Woodstock II -- no thanks, I'll pass

August 10, 1994|By Lori Soderlind

IN 1969, I WAS 5 years old and "The Partridge Family" was still a year away. They couldn't have played Woodstock, so I'm sure that I didn't want to go. Now comes Woodstock II -- the sequel -- this weekend for my generation.

I never thought I'd go to Woodstock, though I had wished to many times as I grew older because I felt that something wonderful happened at the original one. So, like most of my friends, I was astounded by the initial opportunity this summer to attend not just one, but two anniversary rock music festivals in the Catskills. But now -- after a barrage of media hype -- I am sad to say 25 years later, I don't want to go.

Apparently I'm not alone. Lagging sales forced promoters to cancel a concert planned for the original Bethel, N.Y., site. And while about 170,000 people have bought tickets to the official anniversary concert in Saugerties, N.Y., it's still not the rush promoters dreamed of.

It seems strange, after all these years of regretting that I missed the '60s, to shudder at attempts to revive a piece of that decade. But what happened at Woodstock worthy of remembering had less to do with the performers than it did the spirit of the people and the times. Such things can't be repeated or even appropriately recalled through corporately financed extravagance.

Some of us have been searching for those things that deserve remembering -- that cannot be marched across a stage. What we really feel nostalgic for are the intrinsic values: The three days of peace that were promised by the original Woodstock promoters. Times have changed, they insist at Woodstock Ventures in Saugerties. So they have.

My family survived the 1960s by ignoring them. While growing up, I was almost oblivious to the mood of the time; my parents shut most of the world out. I grew up with my nose pressed against the glass of social revolution. When our car slowed or stopped near hitchhiking and panhandling teens, we were ordered to lock the doors.

From my vantage point, driving away, I watched and wondered what it was about them that I was to fear and avoid. Mom worried: about hitchhikers; about driving in Newark, N.J., in the post-riot years; about young people on LSD attempting to fly.

Those were the kids who changed the voting age, and also, briefly, the drinking age, and the way classes were scheduled in my high school, and the way colleges were operated. They were old enough to fight in the jungles, and they were old enough to go to Woodstock, where for a few days their struggle stopped, their vision was realized: They did not need to change the world; together they were already a nation, already changed, already beautiful, and that moment became a beacon that shined through time, an anchor for me.

I was born in 1964, which marks the end of the baby boom and the birth of the so-called Generation X -- today's twentysomethings. This "tweener" age helps explain the anxiety that I felt as Woodstock's 25th anniversary approached. Many my age grew up expecting to inherit the psychedelic, peace-and-love, politically active world of our older siblings only to find that it and they had changed as we came of age. By the time of our Woodstock -- that eternally free concert and the collective vision that created it -- had all been sold out.

An anniversary festival may celebrate the age of the giant concert, good music and fun. But what many people my age cherish about Woodstock is not that. What we want is the spirit that reigned in Bethel in 1969; it really belonged to no particular place, time or generation. It is offensive and, I hope, fruitless, to seek profit in our longing for peace and freedom.

So, as the music starts in Saugerties, I plan to chill out, hug someone, swim naked, walk down a road barefoot -- in the Catskills, or anywhere, not just that day but whenever I can. I'll remind myself that the revolution isn't over, it's just moved on; and if I can't hitch a ride to get there, I know that at the celebration I long for, attendance is still, as always, free.

Lori Soderlind, a free-lance journalist, writes from New Jersey.

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