If I could have one superpower it would be time-travel. There are countless events, or even eras that I would love to experience live rather than through secondary sources. And when I decided to write about Woodstock 1969, the three days of hippy heaven, I had the same mind-set: If only I could have been there. I’ve dreamed of it ever since at the age of twelve I got into ’60s rock and my father gave me his old worn out recording of the concert on vinyl: Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Jimmy Hendrix, The Who, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, CCR… and so many more that it hardly seems real that an event like that ever took place. But as 2019 is approaching, with its possible 50th anniversary concert and my closest chance to ‘travel’ back to the past, I actually wonder whether by recreating Woodstock simply for anniversary’s sake we are moving further and further away from its original spirit.
Amazing music was played during those three days but this concert was much more than just a brilliant line-up; Woodstock was an event where 400,000 young people, in Joni Mitchell’s words, “saw that they were part of a greater organism.” Even the original poster announces it as ‘3 Days of Peace & Music’ – putting the anti-war message first, only to be accompanied by the music. The importance and strength of anti-war spirit for Woodstock can easily be seen when 400,000 people sung Country Joe And The Fish’s Vietnam Song:
And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.
I cannot possibly imagine what that must have felt like, singing this with almost half a million people. But when watching the YouTube clips I can understand what Joni Mitchell was saying about being a part of a greater organism – feeling a connection with the world rather than with just your close circle of friends.
Truth be told, Woodstock was a poorly organised event lacking in space to accommodate the number of visitors, running low on food from the very first day and with a truly, truly disgusting public toilet system; it was the people who made it great. Amazingly talented musicians – yes, but also older residents, many of them at first appalled by the counterculture, who went on to make thousands of sandwiches for their young visitors. Those visitors in turn did not go for violence against the system they were fighting, but instead wanted to spread the message of peace and love. I think it was a great lesson in how groups who don’t necessarily understand each other can still coexist and support one another when needed – a lesson I am sad we do not seem to have take with us to 2018.
So, after all this praise, why does the possible 50th anniversary concert seem like a bad idea to me? Because Woodstock was not about the past, rather it was about the present and a better future. I believe that we have enough problems in our society today that yes, we need another Woodstock-like initiative. However, I really hope it won’t simply be a money-making anniversary concert with the organisers trying to recreate the original line-up by inviting the living 1969 artists. This type of tribute would do nothing for the spirit of the good old Woodstock: even if we mimic everything else, without the Woodstock soul the event just won’t have any significance.
In order to honour it, we need to come together because we regard humankind as one and because we want to change the world. To display kindness towards each other rather than violence. If we can organise that type of a festival – with young people that are working for a better world – it won’t matter if it’s the 49th, 50th or 64th anniversary of Woodstock; it will always be the most special tribute. But if hope died in 1969, if we are only doing it for the sake of capitalism and good Insta photos, then fuck it, not even the fact that it’s the 50th will make it count.
[Žad Novak – @SelectedMusings]