Monday, August 15, 2011

Richie Havens at Woodstock 42 Years Ago Today

Jerry, my friend from the old neighborhood emailed me to remind me that this was the anniversary of Woodstock, and was recollecting our trip there.

I remember how I tracked high school mates Jerry and Marc down in Wildwood, where they lived in a motel room and worked as short order cooks at a boardwalk grill. Sitting in their motel room they were excited about a new album by Santana, and played it for me.

Then they said Santana was going to be playing at this festival at Woodstock in upstate New York, where Dylan and The Band were holed up, and The Band was playing the festival too. They were planning to go and wanted me to go with them, even though I was committed to working for the summer, especially weekends.

A few years ago, on another anniversary, Jerry wrote what he remembered. How him and me and our high school mates Mark and Bob left Ocean City in my father's car as soon as I finished work at Mack & Manco's around midnight.

It was the weekend or so before Labor Day, and I had gotten a letter from school - I was to be a freshman at the University of Dayton, Ohio in September, but they sent me a letter saying I had to be at a special "orientation" class the same weekend as Woodstock. I showed the letter to my boss, Mr. Mack, and he said my education came first and I had to go, but be sure to be back on Monday because I was needed for the busy upcoming Labor Day holiday.

We were going to take my '59 Jeep that had no doors or side windows, but it wouldn't start and my mother said to take dad's car and we didn't argue with her. I fell asleep in the back and someone else was driving when we got pulled over and a State cop shined a flashlight in my face. He had seen the "County Detective" sign on the visor and asked me if my dad knew I had the car and if we were going to that rock concert, but he didn't give us a ticket and said to have a good time.

Woodstock the Festival, as everyone who was there knows, wasn't really at Woodstock the town, the artist community where Albert Grossman, Dylan and The Band lived. They were going to have it there, but when the community decided it didn't want all those people coming in, they got Max Yasker's farm near Bethel, New York, about 30 some miles from Woodstock.

As we got closer and the traffic was backed up, they set up road blocks and turned people away, but the "County Detective" sign got us past a few checkpoints. As Jerry remembered, it, he was driving when we picked up a hitch hiker who had already been to the concert site but left to get some supplies. We drove on the side of the road full of stalled traffic and then the hitch hiker told us about a small, dirt side road that led right to the stage and showed us where it was. Before long we had pulled up about 30 yards from the back of the stage, and within an hour we were blocked in so we just made camp right there.

It wasn't rainy or muddy at first, and I think we all went to together to near the front of the stage, which was pretty huge. I think Mark may have stayed behind, but me and Jerry and Bob were right down in front. Jerry now only remembers him and Bob in the front row, but I was there with them for the first half of Richie Havens set, which really was remarkable. He was on for a long time, and since few people paid admission - we didn't have tickets and nobody asked for any - the rumor was that the other acts wouldn't go on without getting paid. So Richie Havens had to play an extra long set.

After awhile I left them at the front of the stage and went for a walk about, to the back on the hill where they had food concessions and a makeshift hospital.

Thousands of more people had arrived so there was no way I would ever make it back to the front row again, though I later learned that Jerry and Bob hung out there for quite some time.

Occasionally we would meet back at the car, but Mark didn't like it at all, especially after it started to rain, and he wanted to go get a motel room somewhere.

While I don't remember too much else, there was the time on Saturday night, I think it was while The Band was performing, when I climbed a tree and laid across a big branch to stay off the wet ground. While up there Jerry was walking by and yelling my name, and was quite surprised to find me at all let alone up in a tree.

I remember taking a dip in a muddy lake with a bunch of naked hippie chicks, but I don't remember many of the acts, even the ones we went there to see, like Santana and The Band.

By Sunday afternoon, enough room had been cleared around the car that we could move it out, and at Marc's insistence, we left early, so we didn't see or hear Hendrix.

I will never forget the smile on my father's face as he stood on the porch at 819 Wesley when we pulled up in his car, totally covered with mud. He was just glad to see us and his car.

Then, still in our muddy jeans and t-shirts, Jerry and I went around the corner to the local hippie coffee house - The Purple Dragon, and were celebrities for day for being Woodstock veterans. But the next day when I went to work at Mack & Mancos I couldn't tell anyone where I was because I was supposed to have been at college orientation.

I guess that's one of the reasons why I've been a bit disoriented.

And no, I didn't do any drugs at Woodstock, though we did have some wine, and I think Bob did some acid though I'm not even sure about that.

Then later that winter when I was at school in Dayton, Richie Havens did a concert at the basketball arena and I found myself down front in the first row again. After the concert was over I wrote down the address of a house where we were going to a party and gave it to Richie on stage. He smiled and winked at me. Then an hour or so later a limo drives up to the party house and Richie Havens gets out. I was back in the kitchen, and in walks Richie Havens, looking for me, and when he sees me he smiles.

Richie Havens changes strings on stage at Dayton, Ohio, circa 1970

Can he light up a joint? Sure we're all in college, and he proceeded to roll a joint like he was a cowboy on a horse, twisted it up with one hand and then lit it up.

I think Richie now lives somewhere in Jersey not far from where I am though further north. I was thinking about taking a drive someday and paying him a visit.

Then I'd like to visit the real Woodstock, the town of Woodstock and visit with Levon and Garth and the boys from The Band.

1 comment:

sdt (a.k.a. stevil) said...

Hello, I was just reading your post about Richie Havens at Woodstock. It was of special interest to me as you mentioned the Purple Dragon coffeehouse in Ocean City. I was one of the people who ran it. Would you by any chance have a picture of the building showing the dragon's head hanging from the balcony? I've been trying to find one for many years. (There was one in the Sentinel, but I don't have a copy.)

As an aside to your story, at the beginning of that August, we closed the coffeehouse for the weekend of the Atlantic City pop festival. The coffeehouse was a project of the Methodist Church, and they weren't happy with that choice. As the weekend for Woodstock approached, it seemed like all the kids were going. We couldn't close again, so it was decided that two of us would stay behind. We drew straws. I got one of the two short ones and that's why I didn't get to Woodstock.