By Monica F. Helms
The year 1969 has become an important year in history for many reasons. Some huge events affected the entire world, such as Neal Armstrong walking on the Moon, July 20, 1969. Others affect me in a more personal way, such as my graduation from high school. Hurricane Camille affected the lives of over a million Gulf Coast people on August 17, 1969. And one event, the Stonewall Riots in New York City, impacted my life many years into then future.
However, another event, the Woodstock Music Festival, defined my entire generation and in many ways, defined who I am and who I have become. It lasted from August 15 to August 18, 1969.
At age 18 and living in Phoenix, AZ, I didn’t hang out with the right crowd of people who would have known of Woodstock ahead of time, or would have driven the 2500 miles to get there. I saw bits and pieces on the evening news, but had no idea the scope of the event. My friends and I starting talking about it a month after because all of the print media on it. Information didn’t get out as quickly in 1969 as it does today. The World Wide Web was nothing more than a gleam in Al Gore’s eye at the time.
Music has always been a connecting thread that as woven itself into every part of my life. It started with 45 and 33⅓ rpm vinyl records, then went to cassettes, CDs, mini discs, MP3 players, computers, iPods and even YouTube videos. As the technology changed, so did the music. I changed along with it.
But, the wonderful thing about music, like Jell-O, there’s always room for more. It builds upon the past. Just because I’ve gotten older doesn’t mean I have forgotten my music roots. I don’t push aside older music to make room for newer stuff. I embrace music of all ages. That is why Mozart is just a thrilling to me as Scott Joplin, Janis Joplin, The Doors, Alan Parsons Project, Men at Work, Billy Squire, Eiffel 65, Alicia Keys and many more. It just keeps growing.
The list of the 32 artists and bands who played at Woodstock looks like the Who’s Who of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, including The Who. Woodstock became the springboard of several artists who played there, while other, more established groups reached “Rock Icon” status because of Woodstock. But sadly, some of those rock icons left us too soon. Jimi Hendrix died in September of 1970 and Janis Joplin three weeks later. Keith Moon of The Who died in 1978. Others who played at Woodstock are also no longer with us.
The list of groups and artists who turned down a chance to be at Woodstock for various reasons also have their names in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Groups like The Doors, Jethro Tull, Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, The Byrds, Spirit, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell either turned down the invitation, had other concerts booked or just didn’t show up. Some to this very day regret that decision.
The people in their twenties, thirties and forties today cannot understand why their parents and grandparents hold Woodstock in such high regards. The mystique of Woodstock cannot be expressed in words. If the music of the 60s doesn’t move a person, then Woodstock becomes nothing more than a stupid gathering of hippies dancing in the mud and rain.
For my generation, Woodstock is a defining moment in our music, a defining moment for the artists who played there, a defining moment for the 60s, as well as the 20th Century, a defining moment for our generation, and a defining moment in my life. Sadly, defining moments for my sons and those in his generation and a bit older have become things like high gas prices, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, higher crime rates, swine flu, AIDS, the recession, home foreclosures and of course, 9/11. They have yet to have their “Woodstock” to bind them together in one amazing weekend..
On Facebook, I posted about a dozen YouTube videos of songs from Woodstock. Many of them bring back memories or put a smile on my face. Most all of them stand the test of time and bubble up the same emotions as they did 40 years ago. However, one piece of music not only stands the test of time, but makes time stand still for me. Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangle Banner” can be called nothing short of a masterpiece. The man and guitar became one in that short moment. To me, it has become the quintessential definition of Woodstock.
Woodstock is as unique as the Hope Diamond or the Grand Canyon. Other music festivals tried to copy it, while others drew large crowds for a charitable cause. None reached the pinnacle that Woodstock still sits on. Today, a plaque commemorates the site, along with a totem pole that has Jimi Hendrix at the top, Janis Joplin in the middle and Jerry Garcia at the bottom. I may not have had the chance to attend Woodstock, but it has affected me like millions of others. I will be forever grateful for those who made Woodstock happen, those who attended and those artists who poured out their hearts and souls for the music they loved.
And, the music I still love today.