In case you haven’t heard, Woodstock — the mega concert that was held in a farm field in the Catskills that defined a generation in 1969 — turns 50 this week.
I wasn’t at the original concert.
I was a wee lad of not-quite 5 in 1969 but I was part of an army of talented editors, reporters and photographers from the Times Herald-Record who covered the 25th anniversary goings-on in 1994.
The 1969 concert was a local story for the THR as it unfolded in the heart of its coverage area. In fact, it has been said that the THR came close to winning the Pulitzer Prize for local or spot news for its coverage of Woodstock.
In 1994, there were to be TWO simultaneous anniversary events:
There was a heavily promoted, sanctioned celebration of music taking place over three days in Saugerties, N.Y., about 75 miles northeast from the original 1969 concert site in Bethel, N.Y., in Sullivan County in the Catskills.
At the same time, we were bracing for tens of thousands of pilgrims to visit the original site in what would be — if history were any guide — a ragtag disorganized gathering of campers, hippies and Woodstock devotees who wanted to keep the spirit of ’69 alive.
In years past, the time leading up to the anniversaries were fraught with tensions between those who wanted to visit and the property owner.
I recall one year the owner spread chicken shit throughout the field to prevent campers from making impromptu pilgrimages to the site, which some consider a shrine or some kind of holy ground.
But in 1994, there was acceptance that the original site would be hosting visitors and the authorities were prepared.
The Times Herald-Record put out special daily editions of Woodstock anniversary coverage in addition to filling content in its main “book” — the daily tabloid.
Most of the teams in Saugerties and Bethel slept in tents, though I seem to recall there was a house we rented in Bethel as well.
Forget laptops and Wi-Fi. We transmitted our stories on Radio Shack TRS-80s and film was couriered back to the main office for processing.
The memories I have of the coverage are more like a loose collection of snapshots than an organized photo album:
Stories of our late beloved editor Mike Levine raising the roof with his snoring at Saugerties; the muddy mosh pit; my colleagues going for an early-morning swim at the lake at Bethel; the blended haze of smoke from the campfire and marijuana in Bethel and the excitement of being part of such a huge story.
I recall going to the original concert site ahead of the 25th anniversary gathering to do reporting.
I was interviewing some people and gathering color for a story and when I returned to my car (a blue Ford Escort hatchback) I discovered someone had placed a Woodstock bumper sticker on it!
It depicted the iconic Woodstock dove-and-guitar logo.
At first, I was pissed.
How dare someone deface my property like that! After a short while, I took it in my stride and it became something of a novelty.
It also represented something else: A way to share in something bigger than myself and to not let petty grievances get in the way of what I am sure was not some act of low-level vandalism but a goodwill gesture meant to spread peace and love.
It was a reminder not so much of the concert per se, but of a sentiment that — like those concert-goers of so many years ago who needed fresh clothing, shelter, food or just help — we can be our brother’s keeper.
At a time when the world feels like it’s spinning off its axis, I could do with having someone slap that bumper sticker on my car again.