Rocky Bayer Interview
I Remember Woodstock 1969
There was a lot of talk a few years ago about the Twenty Fifth Anniversary
of Woodstock, which resulted in Woodstock '94.
But, what was it like to attend the original Woodstock in 1969?
Rocky Bayer knows. He was there. In fact, Rocky was so touched by what
he saw, heard and experienced at Woodstock that he returned there every
weekend that Summer of 1969, hoping somehow to hold on to that spirit.
We talked with Rocky about that Summer of 1969 and The Woodstock Festival
held in Bethel, N.Y.
Q - Rocky, back in 1969, there was no M.T.V., Entertainment Tonight, E!
Network, or Cable T.V. So, how did you hear about Woodstock?
A - Gee. That's a real good question. There was no electronic network,
but there certainly was a network of like-minded individuals. So, it was
really very much word of mouth. If you think back to the series of events
preceding it that summer, there were other festivals. The closest
to us here geographically (Rocky lives in Bethlehem, Pa.) was the Atlantic
City Pop Festival. There really was, in all senses of the word, a festival
about a month or so before The Woodstock Festival. It was actually held
at a racetrack.
Q - Do you remember who performed there?
A - Janis Joplin. Chicago. Johnny Winter. B.B. King many of the same caliber
musicians. I guess it was inside a horse racetrack. Camping was permitted,
but I didn't go to that one. That one sort of started to spread the word
that those Festivals were hip, but, the biggest and best was yet to come.
Q - Do you recall the approximate date someone told you about Woodstock?
A - It would have to have been June or July (1969), 'cause in anticipating
both of the upcoming Festivals, Atlantic City and this Woodstock Festival,
The Woodstock seemed like the premier event and the one to shoot for.
Q - Did you go to Woodstock alone or with other people?
A - Oh, there were probably five of us in a car. We left Bethlehem and
probably got 15 miles from the site before we had to park it.
Q - Was the car still there when you returned?
A - Yeah. There was nothing like vandalism.
Q - How old were you at the time?
Q - That's pretty young to have gone to Woodstock isn't it?
A - Well yes, and no. Not when people were getting to be 16 and preparing
to maybe exit high school were facing Vietnam. College wasn't necessarily
a given. Community colleges were just opening. As we faced the draft, that
accelerated maturity. The 15 year old today is still in diapers really.
They've got a long way to go. They can play around. They've got all kinds
Q - In defense of today's kids, they have more opportunities to travel
and are more aware of what's going on in the world.
A - Yeah, but maybe those are the kids with resources. In my socio-economic
class, we certainly weren't going to Europe. We were getting as far as Woodstock
or maybe The Electric Factory or The Fillmore in New York. I was active
in a rock 'n' roll band. Here in Bethlehem, Pa. we're surrounded by colleges
and universities. There's probably a dozen of them within a stone's throw.
Before the days of d.j.'s, cassette tapes, and M.T.V. - bands proliferated.
Rock bands learning our 3 chord Blues and copying The Yardbirds and Cream.
We had plenty of opportunities to play. Not only were there the frat parties
to play at, but also the times were more supportive of the youth culture.
There were youth centers and places that were publicly funded where bands
would come in, charge 50 cents at the door, and the band would split the
take at the end of the night and you'd go home with $10 or $15.
Q - When you got to Woodstock, what did you think? Was it what you expected
it would be?
A - Well you know we really went for the music. It was about the performers
and the music and the art of it. Getting there and finding it had turned
into something that was not necessarily a disappointment, but a surprise.
Q - Who in particular were you going to Woodstock to see?
A - Hendrix was the premier musician to go and see, of course I think
The Who ranked very high. The bands I think from a musicians viewpoint that
were beginning to explore and play and have some appreciation for musicianship
had to be The Who, Hendrix, Johnny Winter, and Paul Butterfield. A lot of
the other bands were a little more commercial. Creedence and Canned Heat
were a little more mainstream. They had Top Ten hits. Melanie was just a
token at the time.
Q - And Richie Havens, how did he fit into the Woodstock Festival concept?
A - Richie Havens was important at the Folk Scene. He had his moment there,
you know? He really sort of merged with that Festival into somebody who
reached across the Rock audience and the musician audience. But, my perception
of the folks who went there for the music is it had to be The Who, Hendrix,
and the Blues people like Johnny Winter and Paul Butterfield.
Q - Did you stay for all 3 days?
A - Yeah. We were trekking up Hurd Road as Hendrix was finishing his set
Monday morning. We got there late Friday 'cause of traffic. We didn't expect
to be so held up. We didn't really hear Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie and
Joan Baez. When we arrived it had already become a free festival.
Q - By the time Jimi Hendrix went onstage there were only about 10,000
people left at Woodstock.
A - Yeah and we were among that group. There may have been 10,000 in the
field, but there were people everywhere, on their way out. Some people by
that time had given up on the festival proper and had just found little
sort of offshoot settlements and were hanging out. (Laughs). You know, down
the road, a mile or two, not even at that time focused on being an audience.
Q – Did you come there with food?
A - A knapsack and a sleeping bag. No food really.
Q - Didn't they run out of food?
A - Yeah. Food got very scarce.
Q - And water?
A - Water was plentiful and there were showers. It rained. You didn't
need a shower but to get the mud off. There were showers set up and you
could go and rinse the mud and get cleaned up. Just open-air, co-ed kind
of shower situation. There was no problem with drinking water.
Q - Is it true there was no violence at Woodstock, no flared tempers?
A - Well, I really did see Pete Townshend bonk Abby Hoffman on the head
with his SG.
Q - How about the audience?
A - No. I remember nothing of any sort. It was very uncool to be that
aggressive, assertive, or violent. It didn't have a place there. Towards
the end, some guys were selling raunchy food like hotdogs and snack cakes
that had gone bad and were a little moldy and there was some animosity towards
them. But no violence. There were reports of a vendor being pushed around
or his stand being torn apart. I didn't see anything like that. Of course,
I didn't see everything that happened. But I don't remember any kind of
bad vibe. If anything there was a lot of support from folks. Share this,
share that. Very much sharing.
Q - Are you in the Woodstock movie?
A - You know what? I've been told that I'm in there. I bought the video
cassette and I can't find myself. I've seen some posters and the group of
friends I was with are clearly there. I remember being where they were and
there they are. I can identify them each, but I can't find myself. So, it's
a funny thing.
Q - I'm intrigued by this Associated Press report
back in 1989, that has you returning to Woodstock every weekend after
the Festival until you returned to college that Fall. That must've been
A - Yeah, definitely.
Q - What were you looking for?
A - In the vernacular of the times, the vibe. To go back and see who was
hanging around and what people were doing and saying and maybe just to soak
up little more of that atmosphere. It was kind of a triumph, you know? For
the counterculture really. To go back and really savor it. It's also beautiful
country up there. It's really nippy, hilly, and picturesque.
Q - Did you go back not quite believing what took place there?
A - Yeah, that too. And, to recollect, reflect, and re-enjoy the moment
and the notoriety it had attained.
Q - So you weren't the only person there?
A - There were people who didn't leave!! There were folks kind of hunkered
down in the woods and camped out at the lake. There were lots of people
around. It was a scene. You'd go up there and hook-up with people and kind
of do whatever you did.
Q - After going away to college, did you continue your visits to Woodstock?
A - I was almost a regular visitor up there over the years and then didn't
go for oh, 5 or 7 years before the twentieth anniversary. Since 1989, I've
been going every year at the anniversary and spending a couple of days there.
Q - Camping out?
A - Yeah. There's a private campground nearby the site right now. It opened
some years ago, about 10 years ago. It's called Woodstock on The Lake. You
can rent a site there just like a regular old family camp area. They've
got showers and a swimming pool. It's about a mile and a half from the site.
The lake is actually the lake from the skinny-dipping fame.
Q - Do you get flashbacks when you arrive?
A - '89 was sort of a surprise because it took off slowly but really did
get well-organized. Richie Havens and Arlo Guthrie played. There's an interesting
thing that happens every year regardless of where and how it's held.
Most of the time since '89 there's been an event on the actual site. For
two it's been 'the' problem. One year the owners didn't want to deal with
insurance and dumped some chicken manure there and it smelled bad. In '96,
there were some concrete barriers placed. They weren't prohibiting people
from being on the site, but, they didn't have anybody camping and no vehicles
could get on the site. The State Police were overseeing it. So, that didn't
really happen. But, every year some locals will normally come out and put
together a homemade stage, build up some two by fours, and four by eights,
put some of the big blue nylon tarps up, a generator, a PA system and some
local folks will perform. Then, there's some things that will happen that
are clearly financed. Water trucks will arrive. Flat-bed tractor-trailer
trucks. Huge concert hydraulic PA systems and lighting.
Q - Maybe they just happened to be driving through.
A - Yeah. Up in the town of Woodstock, not the town of Bethel, but in
Woodstock, N.Y. Richie Havens and Arlo Guthrie do little benefit concerts.
I guess those funds go towards financing some of this stuff. Over the years
there have been some tremendous entertainment opportunities. For instance,
Soul Aslylum has played. Victoria Williams has played. One year Leslie West
of Mountain played at the original festival. He's a dynamo of a guitar player.
A huge heavy metal guy. He played with Noel Redding who was Hendrix's bass
player, and Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge. They were just amazing. A lot
of the folks there didn't quite appreciate who was there and what they were
doing. From a rock music vantage point, these were some of the all time
greats playing at a very high level of musicianship. The twenty-fifth anniversary
in '94 was especially like the '69 event.
Q - It was?
A - Yes. It was a very good approximation. The stage, the sound towers,
the field, the hill, and the people are the basic elements. It looks the
same. Of course, it's not a half a million people; it maybe was fifty thousand
people. Enough to approximate the effect. You had Canned Heart, Melanie,
Arlo, and Richie Havens. The point that sticks in my mind and literally
had people choked up was Arlo Guthrie singing This Land Is Your Land, to
approximately fifty thousand people on the site. The sentiment of the
song was really moving and very much like the sense of empowerment that
the original festival gave to that generation. It was overwhelming in it's
likeness to the actual event. So, there is a way for this kind of Woodstock
to occur. I can only compare it to a shrine, in the way that people migrate
to the site and then sort of savor being on the site. It's an uncanny thing.
Any day you can go up there and there's a procession of automobiles,
tourists - young and old, foreign, American, Black and White, Bikers, young
hippies, Dead Heads. It's almost like an endless procession to the site.
Q - What would you like the readers of this interview to come away with
about Woodstock? Is there anything?
A - Yeah. I think a part of the mystique of Woodstock is the knowledge
that it's possible. It's possible for the underclass or the counterculture
or the alternative in today's lingo if you will, to occupy a real space.
A real space in our culture. A real valid voice. It kind of represents
that at its highest ideal. People can look back at it as being a day in
the sun. A high point when the straights were pushed away. The freaks took
the headlines and the voice of youth found its harmony and that's possible
again - because it happened once.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved