Max Yasgur addressing the crowd, Woodstock 1969 Photo by HJS
Can you imagine living in a field of mud with 80 plus degree heat, rain pouring down, eating whatever you could scavenge, using worse than stinky portable bathrooms, taking in the overwhelming smell of marijuana and hash, and living side-by-side with a half a million other people day and night? Sounds like a nightmare to me.
However, for the teenagers who crammed into Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel in 1969 it couldn’t have been a happier time. They danced in the rain and mud, shared their pretzels, peanuts and other items and relished the water from outdoor hoses during the day, and slept arms over legs at night. This summer of 1969 event made history and no one who attended Woodstock, otherwise known as, 'The Bethel Bash' would ever forget it. It truly was a time when people of all races, religions and nationalities lived together in peace and love.
For four days (August 15-18), Yasgur’s soggy farmland became a haven for thousands who listened to the music of such bands as Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Santana, Canned Heat, Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Sly and The Family Stone, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Country Joe (McDonald) and the Fish and of course, Jimmy Hendrix.
Woodstock 1969 Tickets Photo by HJS
For then 19-year-old Harriette Schwartz, it was an eye-opening and truly inspiring experience. She was not one who protested the Vietnam War, burned her bras or took a radical stance against the establishment. As a young woman from the west Bronx, her small world-view changed drastically at Woodstock and she realized that all people could live peacefully together if they were united in a common goal. That goal was to savor every moment of this event – to enjoy the music, dance to her heart’s content and crash beside her fellow Woodstockians for some much-needed shut-eye.
“I was soaked to the bone, hungry and thirsty but having a ball and I truly did give a care,” Harriette recalls.
Fortunately, she had the foresight to document everything she saw and felt at Woodstock and has now – 40 years later – written about the experience in The Bethel Bash: Woodstock 1969. Presented in e-book form, she offers up her memories, along with a variety of photos she took with her now ancient instamatic camera.
It’s interesting to note that Harriette initially had not desire to go to Woodstock. At the time, she worked as an administrative assistant in the Non-Theatrical Division of Warner Brothers/Seven Arts in New York where many famous actors of the day showed up. It was there that she learned about plans to film Woodstock with a crew of 100 that included Martin Scorsese. She had made friends with a young fellow named Alan, who worked in the mailroom. He talked her into going, so off they went in his green Mustang convertible. And she’s glad she did.
“I was a part of a now historic group that managed to keep their cool in spite of, as I personally remember them, appalling heat and horrific living conditions even if only for 3 days,” Harriette said.
They couldn’t stay for the Monday events, as she had to get back to work.
“We cared for each other, made do with what we had and shared whatever little that was. Most of all, we did exactly what we all went there to do…enjoyed the heck out of the music.”
Janis Joplin Woodstock 1969 Photo by HJS
Harriette also remembers the National Guard coming to help them by dropping food from army helicopters. While a welcome site, she said it was also an unnerving experience.
“You see, they were tossing oranges along with blankets. Though they aimed to help, their aim may also have accidentally caused a concussion. I never quite understood the rationale of the heavy fruit. I ducked and let Alan catch and we managed to share an orange.”
You can relive this major musical event very soon because plans are in the works to publish her e-book since this year marks the 40th anniversary of the event. As soon as it is available, I will let you know. In the meantime, for those of you who attended ‘The Bethel Bash,’ keep the memories close and imagine what life would be like if we all could live under such dire conditions with peace and love in our hearts. The lessons learned at Woodstock 1969 should never be forgotten.
As an after thought, it would be great if Harriette could add music from the event to her e-book. That would really set the tone and take everyone back to that wonderful time.
About the Author: Harriette J. Schwartz is a lifelong author and writer of poems, articles and books who now works on various freelance writing projects for others as well as her own. She began her writing career by creating and illustrating her own greeting cards. Since then, she has published her work on line at Helium and Eons, and off line in Visions Anthology and Seeker Magazine.
Her published books include the children’s book, Milton Swade Counts and Lost Pallies: The Afterlife Has Found Its Voice And Now It Won’t Stop Talking! She has also written and hopes to publish The BabyBoomers Time Machine and a book of poetry called Adult Silly Stuff.