RYAN KENT
Lehigh University, Class of 2003
May 2000

There Were Drugs at Woodstock!?

[1]         When people think of Woodstock, they automatically think of sex, drugs, music, and other hedonistic pleasures that are associated with the hippie culture.  The 60’s were a period of revolution in our country; people began to tire of the social norms that were imposed upon them.  They turned from the conservative, capitalistic feelings prevalent in our country to a more laid-back lifestyle where they could free themselves from the pressures of the accepted lifestyle.  Drugs were one way in which these “rebels” fought “the establishment.”  By taking something that was socially unacceptable and using it in such a blatant way to promote an even more unacceptable lifestyle, they believed that they had found a way to have fun while protesting.  Woodstock was the place for the counter-culture to congregate.  Here freedom was real and not just a dream; the hippies could live life as they wanted to without the interference of the rest of society.  They were able to do whatever they wanted, and this included the usage of massive amounts of drugs.  The movie Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music attempted to portray the reasons so many attended the concert and what events took place.  In this it does a good job, except in one aspect: coverage on the usage of drugs.  Whether it was to portray Woodstock in a more acceptable light for the public or to focus on other aspects of the hippie culture instead, this movie did a poor job at showing what was really going on behind the scenes.

 [2]       “I like ideas about the breaking away or overthrowing of established order.  I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that seems to have no meaning.  It seems to me to be the road towards freedom – external freedom is a way to bring about internal freedom” (Jim Morrison). By taking drugs to expand their minds, peacefully protest, and define their culture, the hippies promoted their hedonistic, laid-back lifestyle.  Whether they used drugs to promote the peace and happiness in which they believed, to protest against the conservative and closed-minded “establishment,” because their friends all took drugs, or just because they enjoyed it, drug usage was a huge part of the hippie sub-culture.  “In the 1960’s the hippies, en masse, undertook the largest uncontrolled experiment with drug use in the history of mankind.  In those days it wasn’t unusual to be handed a pill, and swallow it with the only instruction 'You’ll dig it, it’s groovy.'  You trusted your fellow hippie and you wanted to get high and have a new experience.  This was freedom.  This was rebellion.  This was cool.  We discovered that Pandora’s stash box was full of drugs!” (Hippies A-Z)

[3]        Woodstock was no exception.  Here, youths were able to do whatever they wanted, including the massive usage of drugs.  People everywhere were smoking pot, tripping, and doing whatever they could, even using yoga, to get high.  “The counter culture, in its broad-spectrum challenge to the prevailing culture, argued that America needed a sweepingly new ethics appropriate to an age characterized by never-ending global power struggles, technocracy, urbanization, environmental catastrophe, and psychedelic chemistry.  The hippies saw themselves as the people of zero, the vanguard who would build a new society on the ruins of the old, corrupt one.  They defined their task as bringing to the world a radical change of outlook, a fundamentally new way of seeing the world” (Timothy Miller). By using drugs, hippies discovered a new way to view the world.  Nowhere besides Woodstock had so many people come together with such a purpose in mind.

[4]        The usage of drugs brought people at Woodstock closer together.  Asking someone for a joint or to join in on a smoking session was an easy way to break the ice and find a common joy between strangers.  Hippies were very much into the community spirit and sharing with others helping them to feel that the love and belonging of that community was one of their goals.  Here a quote from one Woodstock attendant shows the hopes and attitude of many of the people there: “Periodically, we’d get up and move around a bit, and you’d see lots of happy smiling people, just diggin’ it.  People were experiencing the joyful feeling of getting back to nature, others were considering dropping out of step in a culture imprisoned by its own conservatism.  Idealism was in the air (besides marijuana smoke,) and maybe  what was happening at Woodstock would spread and a quiet revolution (evolution) of sorts would take place, disinvolving the US from unnecessary war in Vietnam.

[5]        Drugs were depicted in the documentary only infrequently, which does not indicate to any extent how much drug use occurred.  Between shows, there were frequent announcements to beware of the bad acid and the drugs slipped into drinks and various other items such as ice cubes.  Woodstock reported 5,162 medical cases, according to a state Health Department report released October 4, 1969.  Of these, 797 were instances of drug abuse.  The report lists two deaths by drug overdose, two of only three total.  In his scene analysis on this web site, Jim Clewley reports on the poor documentation of drug usage at Woodstock: “A final instance of the chicanery of the documentary camera can be seen during a part in the following scene where the P.A. announcer is talking about the “acid tents” (38:10).  These were tents set up for people to receive treatment if they were experiencing a “bad trip.” Within the movie, this portion of Woodstock is lightly glazed over within this small scene; yet in reality the drug culture present at Woodstock was unparalleled.  During the film there are only a few scenes where you see any type of drug activity at all, and when you do see it, it is mostly marijuana.  This, however, was only the tip of the iceberg.  Throughout the entire Woodstock festival the crowd had hundreds of “drug related” problems.  This necessitated the “acid tents.” They weren’t just created because the organizers thought that it might help a few people here and there; they had no other choice.  By leaving the complete drug story out of the documentary, it opened the film to a greater audience than if it were filled with hallucinating teenagers within every scene” (paragraph 4).  By focusing more on the ideals of the hippie culture instead of showing drugged-out teenagers the entire time (which could have been a real possibility,) the movie attempted to gain support for the movement.  Indeed, in the one scene where drug usage was widely shown (1:43:42), only marijuana and related paraphernalia were in abundant use on camera.  While this scene did show many people getting high and smoking out of make-shift, homemade bowls,  it never showed people using any of the harder drugs which were in abundant use as well.  Tripping on acid, smoking opium, snorting cocaine, using psychedelic mushrooms, and many other forms of getting high were frequently seen at Woodstock.  None of this was indicated in the one scene which even tried to indicate the amount of drugs there.  By failing to do so, the documentary missed one of the largest movements that went on at Woodstock.  Drug usage was a huge part of the hippie sub-culture they were promoting, and any who watched the movie should have been informed of that as well.

[6]        I personally do not have a problem with people using drugs, at least in the happy, peaceful way in which the hippies used them.  One town member, when interviewed, even said that the kids high at Woodstock were behaving much better than a group of drunken adults would in the same situation.  Everyone was high and happy, and very few problems resulted from it.  People should be allowed to do to themselves as they feel, we own our bodies and should be able to make our own decisions about what we do to them.  I am certain that the people who chose to take drugs and then overdosed knew exactly what harm they could cause to themselves; it’s a risk that they decided to take.  By not allowing this simple freedom, we only cause more people harm.  Making drugs illegal only increases their allure, surrounding them with a mystique.  Any teenager looking to “break the rules” will find an easy way by using drugs.

[7]        Woodstock was a place where people went to break those rules.  Those in attendance went looking for freedom, at least for a few days, and to surround themselves with people of similar interests.  It is too bad that the documentary failed to really look into one of the driving forces behind this movement, drugs.  Using drugs was, and still is, a way in which people can easily break the rules, show their dissent, and protest against whatever it is they wish to protest.  It makes those with little power feel powerful; they are making themselves feel good in a way that our society does not approve of, making themselves outlaws of a sort, banded together by their forbidden pleasure.  Drug use is what brought the hippie sub-culture together; it helped form a common bond between the young people looking to change a culture that they believed was too conservative, prejudiced, and corrupt.  Woodstock will always be remembered in history, and I do not believe its charm will ever be duplicated again.  Woodstock “was greater than peace, love, happiness, music and getting back to the country.  Each participant shared in and contributed to that almost intangible essence of Woodstock.  We were in communion with one another, to greater or lesser degree in sharing the experience, the hopes, the desires, the hedonism, and whatever else” (anonymous).