How Woodstock Happened … The Final Word

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By Elliot Tiber

Originally Published In The Times Herald-Record – Woodstock Commemorative Edition
Text copyright 1994 The Times Herald-Record

After Woodstock, Wavy Gravy wanted to keep the energy going. He returned to the Hog Farm commune, where he discovered “every hippie in the world had moved to our house.” Gravy got a few thousand dollars from Warner Brothers to finance a proposed movie, ” Medicine Ball Caravan.” The idea was to round up some Merry Pranksters and Hog Farmers, travel across the country in a bus and film the trip. The movie was never released. Somehow, the group ended up in England. Throughout the early and mid ?70s, they traveled to 13 countries, including Turkey, India and Nepal, distributing free food and medical supplies along the way.

Krassner and his fellow Yippies tried to build on Woodstock. They helped put on a “Pow Wow Symposium” at Hog Farm headquarters in New Mexico. But in December came Woodstock’s bad twin, Altamont, where the Hell’s Angels worked security – and some stomped members of the audience. In 1970, the trial of the Chicago Seven began, and the Yippies focused their energy and money on freeing the defendants. Krassner and Ken Kesey decided to collaborate on “The Whole Earth Catalogue Supplement,” the successor to the post-hippie bible, “The Whole Earth Catalogue.” In the early 70’s, the entire radical community began to dissolve as its members went their separate ways. Krassner returned to New York, where he continued to perform and publish a newsletter. In 1974, Krassner moved to Venice, California, to a house by the ocean a block from actor Dennis Hopper’s house.

Max Yasgur toured Israel about two years after the concert and had the opportunity to meet Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion went down the receiving line, speaking to each guest. “Max said to Ben-Gurion, ?I’m Max Yasgur of Bethel,’ and Ben-Gurion shakes his hand and says, ?Oh yeah, that’s where Woodstock was, wasn’t it?” said Liberty’s Lou Newman, a friend of Yasgur’s until the dairy farmer’s death of a heart attach in 1973.

As Woodstock began to fade into legend in the early ?70s, the Town of Wallkill was tagged as the hometown of the uptight, much to the consternation of Wallkill Supervisor Schlosser. Wallkill was only trying to protect itself from a horde it was not prepared to handle, he said. Besides, added Schlosser, who retired from politics in 1984, the promoters lied to the town, and that’s never mentioned in Woodstock lore. “That is what bugs me about this whole thing, ” Schlosser said in 1989. “They have been allowed to perpetuate that myth for 20 years.. “

Woodstock’s medical director, Dr. William “Rock Doc” Abruzzi, went on to specialize in the medicine of drug abuse. Drugs brought Abruzzi prominence, but they also provided the means for his downfall. He was charged in 1974 with anesthetizing female patients and molesting them while they were unconscious. Two years later, minutes before he was to go to trial, he pleaded guilty to sexual abuse. Abruzzi’s saga didn’t end there. The state’s highest court ruled that a police officer violated Abruzzi’s rights when he watched the doctor abuse his patients through an examination window. Abruzzi never served his prison sentence, but he did lose his license to practice medicine in New York. He has since dropped out of sight and can not be located. To this day, Abruzzi has his supporters, including Nurse Sanderson. “He was framed,” said the nurse, who retired in 1980 and left Middletown.

For the next decade, Woodstock was virtually a cliche for all that was goofy about the ?60s. By 1980, the world had moved on. Rosenman and Roberts were still in venture capital, but instead of funding concerts, they were dismantling conglomerates and handling mergers. “The transactions that we were involved in would have been vetoed if they’d known about Woodstock, ” Rosenman said. “It wasn’t exactly broadcast in our resumes.

Kornfeld was the one who was able to use his Woodstock credentials. He remained in the music business, promoting rock acts and albums. He worked with Bruce Springsteen and Tracy Chapman. Lang too, stayed in music. His title as Woodstock’s producer gave him a certain cachet with superstars of the business. Lang signed a Long Island singer named Billy Joel to his first record contract. He was Joe Cocker’s manager. But even Lang downplayed Woodstock. “I didn’t talk about it for years,” he said.

Country Joe figures his fate was sealed right after he shouted: “Gimme an F. After the movie came out, that’s all I was known for,” McDonald said. “Its pretty hard to top the ?Fish Cheer.’ I don’t know if I can do that.’ The Fish Cheer was McDonald’s improvised call-and-response that began with ?Gimme and F’ and concluded with ” What’s that spell? (Expletive!)” McDonald’s musical career went from Woodstock into a slide. By the ?80s, Country Joe said he’d had it with the music business. “I won’t make another record again unless it seems commercially viable,” he said in 1989. “I just don’t have the burning desire to make a record that nobody wants to hear. You spend a year to do it, and it doesn’t sell more than 1,000 copies. That’s not cost-effective. Music is something that needs to be heard.” McDonald said the problem was he was still writing “sociopolitical and anti-war” songs. “Today, politics and war isn’t good box office,” he added. When McDonald tours, it’s for a handful of fans at tiny folk clubs. He might even turn up at the occasional ?60s revival show, but only if the price is right. “I don’t like doing these nostalgia things,” he said, “but when people offer me the right amount of money, I’ll do it. I wouldn’t even write a story about myself. I wouldn’t waste my time.” By 1991, the year he recorded an acoustic album, ” Superstitious Blues,” Country Joe had changed his tune. In 1994, he appeared in a Pepsi commercial featuring a Woodstock reunion for yuppies.

A guy named Louis Nicky from Brooklyn bought about 40 acres from the widow Yasgur at the intersection of Hurd Road and West Shore Drive in Bethel. A couple of tons of concrete – the footings for the main stage at Woodstock – were tumbled off in the brush in the northeast corner. Nicky didn’t really worry too much about the history he’d bought. He just wanted to run a few horses, but a bout with cancer caused him to abandon the plan. Twice, the town put up a sign identifying Nicky’s land as the site of the concert. Twice, the sign was stolen.

For years, no one celebrated Woodstock’s anniversary, and Augusts came and went without notice. People who wanted to stop by Yasgur’s farm and reminisce weren’t always sure they were at the right place.

In the late ?70s, a ragtag bunch started celebrating every August with a three-day party. Around 1978, a welder named Wayne Saward came out for the party. “And it was, like, super-quiet,” he recalled. “There’d be 30 people there, at most. And that was in the middle of the night. Then in 1984, Saward started, pretty much alone, to build the world’s only monument to the event. It’s a 5 1/2 ton marker made of cast iron and concrete; landowner Louis Nicky paid $650 for concrete and casting the iron. Once the marker went up, the site became a kind of counterculture shrine. Visitors started showing up randomly, staying for a few minutes, then leaving.

The magic that is Woodstock continues…it’s in the air!