Woodstock Sound-Outs, Van Morrison and No Beans. © Dakini Verona
1969. The year was an infamous one in the history of the era… and it was a very important year in my life.
I had just turned 15 years old and lived in a very rural area of upstate New York. Actually it was only about 100 miles north of New York City (The City) but anything even 10 miles outside of The City was considered Upstate. I didn’t seem to fit in with the other kids at school, always an outsider. I could not relate to their violent ways, the small town mentality never appealed to me. I could not wait to grow up and get out of there. I had no social life with the other kids in school. I only had one friend, Carol Sommers. We had a connection which to this day, I do not understand. Maybe it was that we were outsiders to the rest of the kids our age, maybe it was just destiny that we came to be friends. Best friends. Only friends. The other kids were cruel. So cruel in fact, that I have blocked out most of what was going on in my life, just to survive. When I was not with my only friend, Carol, I would lose myself in my music. I can not believe I am confessing to this, but the Monkees were one of my favorite groups.
Worse yet, I once wrote a fan letter to no other than Davey Jones (no, the cad never even acknowledged that a lonely little 13 year old was pouring her heart out to him).
I had been listening to The Beatles for awhile, never got into the Stones (not at that point) and then graduated to Sonny and Cher and Donovan. Somehow, I really do not remember how. I came across one album that changed my life. Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, we are only in it for the money. I had an uncensored copy, which I thought was the most ‘far out’ thing since The Beatles.
I listened to the album over and over, singing along with the lyrics which were provided on the back cover of the album (something rare in those days). I finally found something I could relate to! I was turned on to the whole scene. I thought Frank was singing to me (little did I know that he was being sarcastic- I was so naive). I did not know how he knew how I felt about my family and all those things around me, but the words of “Mamma, Mamma” were my life. I had a mom and dad that were plastic, would spend their time drinking and smoking and just ignoring the needs of their children. I wanted to find out what this whole Hippie Scene was all about. I knew I belonged.
The locals in Saugerties had mentioned that there were some “weirdoes” in the small township of Woodstock (9 miles due East of my home). I wanted to go see them, to see if what I felt when I heard Frank Zappa would be the same if I met a real hippie in person.
When I first walked into the town circle in Woodstock, I knew I had found home. The faces were friendly. Everyone was smiling. The shops beckoned to me. The streets called my name.
Little did I know why this place was so different than the other little townships. Little did I know that this was THE PLACE that all the city dwellers from Greenwich Village came to get away from the preverbal “rat race”. They brought a taste of their lives with them to this once sleepy little artist colony.
Whenever I could I would find a way to Woodstock to explore the colors and smells of the unique shops – to feel like I truly belonged. Whether it was talking someone older into giving me a ride, or sticking out my thumb and hitching a ride with a stranger. I had to get there… I was addicted to this place, to these people.
There were so many creative forces in this otherwise humble little abode. There were artists and musicians and playwrights and songwriters. Then there were even kids like me, ostracized by the locals and drawn by the magic in the air that could not be explained.
One of the most unique aspects of the town was the creative energy. People just would gather and start a music jam session. It was not uncommon to be sitting in a small little coffee shop sipping your hot beverage, whether it be homemade hot chocolate or simmering hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick swizzle or maybe even drinking the dark thick overpowering espressos that were truly European style. I am not talking about the watery brown liquid that you get at the corner Starbucks. These were true “coffee houses”…. well, anyway, as I was saying; you might be sitting there in the middle of a this coffee house, on a sultry August afternoon and see two albinos walk in, both of them with brilliant white hair trailing down their narrow backs, sunglasses protecting their light-sensitive eyes. They might be carrying guitars. They might be just coming to sit and enjoy the company. But more likely than not, they would pull out their guitars, right there at the large picnic style table and bench. Not even 10 feet from where you were sitting. They would rest one leg on the end of the bench, guitar case open before everyone and pull out that thing and play. And sing. Donovan may have joined in and begun to sing or hum as well as the boy next to you with the mismatched socks and long flowing hair. And then, afterwards, introduce themselves as the Winter Brothers, Johnny and Edgar.
It was at one of these unpretentious impromptu gatherings that I first heard of an upcoming free music festival. It was to be held on some land owned by “The Band” (yes they had a nice little spread they named, just East of town). It was only an open field, but there was chatter of how they would have these “up and coming bands” and maybe some “not-so -up and coming bands” all gather for the fun of it.
Maybe there would be music promoters there, looking for new talent. Maybe there would be someone famous there, just wanting to try out their newest songs – WHO KNEW??? They said they were called the Woodstock Sound-Outs.
Well, it was at one of these Sound-Outs that I was first introduced to illicit drugs. After all, it was the 60’s. The summer of love had passed on the West Coast and it seems that New York was a bit behind. Upstate was even further behind. The Hippie Scene on the West Coast had died. Somewhere far away, in the far off Never, Never Land of California.
As I mentioned, the first time I tried drugs was at one of these “festivals”. I had talked my father into dropping me off on the end of a dirt road. He had no idea what his little girl was about to embark upon. There was a makeshift stage set up on the north end of the field and before it were a scattering of tents, like nomads, these people that I had never seen the likes of before, were partying in a way I had never known. They were gathered in small groups around open fires, looking very much like Indians (Native Americans) of the days of old, long hair flowing, innocent wide eyes, and endless grins. I was a brave young girl, wearing my shabby bell bottoms and t-shirt, trying to fit in with this crowd like no other I had seen before.
There was a boy who caught my attention and I somehow was able to muster up enough courage to look at him and smile. That was all the introduction he needed, and the next thing I knew, we were suddenly talking about music and the anticipation of what the night would bring. He invited me to come with him to meet some friends at another circle. We sat down, Indian style, around a small fire. Everyone was laughing and enjoying the night. They were passing around a small metal pipe and inhaling long steady “hits” (as I learned they were called). I had been smoking cigarettes for a few years, but had never smoked marijuana.
My dad had warned me about it and said that he had a room mate back in college, back in the roaring twenties, that was a “reefer addict” and told me how it ruined his friend’s life. I was afraid of smoking marijuana. I told the people at the circle that I had been warned about it and that I did not want to try any. They said “this is not marijuana, this is opium, it won’t hurt you!”.
I took the small pipe in my hand while someone held the lighter up to the end for me, and I drew a long, long breath of smoke. I tried to hold it in my lungs, but it burned and made me feel like I was choking to death. I remember the warm blanket which seemed to slide down around my consciousness. It was a very pleasant feeling, but it was a feeling that I should have shied away from, as I would learn one day.
Later that night I was wandering around with the boy and we were just hanging out listening to the different bands on stage and I was really feeling really “out of it”. The smoke made me kind of float in and out of reality. Words were not making sense; everything made me laugh, even if there was no reason to laugh. I remember us going into a tent to “make out”. I enjoyed the kissing and hugging but was not ready to cross any other lines. After all, I was practically a virgin at this point, only having shared that special part of me with one boy. I was not ready to allow another to get that close to me again. It was painful for me both physically and emotionally. As I said, I was fine with the making out, but he wanted more.
He was upset when I rejected him again. He roughly tossed me aside and bolted out of the tent. I overheard him rudely grunt to his friend “no beans”. I was not sure what he meant, but I felt hurt and used. I pulled myself together and crawled out of the tent, trying to regain my composure. I wandered about the festival.. trying to escape the reality of what I just experienced. It was then that I found myself being drawn to the stage. It was then that I discovered that music was able to give me what I was not getting from the people in the audience. It was the first time I felt alone in a crowd, yet oddly, the music was able to get through to me. To the real me. The inner me. It was the music that held me close and soothed my hurt.
Again, I tried to connect with reality. Again, I tried to fit in to a group that was just sitting around “rapping” as we used to call it.
A not so young man called to me with his eyes. He had a bit of an accent, one that I was not familiar with. I remembered seeing him perform on stage and recalled that I liked his music. I found myself being drawn to him and walked over and sat down where I could be closer to him. He had an aura about him that seemed to be special.
However, when he reached down and put his hand on my thigh, I felt a tingle. At first it was a good tingle, but I was confused as to why he would be so bold to touch me without being invited. I pulled away from him and scooted back. All my inner alarms were sounding. The tingle was no longer a good tingle but instead it was one that I wanted to run from.. as fast as I could. Instead of him backing off when I pulled away, he became indignant and asked belligerently “don’t you know who I am?” To be honest, I did not. And at this point, I could care less! I was a mere child of 15 or so and he was at least 21. I was disgusted at his attempt to seduce me.
“I am Van Morrison you stupid girl… don’t you know that any girl here would do anything for me?” In my mind I was telling myself, “well that is just fine Mr. Morrison, you just go off with anyone else.. cause I was the no beans girl!” I have never been a fan of his since that night.
My father came to pick me up and I gladly ran to the car, feeling a bit odd… my head still spinning a bit.. feeling a bit shake from having to fight off the wolves.. .feeling a bit relieved that I got to go home to a nice warm bed. Yet there was a bit of innocence left in that field that night.. and there was a tear shed as I realized that my parents had not noticed that there was anything wrong. How could they not have noticed that I was not myself.. that I was finding my way to being lost.. that I had taken my first steps down the path of darkness.
I left a larger part of myself on the field that night. One that will never be found again. It will be years before I admitted the hurt that was felt. It will be even more years before I realized the damage done by those few words which hit me deep “no beans” was to be the value my worth over the next few years…. No beans meant to me.. no love… how confused I once was.. how sad.