It was muddy and muddled and worth it Taking Stock WOODSTOCK -- THE TRIP BACK

August 15, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

SAUGERTIES, N.Y. — Saugerties, N.Y.--And on the third day, Woodstock created mud.

Actually, the mud got a good start Saturday, thanks to a drenching mid-afternoon storm. But that storm was short and merciful compared to the one that hit early yesterday morning, shortly after Aerosmith hit the stage. By the time the band finished, some time after 3 a.m., the muck was knee-deep in the mosh pit.

It was still raining by Sunday afternoon -- joked Wavy Gravy, "PolyGram cannot control the weather" -- though it had slowed to just a trickle. But by then the damage had been done. Mud was everywhere: In the fields, around the tents and even on the stage, thanks to a few dozen mud-slinging Green Day fans. Finding a spot that wasn't waterlogged was out of the question; the best anyone heading through the festival could hope for was to avoid the major muck.

Slipping in the mud wasn't the only transportation worry. Shuttle bus service between the festival site and the various parking lots was suspended early Sunday afternoon, and the announcements from the stage that people should stay a little later and dig the music were greeted with something less than enthusiasm. Worse, the word filtering back from the parking areas was that the rains had left many cars mired in the soggy ground.

All the dampness only slightly dampened the fans' enthusiasm, however. Performances by the ever-inscrutable Bob Dylan, the bizarrely theatrical Porno for Pyros and the generally inspiring Santana were greeted with unfeigned enthusiasm from those in the fields, while those in the mosh pits appeared as happy as pigs in . . . well, you know.

"We're still having fun," said Jamey Stynchula, 23, of Harrisburg, Pa. "Kinda."

Mr. Stynchula was camping in the Eco-Village with his friend, Anthony Tanzola, 30, of Reading, Pa. Both complained about the sloppy conditions and the difficulty getting around but didn't seem terribly upset by either. "We just have to ride it out."

Far more bothersome to the two was the disorganization at the parking lots and at the gates. "We had to wait six hours before we could even get on the bus to come here," said Mr. Stynchula. Then, when they finally got to the site, they kept running into people who were boasting about how they got in for free.

"It kind of makes you a little mad when you're talking to someone who got in free, and you paid all that money," said Mr. Tanzola, with Mr. Stynchula adding that "It seems like half the people here didn't pay."

Pretty close. Although ticket sales were believed to have topped out between 190,000 and 200,000, the New York State Police estimated that there were some 350,000 people at the festival Saturday. Sunday's crowd was considerably smaller (early guesses hovered around 180,000), but even so, the gates were closed to keep additional concert-goers from coming in and adding to the mess.

"They let way too many people in," commented Derek Cassier, 23, of Atlanta, Ga. "There are tents everywhere you walk, and people just get in the way of each other."

Even so, Mr. Cassier didn't feel too put-upon. "It's a good show, don't get me wrong," he said. "I'm glad I came up here. There aren't too many places that would do this. No place in Georgia, that's for sure."

It certainly would be difficult to imagine Woodstock's musical range finding a home anywhere else. It wasn't simply the size of the crowd; at its best, the music at Woodstock '94 demonstrated the phenomenal breadth and depth of popular music these days. Rock, rap, soul, blues, folk, punk and worldbeat were all on tap Sunday, and there were few complaints to be had with any of it.

At worst, the performances were merely solid and professional, as with the Spin Doctors. But at their best, the playing went well beyond normal expectations, showing that many of these performers were more than capable of rising to the occasion. Arrested Development did a remarkable job of moving the crowd despite a less-than-flattering mix, while Bob Dylan offered one of his strongest rock performances (with acoustic interludes) this critic has heard from him in ages.

In fact, there were moments when the music's appeal surprised even the audience. Take the situation by the South Stage early Sunday afternoon. Because several acts -- John Sebastian, Country Joe McDonald and Gil Scott-Heron -- had been unexpectedly added to the South Stage schedule, a number of the people who turned up expecting to hear Green Day were surprised and disappointed to find that the international contingent from W.O.M.A.D. (Peter Gabriel's World of Music, Art and Dance organization) were still on the stage.

Worse, W.O.M.A.D. didn't involve just one act, but several, and every time a new group of strange musicians trouped out, the crowd's reaction grew more hostile. Yet for all their impatience, the crowd proved both charitable and attentive, cheering the drummers of the Senegalese group Xalem, and bopping along enthusiastically to the intensely rhythmic trance music of

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