My subscription to Life expired, but I still have a subscription to Mad.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Finding Woodstock" Annotated

In my weekly column, Surfin', I wrote about my Woodstock experience, but I left out some of the details so as not to make the column too long. For anyone interested, I added the details below. The original text in the column appears in green, the details, in black.

Forty summers ago, my high school classmates Joe Bergantino, WA1CYU, non-ham Ron Cibulskis and I decided to attend the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. I did not see much of Joe and Ron after Woodstock. Ron married another classmate, Anita Rosa, and the only contact I've had with him is when I ran into him at one of our high school class reunions. Joe became a television journalist and was well-known at WBZ in Boston. He also worked as a correspondent for ABC news and today is Director and Senior Investigative Reporter of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University. We have exchanged e-mails over the years. Our plan was to drive to Bethel, New York (the site of the event), on Friday night, stay over in a hotel and go to the concert on Saturday and Sunday. We decided to pass on the first day of the show because the Friday line-up was heavy on the folk music side of the music spectrum and we were rockers, not folkies.

With tickets in hand (I still have mine because no one collected them), we completed the 120 mile trip without difficulty. Traffic was heavy at times, but there were no slow-downs or stoppages; we arrived in the Bethel area in about three hours. Traffic was heavy on I-84 and NY Route 17, especially for a rainy, Friday night, but it never slowed down or came to a stop. We probably spent an hour in traffic in Monticello circling the town looking for a hotel.

We found a room in a hotel on Route 17B, which according to the desk clerk, was a "few miles" up the road from the concert. The hotel was a classic Catskill resort. We planned to drive to the concert site in the morning, so we got a good night's sleep, had breakfast and then went outdoors to discover that Route 17B was now a parking lot (a four-lane parking lot with all the vehicles pointed west, i.e., towards the site of the concert).

Since the concert site was only a "few miles" down the road, we figured we would walk to the site, see the show and walk back to the hotel whenever we needed a break. Ten miles later over hill in dale on a hot, humid August morning, we arrived at the site and plopped down on the ground with 300,000 others. We were seated about three-quarters of the way up the side of the hill that formed the natural amphitheater. I was very tired after that hike and when I plopped down on the ground, I thought to myself that I wished I was home.

That summer, I was working at a local discount department store (Caldor) unpacking clothing in the receiving department. I became friends with another summer employee named Jeanette, who worked in the women's clothing department. We did not mention our weekend plans to each other at work that week and I was very surprised to see her plop down on the ground a few feet away from me that Saturday afternoon (and she was also very surprised to see me). Small world.

I had just graduated from Sacred Heart High School and my eyes saw things that weekend that I had never seen before like marijuana and live naked women, as opposed to the naked women I had seen in Playboy. By the way, I did not partake in the marijuana or other drugs and I was too shy to deal with the naked women.

Boxes of food made their way through the crowd and I recall eating an orange from a box of fresh fruit and a popsicle from a box of popsicles. Late in the afternoon, I went searching for more food and found a booth selling sandwiches. I bought a meatloaf sandwich that consisted of two slices of white bread and a slice of meat loaf. I don't remember what I paid, but I do remember that the price was exorbitant and the sandwich was not too tasty.

Joe and I did not bring our ham radios. The equipment I owned at the time (the Heath DX-60B and HR-10B "twins") was not portable and Joe owned Hallicrafters equipment, which was no more portable than my twins. The only gadget we had on hand was my Kodak Super 8 film camera and I shot about half a roll of film that day. I returned to the site in October and shot the other half. I cut and spliced the film, interspersing the August scenes with the October scenes. One of these days, I will digitize that film and upload it to the Internet.

The concert began around noon, and after seeing performances by Quill , Keef Hartley Band, Country Joe McDonald (I was out on my sandwich hunt while Joe was playing.), John Sebastian, Santana (for some reason, I don't recall their performance), Canned Heat (great), Mountain (great), Grateful Dead (It was the first time I ever heard the Dead and I was not impressed. The Dead later admitted that they also did not like their Woodstock performance. I became a Dead fan later.) , Creedence Clearwater Revival (I loved Creedence and they did not disappoint), Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone (freakin' fantastic), and The Who (also freakin' fantastic; I do remember Pete Townsend removing Abbie Hoffman from the stage by whacking Hoffman's head with the back of his guitar), the Sun came up and I was very ill. I convinced Joe and Ron to leave and we hitched a ride back to our car, drove home, and I spent most of the following week in bed nursing flu-like symptoms. On the way home, we picked up two female hitchhikers, who were very "far out." I think we gave them the impression that we were not "far out."

This weekend is the 40th anniversary of that weekend, so I searched the Internet for any and all connections between Woodstock and ham radio...

After the event and for years thereafter, 300,000 was the estimate of the crowd size. These days, 500,000 is more like it. I dunno which is correct, but my gut says the former.

In December 1969, I wrote a letter to Time Magazine nominating the Woodstock Nation as their man of the year. I was very surprised to receive a telegram (the only non-ham telegram I ever received) informing me that Time would publish my letter. It appeared in the December 29th issue and was the first letter on the page. You can see it here.

In retrospect, I am glad that I went. The music was great and I received an instant education about the late 1960s counter culture, which would do me well as I prepared to go to college.


  1. I think there is a lesson to be learned through all of this: Do not buy meat-loaf from strangers!

  2. Stan,
    I would digitize that video footage sooner rather than later. Heck, it's been 40 years!
    N4TZH - Don

  3. H Rose --- I have stayed away from strangers' meat loaf ever since.

  4. Don --- I viewed the film last week and it still in good shape. But, I must digitize it soon. My parents' 8mm wedding films from 1949 are starting to lose their color.

  5. I enjoyed the short form of the article on the ARRL site, and the long form even more. Which raises the question: what need is there to trim for length in an article posted to the web?

  6. In all the years that I have known you I didn't know that you had gone to woodstock for the concert.

  7. Bob --- Thank you for the kind words. I thought that the long form might bore Surfin' readers who were only interested in ham radio.

  8. Ed --- In all the years I have known you, I can't believe that I never mentioned it!

  9. Great article Stan. I came across it today while looking at ARRL website. I just rejoined so I can catch up on the new digital topics. I missed Woodstock having just returned from 3 years as a US Navy radio operator. The only CW we used were weekly drills for training only...everything was it's all satcoms. Having had my fill of radio I have been inactive for many years. I did get to Woodstock on the 20th anniv. Not much going on that weekend. TV coverage was there and I was running the Satellite Truck for WFSB-Hartford and Channel 7 in Boston. I can't wait to see your was a period in our lives that changed music forever. I also enjoyed your blog on Holy Land.
    TKS & 73,
    Gary --- K1TFF (Waterbury)

  10. I was 3 when Woodstock took place. Now I only see it on the Pay Per View specials... I really wish I would have been able to have been there. Thanks for the detailed account and I am patiently waiting the film. 73! Dave KB9MNM

  11. Many tnx, Stan, for the very FB piece and additional material on Woodstock. I didn't make it, being in the military and out of the country at the time. Of the anniversary pieces I've read about this, yours so far is the most detailed. In fact, not one besides yours has mentioned the drugs or nudity, altho I understand there was plenty of both to go around!
    Yeah, the meatloaf sandwich was probably not a good idea...much like trying to lug 1960s era radio gear in and out! Glad you survived to tell the tale, Stan. I, too, am looking forward to your video. Very 73...
    Joe...w6udo...San Diego, CA