Wet sleeping bags, a front-row view of Jimi Hendrix and other memories of the "free-for-all" counterculture music festival from the GW community.
In August 1969, close to a half million people came together on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y., for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Images of celebrants from the “three days of peace and music” are now iconic symbols of hippie life and the counterculture.
Fifty years later, members of the George Washington University community shared their own and their families’ stories of the legendary festival:
Wendy Lawrence, head coach, men’s squash team
“I was 16, working all summer in a small town on Cape Cod, and me and three friends I worked with all got tickets together. The plan was to hitchhike from the Cape to Boston, where one of the guys had a car we could pick up to drive the rest of the way. My mom knew we were going to Woodstock, but had no idea we were planning to get there by hitchhiking. So there we are on the side of the road, and who should drive by but…my mother. She ended up driving us I think to Hyannis, then put us on a bus the rest of the way to Boston. That was a little embarrassing.
“We got there late on Saturday. I think there had been bad weather and people had already started to leave, and there were so many people who didn’t have tickets—there was no security, no gate—it was just a free-for-all. Nobody was collecting tickets, so my $8 ticket—which is astounding in itself to think about—I was able to keep it as a souvenir, because no one ever collected it.
“We didn’t come with sleeping bags or tents or anything. We were up pretty late. At some point on Sunday it started to really pour. A photographer from Life magazine was there, and a picture with me in it ended up in the next issue. I’m standing in the rain with a flimsy little water-resistant jacket on, looking cold and miserable. Which I do remember being, but I also remember being pretty excited.”
Douglas Mass, managing director for finance and administration
The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum
“I attended Woodstock for all three days. Some of the best music and the end of an era for many. I was 15 and could not drive yet, but my friend’s older sister dropped us off and reappeared three days later.
“My most vivid memory was watching Jimi Hendrix play early morning of the last day. Everyone was wet and cold, and most had left. The few remaining could wander up front near the stage. I still have my Woodstock program (with some original mud on it).”
Jim Mahshie, professor and chair, Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences
“I was indeed at Woodstock. I remember reading the advertisement in the NYT and my future wife and I decided to go. (We even bought tickets for the three days and still have two thirds of the tickets, since they collected tickets for the first day at the gate.) We came equipped with a huge borrowed tent and a load of food and adult beverages. (My dad’s station wagon was full of stuff.)
“We were astounded by the crowds and traffic as we approached Bethel. It soon became evident that we were not going to get within two miles of the site by car. We packed our sleeping bags and a daypack and started trekking to the site. We arrived while Richie Havens was singing ‘Freedom’—it was an amazing experience to enter the site and see all of those people.
“All went well until sunset when the rains began. A very strange experience to be in a soaking wet sleeping bag! We listened to the late-night performers (Melanie, Bert Somers and Ravi Shankar to name a few) while curled up on the hill. It was a memorable (though not the most comfortable) experience that stays with me to this day.”
Mackenzie Albach, assistant director of graduate marketing and recruiting
School of Engineering and Applied Science
“My uncle made the trip to Woodstock when he was around 20 years old (my mom wasn’t allowed to go since she was only 17). He and my mom often describe that he was one of the few there solely ‘for the music’ and stayed through all the iconic sets in the mud and the rain. He doesn’t have any pictures from the festival itself but two years later, he and a girlfriend at the time took a road trip to visit the grounds again and she took a picture of him looking out over the grounds.
“Many years later, I was fortunate to attend something called Mysteryland, which was the first festival held at Bethel Woods since Woodstock (there had been concerts but no actual festivals). I brought a copy of the photo my uncle took just in case I happened to find the spot he would have been, and sure enough, I ended up stumbling upon the exact location. I have attached our side-by-side photos taken over 40 years apart.
“When I graduated from undergrad, my uncle gave me one of the best gifts I have ever received and is now one of my most prized possessions—his Woodstock program. It now hangs in a frame in my home.”
(Courtesy Mackenzie Albach)