by | Jun 12, 1994 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

We sat on the curb in our tie-dye shirts and long hair. We had bangs back then, and we wore cool sneakers, PF Flyers, with the white rubber tip. The older kid talking was a senior, holding a cigarette. We were in junior high. This was a hot day in summer. It was 1969.

“It’s a three-day rock concert,” he said. “New York. We’re taking a van.”

“If it’s in New York, why don’t you take the train?” one of us asked.

“Not New York City, dork. It’s in the country. On some guy’s farm.”

“So you’re gonna milk cows and stuff?”

He sneered. “No, dufus.”

“Are you gonna sleep in a tent?”

“We’re camping, man. That’s the whole point. Just crash the thing, listen to music, meet girls.”

We pushed silly grins onto our faces. We didn’t know from girls, really, but we knew enough to act as if we did.

“Did you ask your mom?” I said.

He laughed and made a crack about us being too young. He left and we went to play ball, but we wished we were going with him.

He was just a kid, one of many kids who trekked off to see the big concert. No one predicted a life-changing experience.

Woodstock — which wasn’t really called that until later — was just a concert without rules, a chance to make out, do drugs and hear music for free. It wasn’t even supposed to be free. Tickets were $18 for three days. But so many people jammed Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York that the organizers said forget it. They opened the gates and let everyone slosh around in the mud.

It rained. It got crazy. Each night, on the TV news, we saw traffic jams, blaring music, and hordes of people looking for a bathroom. I wondered where our senior friend was. Our impression, at the time, was this: what a mess. The movie helped the myth

It wasn’t until 1970, when the movie came out, that Woodstock began to take on a mystical quality. People who’d been high on drugs and dirty as a raccoon were suddenly folk heroes. “Three days of peace, love and music” was how it was known. And for a generation besieged by war, protest and racial unrest, that was a welcome change.

But Woodstock, as a social event, wasn’t planned. It was an accident. Lots of people showed up, got soaked, and had peaceful fun. It just sort of happened.

Which brings us to Woodstock II, or, as they’re calling it, Woodstock ’94.

This event, planned for August, is hardly spur-of-the- moment. It’s tied very purposely to the 25th anniversary of its ’60s predecessor — but planned in ’90s high-tech fashion. Promoted by Polygram Entertainment, ticketed through Ticketmaster, carried nationwide on pay-per-view TV. It will even feature an interactive video theme park, whatever the heck that is.

And it will cost $135 per ticket.

“We’re hoping to reenergize the spirit” of Woodstock, said Michael Lang, one of the original promoters of Woodstock who is behind the new version,

which, supposedly, gives it credibility. Of course, when Lang did the first one, it was for his peers. Now it could be for his grandchildren.

What would the 1969 crowd have thought if the planners had been 50 years old?

They’d have smelled something. Aerosmith outsells Joan Baez

And you can smell it now. Opportunism. Money to be made. Promoters have done market research, determined that today’s kids would go for re-creating the ’60s spirit. This ’94 Woodstock will not feature Joan Baez, singing folk tunes, or Country Joe and the Fish, protesting Vietnam. Instead big- ticket groups like Aerosmith and the Spin Doctors will be featured. “We have no interest in doing an oldies concert,” Lang said.

But the hook, the angle, is all about old. It’s about Woodstock. The name is the draw. And today’s kids are supposed to fork out $135 to feel something they’ve only heard about.

You have to feel sorry for this generation. So much of what they’re handed is repackaged culture. The Flintstones. The Addams Family. The return of disco music. It’s as if original thought is against the rules. Our Woodstock might have been muddy, but at least it wasn’t calculated. It wasn’t market- researched. There were no fast-food booths.

The fact is, the real Woodstock was hardly the holy pilgrimage people make it out to be. But I do wish today’s kids could feel that energy of being young and fresh and full of crazy ideas, instead of young and bored and full of recycled pop culture.

You can buy the name and rent the acreage, but you can’t create the passion behind peace, love and music. “Peace love, and concession stands” just doesn’t cut it.

Mitch Albom will do Father’s Day signings of “Fab Five” and “Live Albom III,” Wednesday, 6:30, B. Dalton, Eastland, and Thursday, 6:30, B. Dalton, Oakland Mall.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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