Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve
Ember. Part of the cultural history of the baby boomers, the generation of
Americans born after World War Two, is Woodstock.
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair took place forty years
ago this month. More than four hundred thousand people came from around the
country to a farm in Bethel, New York. The event was advertised as "an
Aquarian Exposition" and "Three Days of Peace and Music."
That was Country Joe McDonald and the Fish with a song
protesting the Vietnam War, a big issue in nineteen sixty-nine. In all, about
thirty acts performed at Woodstock, ranging from Arlo Guthrie to Jimi Hendrix
to Ravi Shankar. The opening act was Richie Havens.
(RICHIE HAVENS - "FREEDOM")
Much has been said about Woodstock, real or imagined.
After all, the influence of drugs at the concert led to the saying that if you
can remember Woodstock, you weren't there.
much is true: The organizers named the event after Woodstock, New York, a town
known for the arts. They wanted to hold it there but could not find a place. Instead,
the festival was held eighty kilometers away on a milk farm owned by a farmer named
How it got
there is the subject of the book "Taking Woodstock" by Elliot Tiber.
He helped secure the deal, which faced objections from a rural community
unprepared for huge crowds.
a lighthearted film based on the book and directed by Ang Lee is about to be
MOVIE: "The word is getting out that maybe we'll
have a few more guests than we originally thought. The New York State Thruway has
been backed up all the way from the George Washington Bridge. It's basically a
The Newseum, a museum of news in Washington, D.C., has
an exhibit called "Woodstock at 40: The Rise of Music Journalism." Woodstock
is described as a moment when the news media first recognized music and
entertainment as a cultural and commercial force.
But it was also a news event as hundreds
of thousands of young people flooded into the area. News stories told of
concertgoers sharing food, meeting new people and feeling part of a group.
Not everything was beautiful, though. Food
and water were in limited supply. Rain interrupted the festivities. People
lived in tents in the mud. Two deaths were confirmed. And hundreds of people
were treated for bad drug reactions.
Still, the Woodstock experience
added up to what Time magazine called "History's Biggest Happening."
"What the youth of America — and their observing
elders — saw at Bethel was the potential power of a generation that in
countless disturbing ways has rejected the traditional values and goals of the
U.S. Thousands of young people, who had previously thought of themselves as
part of an isolated minority, experienced the euphoric sense of discovering
that they are, as the saying goes, what's happening."
(CANNED HEAT - "GOING UP COUNTRY")
And this was how the New York Times described
townspeople gazed in awe at the streams of hippies, but they murmured 'PEACE'
to the visitors, offered free water and returned smiles. Everyone arrived to
find the whole show was free. As the weekend went on, the miracles kept coming —
the kindness of the scattered police, the 'food-drop' by an Army helicopter,
and flowers from the sky. ...
it became the greatest hippie demonstration of unity, the music was the focus
of the festival. Friday was the folk night but the playing was plagued by rain
and delays. … Joan Baez closed the evening in the rain ... "
(JOAN BAEZ - "JOE HILL")
On the second day, Saturday, more people arrived. They
brought more cars to the roads and more tents to the fields. The Times reported
that the closing series that day "must be one of the great shows of rock
and roll history."
It was the
Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater Revival, Sly and the Family Stone, the Who, Jefferson
Airplane and Janis Joplin.
(JANIS JOPLIN - "BALL AND CHAIN")
The music ended on Sunday night -- or,
rather, the early hours of Monday, August eighteenth.
"The strength of the crowd seemed strongest in the
hard rain on Sunday afternoon. To the banging of the cans, dancing hippies gave
all of themselves. Instead of despairing at the discomfort of rain and mud, the
crowd rejoiced in its power to resist the weather..."
"What began as a symbolic protest against American
society ended as a joyful confirmation that good things can happen here, that Army men can raise a "V" sign, that
country people can welcome city hippies. One of Hendrix's last numbers was "The
Star Spangled Banner." Yes, most everything happened up on the farm."
(JIMI HENDRIX - "THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER")
Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced
by Caty Weaver. Our readers were Faith Lapidus and Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember. Transcripts, MP3s and
podcasts of our programs are at voaspecialenglish.com. We hope you join us
again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.