Aquarian revisited by 6 young people
A towering example of the power of music and brotherhood? The depth of drug-and-sex degradation?
The battle of the Aquarian Exposition continues to rage. For our part, we believe that the utter permissiveness and universality of the drug scene at White Lake August 15-17 turned a beautiful idea into a shocking and intolerable bacchanal.
The following interview with some festival-goers sheds light on both aspects of the rock-folk festival.
In the minds of millions of adults who weren’t there, and who still imagine that popular music means Perry Como and Dinah Shore, it started out as a disaster, the kind of thing that makes governors call out their national guards, a man-made — or rather youth-made — hurricane Camille.
News bulletins told of the horrendous traffic jams, shortages of food, limited sanitary facilities. threats of epidemics and “bad trips” on drugs. Most of the adult world concluded that clearly it was all an inevitable consequence or the mindlessness and rootlessness of today’s youth.
But many soon found their first judgments inadequate as the learned more about the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, the most ambitious rock music festival ever held, which a week ago drew 450,000 young men and women to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in White Lake.
For it gradually became apparent that the young people were not only oblivious to discomfort, but they also were surprisingly well-behaved for so great a crowd, at peace with themselves almost to the point of ecstacy. American culture, it seemed, had produced a new kind of mass phenomenon.
To discover what the festival meant to those who were there, and to answer questions in the minds of many adults, The New York Times last week invited five young men and one young woman to sit down with members of its staff for an open, spontaneous discussion of the weekend in all its aspects: The rock music that drew them to what they invariably called Woodstock but actually was White Lake, their experiences there, and what they felt about their hopes for the future.
The conversation lasted about 2-1/2 hours. Its main themes have been distilled from a long transcript. Because of the wishes of parents — or, in one case, because a participant was on probation for a drug offense — the full names of the young people are withheld.
The oldest was Steve, a 22-year-old New Yorker who graduated from City College in June; the youngest, Lindsey, a 16-year-old junior at one of the city’s better private schools. Two — Judy and Bill — were not New Yorkers; the others — Jimmy and Dan — went to colleges outside the city. All were from comfortable middle-class backgrounds. Most important, all felt they wouldn’t have missed the Aquarian Exposition for anything, that the weekend had been “heavy” — significant — not only with the excitement of Jimi Hendrix or The Who or the Jefferson Airplane, but also with portents for their generation’s future and the country’s.
Talking about the scene
The discussion began with the reasons they went, the preparations they made for going and their first impressions when they reached “the scene.”
Q: Why did you want to go?
Lindsey: It was the music. I wanted to go because of the music. That was the only reason.
Judy: They had the most fantastic line-up of stars that I’ve ever heard about, more than any place I’ve ever heard of, better than Newport.
Q: Did you have any idea where you’d sleep or what there would be to eat?
Judy: Well, we drove down in a caravan of two cars — there were four girls and two guys — but we were supposed to meet 20 or 30 other people who were driving down from New Hampshire and they were supposed to bring a tent, but we never met each other. We just scattered.
Q: What about food?
Judy: We brought a bag of carrots. And some soda.
Q: Did you expect to be able to buy more there?
Judy: We never really thought about it.
Q: At any point did your interest and excitement go beyond the music to just being there, being at the scene?
Lindsey: When we got up there and saw the people — the way they were dressed and talking. Everything was just so great — the attitudes, the atmosphere.
Judy: I just had a feeling that, wow, there are so many of us, we really have power. I’d always felt like such a minority. But I thought, wow, we’re a majority — it felt like that. I felt, here’s the answer to anyone who calls us deviates.
Q: Was that before you heard any music?
Judy: I never made it to the concert. I never heard any music at all.
Q: The whole weekend?
Judy: Yeah. The whole weekend.
Q: Were you sorry then that you went?
Judy: Oh, definitely not.
Q: Could you describe the group that was up there?
Steve: It was very, very representative of the age group involved.
Q: Wasn’t it white middle class?
Steve: I guess the proportion of blacks to whites was that there were many more whites than there would be normally. You’re probably right about that. But the people had many varied interests outside of, say, just rock.
Q: What was the age group? If a guy was 30, did he stand out?
Bill: Yeh. He probably had a beard and long hair.
Steve: Some of them were using cocaine.
Q: The older ones? How old?
Judy: About 24 or 26.
(All the participants stressed a sense of what they called “community.” The question of whether this feeling had been spontaneously generated touched off debate.)
Steve: Everyone came there to be together — not that everyone would cease to be an individual, but everyone came there to be able to express their lifestyle.
Several Voices: No, no, no.
Jimmy: Everyone came to listen to the music. Nobody knew everybody was going to be up there and feel all together and have that feeling.
Q: Have you experienced that feeling before?
Bill: I went to the peace march in Chicago and I found the same thing happening. You’d pass someone young or someone with long hair and you’d smile at each other. Or you’d give each other the peace sign, or know that he was thinking the same way you were thinking. And like the blacks go by each other and say “Brother.” It gave you the type of unity.
Steve: I think its wrong maybe to compare what happened at Woodstock to a peace march.
Lindsey: I was at the Chicago convention and the whole difference was that there you were demonstrating against something and here you were for something.
Q: Was there a lot of sharing?
A Voice: Everything was shared.
Lindsey: You’d walk along and see a guy with soda and you’d say, “Hey. can I have a drop? Can I give some of the rest some soda?”
Steve: We went to sleep Friday night, just me and my gir friend, when I woke up there were a dozen people under our canopy. We all woke up together and we stayed together for the rest of the time up there. We shared food, we shared tents.
Q: Were you ever worried about things collapsing?
Jimmy: Remember some New York City policemen were supposed to be there and then they were ordered not to go? Well, as soon as I heard that I thought, if there is going to be a lack of policemen, then this will be the final test. To see what’s really going on, like who causes the trouble where.
All the panel participants carried some kind of drug to the festival — mostly marijuana known as “grass” or “pot.” But there was also hashish, abbreviated as “hash”, barbiturates, “downs,” and LSD called “acid” after its chemical name, lysergic acid diethylamide.
On the way to Bethel, the participants worried about being searched by the police. One concealed drugs in a hollowed-out arm rest of a car; another hid his on the floor, ready to ram it through a hole if a search began. A third said he was prepared to hide his in his underwear and demand that the officers produce a warrant made out in his name. None was searched.
Once they reached the festival their caution evaporated in air made sweetish by thousands of burning “joints” (cigarettes hand-filled with marijuana ). Anything they didn’t bring seemed to be readily available, even heroin called “skag,” though none of the participants actually sought or saw any.
Not infrequently drugs were given away by young people eager to share. What couldn’t be had free could be bought from dealers roaming freely through the crowd, or others who stayed back in the woods on what they took to calling “High Street.”
Most of the participants regarded the drugs as an essential part of the scene — like flags at a Fourth of July celebration.
Q: How much of the time were you people up there stoned?
Lindsey: About 102 percent. (Laughter.)
Steve: Every minute of the waking hours. We would eat and in between eggs we would pass around the hash pipe.
Q: Were you smoking openly from the start or were you a little apprehensive?
Lindsey: We started in the parking lot. We didn’t stay in the cars, but we looked. You know, we kept an eye open.
Jimmy: When I walked into the concert on Saturday afternoon, there was a guy sitting there selling acid as if it was hot dogs. I mean like just doing it, like, “Hey, get your drugs here,” or you know, “Last stop before the concert! Really good acid!”
Q: What was the biggest thing going next to grass?
Several voices: Acid. Acid was next.
Steve: There was a lot of downs. And speed.
Q: Were there any people who were taking things for the first time?
Lindsey: Yeh, mescaline. I know a lot of people who took their first mescaline up there.
Q: Were they frightened?
Lindsey: Not really, no. Because there were so many people. The only fear that I found was with the acid.
Q: Did your attitudes on drugs change at all during the weekend?
Jimmy: I was sorry to see that so many people were still into acid. I thought it was going to be, you know, like a fad. I thought acid would sort of drift its way out of the culture.
Q: Could you have had the festival without the drugs?
Steve: I’m sure there were people there you would have had trouble with if there had not been drugs there.
Lindsey: You can’t make that point, simply because drugs are a part of this society now. You cannot take a part of it away and leave the other part.
Steve: I’m saying that it wouldn’t have been as peaceful if they had no drugs at all up there.
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Source publication: Middletown (NY) Times Herald Record
Publication date: August 26, 1969