In the 50 years since the Woodstock Music and Art Fair took over Max Yasgur’s farm near Bethel, New York, its reputation has far surpassed the realities of the three-day event.
The footage seen in the landmark “Woodstock” documentary has gradually replaced the memories of the 500,000 or so who actually attended the festival. The experiences of those who arrived on Aug. 15 and stayed until the early morning of Aug. 18, 1969, have been condensed into the relatively brisk, mud-free, completely dry four hours it takes to watch the documentary, in which The Who flows into Sha Na Na and then Joe Cocker’s unforgettable “With a Little Help From My Friends,” where Santana and Sly & the Family Stone give way to the transformative set of Jimi Hendrix.
“Woodstock was a total disaster the first time, but there was some magic that came out of it,” says Michael “Eppy” Epstein, co-founder of My Father’s Place and, currently, My Father’s Place at The Roslyn Hotel. He missed attending the event with his friend Richie Havens because he was, well, in jail in Provincetown, Massachusetts, but he remembers the era well.
“Great things came out of Woodstock and the Woodstock generation,” he says. “They showed what should happen, what could happen when the young people get together and they deal with the problems that they have and the things that they need. Soon after that, Vietnam was over, Nixon was gone and we started to clean the waterways up.”
Woodstock spawned plenty of big-picture achievements. But it also changed thousands — maybe millions — of other lives in uncountable ways. To celebrate Woodstock’s 50th anniversary, we turned to Long Islanders to talk about how their experiences at the festival affected them.
ANDREW PAUL BINDER
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62, Glen Cove
Binder was 12 years old and at summer camp when counselors thought that it would be a good idea to take about 75 of the campers to Woodstock for the music. They got more than they bargained for, but the experience inspired Binder to have a creative life. He was an actor who became a regular on the comedy “Just Shoot Me.” He handled production design on numerous music videos, including Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes,” and television shows. And he even served as a stylist on “Good Morning America” and for Martha Stewart.
BEST WOODSTOCK MOMENT “My senses were on overload. My eyes were seeing a vast humanity of free spirit. My nose was smelling the essence of hashish, marijuana and opium. My touch was feeling the ground and the dirt below me. . . . I spoke very little for the next three days. I saw naked men and women dancing and bathing. I saw sex in the open and took my first hit of pot. Then, I smoked hash. Then, I smoked Thai sticks. I passed on dropping acid. . . . I was in heaven. I fell back on the ground looking up at the stars.”
WORST WOODSTOCK MOMENT “We were baking in the heat. That was pretty much the worst part — the change from heat to rain and the rain was just so heavy. And that became the mud.”
50th ANNIVERSARY PLANS Binder plans to go to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts’ Woodstock anniversary events and the original site’s museum. “I want to be back in that same field,” he says.
67, Rockville Centre
Cafiero was staying at her family’s bungalow near Yasgur’s farm when Woodstock was taking place, so she went with some friends and her sister. The experience emboldened her to pursue her love of computers as the only woman in the computer science program at the University of Georgia, which she parlayed into a career at AT&T and then Bell Labs. But it also nurtured her love of nature, which led her to become a certified master gardener, and her spiritual side, leading her to become a yoga instructor.
BEST WOODSTOCK MOMENT “I really liked waking up to Grace Slick saying, ‘It’s a new dawn, man. Wake up, people!’ And then breaking into her hit. I really loved the camaraderie. We were there to watch a concert and joints were passed. There were these huge joints rolled in Newsday pages. That was a really funny thing. I’d never seen a joint like that.”
WORST WOODSTOCK MOMENT “Running out of food and water. Everybody was sharing what they had and they did have a food co-op that people would give their extra food to. But there wasn’t really enough. Then the military started dropping food from helicopters, so that worked. . . . Also, I was on line for hours having to call home.”
50th ANNIVERSARY PLANS “Right now, I’m living in northern Florida, so I guess I’ll be on the phone with my buddies who went to Woodstock.”
69, Roslyn Heights
Strasser was at New York University when he and his then-girlfriend decided to go to Woodstock to hear some music. He says he didn’t really have a direction at that point, staying in school only to avoid being drafted. But after Woodstock, he decided to drop out and travel in Europe, earning money as a street musician and deciding to become a writer. He started out as a reporter at the Middletown Times Herald Record and then began writing young adult novels. His latest novel, “Summer of ‘69,” is a fictionalized version of his life when he attended Woodstock.
BEST WOODSTOCK MOMENT “It was just before dawn and The Who was playing. It was kinda dark where the stage was and they were playing ‘Tommy’ and the sun had risen just enough that you could make their shapes out of the dark. It was the last moment that I really can remember until Monday. . . . But if you remember it well, you probably weren’t there.”
WORST WOODSTOCK MOMENT “I was riding back home on Monday and the rear tire of my motorcycle went flat on Route 17 near Wayne, New Jersey. The guy at the gas station took one look at me and told me to get lost. I went to another garage and they let me fix it myself because I didn’t have the money to pay them. Then a state trooper came and asked to see my license and I told him I didn’t have to show him anything.”
50th ANNIVERSARY PLANS Strasser plans to attend the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts anniversary celebration. “They will have a writers den up there, a collection of writers connected to the festival,” he says. “I get to spend all three days talking to people and signing books. Then, I get to see the concert!”
69, East Williston
Maue was a student at what was then called Harpur College (now Binghamton University) when she went to Woodstock with her older sister. She says the amazing experience helped guide her to become a creative director, first at Stony Brook University, then at Queens College.
BEST WOODSTOCK MOMENT “It felt like the world’s largest school outing. . . . But what we longed for and wished we could make happen was a kinder and gentler world. We were the peace and the love. Some of us worked for social justice and protested to end the war, but above all, we begged for everyone to just get along.”
WORST WOODSTOCK MOMENT “The mud. I was worried about the poor farm. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God, he has no grass left yet. It’s just mud everywhere.’”
50th ANNIVERSARY PLANS “I’m not gonna go up there or anything, but my sister Lenore and I have been talking about it a lot. We may do some more reminiscing. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events.”
When he went to Woodstock, Ambrose was working for the New York City Youth Board in Bushwick, Brooklyn, working with teenagers as he went to law school. After he graduated, he worked with legal services programs.
BEST WOODSTOCK MOMENT “Santana was terrific and Paul Butterfield Blues Band. . . . It was just an incredible gathering of people and musicians and really one of the fondest memories of my life. But I really haven’t eaten red meat in 50 years and that’s because when I was at Woodstock, a man just emerged from the woods and I’ll never forget it because he had this floppy hat on and a vest and a sign that said, ‘Love your animal friends, don’t eat them.’ He was playing a flute and leading a lamb on a leash and that, that really made us think about whether we needed to eat meat to survive.”
WORST WOODSTOCK MOMENT “I had sandals on and I stepped on a board and a nail went through the sandal into my foot. There were volunteer doctors and a medical tent and I went there and they gave me a tetanus shot.”
50th ANNIVERSARY PLANS “There’s a song from Mountain, ‘Theme From an Imaginary Western,’ that I just absolutely love. And Creedence Clearwater Revival was my favorite group, so I will spend some time listening to them.”