my first month of employment there. My friends and I had anticipated going to the Woodstock event for a week or so and had planned our route, how much cash we would need for gas and food, etc. and when we could leave. Being new...I had no vacation and certainly couldn’t take time off to go anywhere yet, so planning to go to Bethel, New York for the concert of the century was a risky proposition for me, that was for sure!
My friends had been after me to make the trek to Upstate New York for a week or more, in anticipation of joining in on the greatest event to occur in our generation...but neither of them had a full time job...and one wasn’t even out of school yet, so their going to “The Aquarian Expositions 3 Days of Peace and Music", wasn’t an issue for them. For me it definitely was! It was held at a dairy farm in the Catskills, near the hamlet of White Lake in the town of Bethel, New York, from August 15 to August 18, 1969 and was widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history. Rolling Stone later called it one of the “50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.”
I planned to go with my two friends and camp out like Peter Fonda and Dennis Hooper on our motorcycles, which was reminiscent of the recently released movie, Easy Rider. The only reality problem for me was making sure I could be back in plenty of time to be at work on Monday morning. If I met with any obstacles not planned for and we were detained...I would possibly lose my job. I couldn’t afford to do that, especially since it was one of the highest paying employers in the tri-county area of central Pennsylvania. I had one more day to make up my mind...should I go or should I stay home and guarantee my future??? Be at the biggest event of the century for our generation...or be a budding adult, looking out for tomorrow. My friends said “F*** It man...jobs come along every day...This ain’t gonna happen again in our lifetime!” To me it wasn’t that important, yet I kept telling myself that I could start home anytime...insuring that I would be back in time for work on Monday morning.
I finally committed to the trip, saying I would meet them right after work on Friday evening after work, around 4:30 or so and we would take off. I readied everything for the trip Thursday evening, filling my motorcycle with gas and checking the oil and tires... I was ready.
Dad came into my bedroom around 1:30 am, Friday morning, right after getting home from his second shift job, working at the same plant I did. Upon entering my room and awaking me, he asked if I was truly thinking about going to the Woodstock thing. I answered that I decided I would go, because I could start home anytime I fewlt I was in jeopardy of possibly being late for work on Monday morning. He then asked if I knew that Hurricane Camille was to hit the coast somewhere this weekend and if I had given any thought to road closures, damaging winds and going that far in the possible midst of a hurricane...especially on a motorcycle? Hemmmmmm, something interesting to consider... I told Dad I would wait to see what the forecast called for after work tomorrow and I could renege my plans to go at the last minute. He was right...I thought about it and they were forecasting that the storm would hit the Mississippi gulf coast and roar up along the cost...100 miles inland all the way to New England by Sunday morning and afternoon.
I chose to give up on the Woodstock trip and stay home. My friends were pissed at me for backing out and decided they were going anyway. (that decision petered out some twenty five to thirty miles from home, when one of them had mechanical trouble and they headed back home.
August fifteenth to the eighteenth happened without us... The first day was to officially begin at 5:07 p.m. Friday with Richie Havens and featured folk artists. Swami Satchidananda - gave the invocation for the festival, after which Sweetwater , Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie Safka, Arlo Guthrie and Joan Baez played through the rain soaked Friday evening. We had planned to be there late Saturday night or early Saturday morning, for the little known bands during the day, but to basically hear Santana, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, The Who and then Jefferson Airplane rounding out the Saturday entertainment which was scheduled to run until at least 10am Sunday.
They scheduled a break from 10am until 2:00pm, after which time, they would again start with Joe Cocker and a ton of other small named bands, but Somewhere between 12:00am - 1:05am Sunday morning, Hurricane Camille roared ashore along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, becoming the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the United States in 34 years....
It was just as my Dad had said it would be and although that hurricane stopped our trek to the concert, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Sha-Na-Na and finally Jimi Hendrix, continued on as the final appearances of the thirty-two acts performed during the sometimes rainy weekend, in front of the massive crowd of nearly half a million concert goers. By the time the traffic began moving on the engorged New York thruway, with people heading home, the massive rains and winds remaining from the hurricane arrived, adding further mayhem to the situation. As usual, Dad was right, I would have been trapped, stranded on a motorcycle in a hurricane, but I chose to miss the music extravaganza of the century...and I was glad I did, because riding home in a hurricane with rain and gale force winds would have been impossible on a motorcycle, so I probably would have not gotten home and would have lost my job...But I didn’t! And that is where I was during Camille and the Woodstock event of August 1969... a day late and a dollar short, but not suffering in some muddy field, with a food shortage and no decent bathroom facilities.
That was then....this is now!
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