75° Good Morning
75° Good Morning
Concert goers attend the Woodstock Music and Arts

Concert goers attend the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival held on a 600-acre pasture in the Catskill Mountains near White Lake in Bethel, N.Y. on Aug. 15, 1969. Credit: AP

It  was a hot summer day in the late 1960s, and my suburban family was making one of its periodic pilgrimages into New York City.

What we were doing that particular day — and it would have been a weekend day — escapes me now. I remember a blazing sun, and an air of expectation.

At one point we found ourselves, whether by design or by accident, in Greenwich Village. This was the epicenter of the counterculture, and on that day it was fully radiant.

We crawled along Bleecker Street in our big boat of a station wagon. The street was pulsing with energy, and swarming with young people. Their hair was different, their clothes were different, their vibe was different. I stared out, trying to absorb it all — the scene, the sounds, the smells, the stimulation.

My parents liked to expose us kids to different kinds of experiences, but on this occasion, surrounded by hippies, my mother urgently said, “Roll up the windows!”

And we did.

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about that trip over the last few days as we have marked the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the legendary music festival in upstate New York. We all look back on Woodstock through different frames. That was mine.

My siblings and I grew up in Connecticut in one of those suburban neighborhoods that produces both rebels and conformists, sometimes in the same person. My contours were charted by that inner yin and outer yang.

Back in 1969, I watched in fascination as Woodstock unfolded, scared and attracted in more or less equal measure.

I was 13 years old. Actually going to Yasgur’s farm was not in play. But yearning — oh, I could yearn.

I didn’t know at the time whether this was my tribe, but I knew for sure this was my music. Janis and Jimi. The Airplane and the Dead. Creedence and The Who and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Sly and the Family Stone and the list seemed endless.

Those of us who weren’t there relished the stories told by those who were, and we devoured the movie and the soundtrack when they came out.

But after all these years, it’s still hard to wrap my mind around exactly what Woodstock was.

It was historic, yes, with nearly a half-million strong spread out on the rolling hills of a dairy farm in Bethel listening, dancing, making love and tripping to an unrivaled lineup of musicians.

It was a monumental breakdown of rain, mud, traffic and not enough food, water or sanitation that somehow did not descend into anarchy — unlike Altamont in California less than four months later, which featured some of the same bands and where a member of the Hells Angels, who were providing security, stabbed an unruly concertgoer to death.

It was a cry for peace at a time of war, notable for the years of violence at home and abroad that preceded it and that followed.

It was a sense of community for people who had none.

It was a moment and a feeling and a movement. It was joy and angst, liberation and rebellion.

In the end, I suppose Woodstock is like a prism through which we look, and together we see a thousand images.

Did it change everything or nothing? Was it the beginning of something, or the end of something else? All these years later, I’m still not sure.

Maybe we were golden. Maybe Woodstock was as ephemeral as stardust. But it also has been as lasting as a moon rock. Because every time you close your eyes, shut out the images, and listen to the sublime music again, you know as surely as you knew then:

We really do have to get ourselves back to the garden.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday's editorial board.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.