Fun, mud are the order of the day at Woodstock '94

August 14, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

SAUGERTIES, New York -- What's it like at Woodstock '94?

That depends in large part on where you are. Meander onto the field in front of the North Stage, where Joe Cocker and Crosby, Stills and Nash were playing, and you're instantly awash in a sea of humanity. Movement is limited and slow, as more than 100,000 sweaty, seminaked (and in a few cases, more than seminaked) fans crowd in, each pressing ever closer in the vain hope of getting a slightly better view.

Take a walk through the Eco-Village, and it's as if you've wandered into a sort of hippie bazaar. Greenpeace volunteers hawk eco-friendly T-shirts ("100 percent organic cotton!" promises one, "No bleach! Help save the Earth!"), while other vendors display less environmentally conscious souvenir tie-dyeds. An Andean folk group plays to a small crowd in the middle of the village, while a slightly larger group gathers around a three-card monte dealer a few yards away.

Head over to the South Stage, and the crowd is smaller -- maybe 40,000 -- and much less densely packed, leaving plenty of room for the younger listeners to wander and chat. There's a similar feel to the music there, where the offerings are more to the exotic than on the North Stage; this is the place for seeing an all-star retrospective performance by the Band (guests included Roger McGuinn, Bob Weir and Bruce Hornsby) or a deliriously rhythmic set by Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour.

Mostly, though, Woodstock is wet. Even though the rains that came yesterday afternoon were relatively short-lived, they were intense enough to leave the grounds -- and the fans -- soaked. There was mud everywhere.

Not that mud had been a rarity before the rains. A large mud pit formed near the mist tent on the North Stage field early Thursday, but that hardly slowed the fans. Mud, after all, was one of features of the first Woodstock festival, and the kids in Saugerties were not going to be denied their day in the muck.

Maybe that's why the mud slide was so popular. Hardly an official attraction, the mud slide -- actually a waterlogged path down a hill between the Eco-Village and the South Stage area -- attracted a steady stream of visitors only some of whom actually did any sliding.

What's the attraction? "It feels good," explained Libby Stephens of Richmond, Va. "Here, feel. It's great."

Ms. Stephens and her friends hadn't planned on sliding belly-down in the mud when they got to the hill. "We were going over to the North Stage, and figured we'd have some fun," said Mark Campion of Collingswood, N. J. "We thought other people would be doing it."

So why did Mr. Campion and company plunge in? "This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he said, shrugging. "We're here to have fun."

Having fun is definitely the order of the day. John Bickford and Shauna Whitten not only were willing to drive all night from Birmingham, Mich., to get to the festival, but also actually brought their 10-month-old son, James Dean -- along with a stroller and a Radio Flyer wagon full of baby things.

"This was not planned; it was just a last-minute thing," said Ms. Whitten. "We had Woodstock fever," added Mr. Bickford.

Mr. Bickford, though, was something of a veteran, having attended the original festival in Bethel 25 years ago. "I came here so he can say he was here with his mom and dad," he said, nodding toward the baby.

Unlike other concerts, where interaction between listeners is usually fairly minimal, the fans at Woodstock are remarkably friendly, chatting amiably and showing none of the wariness toward others found in real-world cities.

That's precisely the sort of thing Linn and Elaine Hoopes of Wilmington, Del., wanted from Woodstock. "We came for the ambience of it all," said Mr. Hoopes. At 62 and 49, respectively, the Hoopeses were among the oldest members of the audience, but they said they didn't feel at all unwelcome. "Everybody's talking to us," said Mr. Hoopes.

He added that he wasn't exactly up on the music. "A lot of the newer groups, I don't know who they are," he said. But when asked if anyone thought it odd that he would want to go to Woodstock, he just laughed.

"You ought to have heard our kids -- 'You're going where?' " he said.

And " 'Why didn't you get us tickets?' " added his wife.

Both Hoopeses thought the official prohibition against alcohol was both silly -- "What's a festival without beer?" asked Mr. Hoopes -- and ineffectual. Fans staying off-site had been going in and out with beer all day, and crushed beer cans were a common sight in the mud by midafternoon yesterday.

The gates are down and the beer is flowing, said Mr. Hoopes.

Festival organizers were a little less sanguine about the beer situation. New York State officials were trying to squelch beer sales outside the festival gates, where signs advertising "Cold Beer" were as common as those reading "Woodstock T-Shirts." According to a police spokesman, local merchants were being asked to suspend the sale of beer for the duration of the festival.

As for the traffic in and out of Woodstock, the official word was that everything was secure. The gates are not down, and this is not a free festival, said John Scher of PolyGram Diversified Ventures, one of the festival organizers. Speaking before a gathering of reporters in the press tent, Mr. Scher insisted that, contrary to rumor, there were no holes in the fence.

Rumors, however, are common currency in the press and backstage areas. Among the more prevalent: That there had been six deaths by midday yesterday (medical officials confirmed only one, that of 44-year-old Joseph Roussel, a diabetic); that the Rollins Band had bailed out of the festival (in fact, they went on as scheduled, offering a ferocious set during an even more ferocious downpour); and that the Rolling Stones would turn up (we were still waiting at press time).

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