Lehigh University, Class of 2003
May 2000

When Everyone Would Share With Anyone

[1]           The 1960’s were years when revolution was the norm and controversy ran rampant.  Kennedy was assassinated, Man walked on the Moon, and the Woodstock festival became legendary.  Woodstock, while planned for possibly 100,000 people, would eventually become the second largest “city” in New York State at a peak population of close to 500,000 men, women, and children.  Never before had so many people come together as a group, without violence, in an effort to promote peace.  As these people came together, most strangers to one another, a new and different sense of community emerged.  In the documentary film Woodstock, 3 Days of Peace & Music we see several instances of this different kind of community.  One such instance includes a feat with a Biblical equivalent.  Over 400,000 people were fed breakfast with next to nothing.

[2]            The community at Woodstock was different from most others.  This new type of community was often associated with the hippie counterculture.  Many of these hippies resided in communal settings where the welfare of the group usually came first.  It was the philosophy of many communes that mainstream culture would greatly benefit if everyone held just a bit more concern for the rest of society.  The controversy surrounding this type of community began to form around the mainstream idea that each of us should contribute to the whole by taking care of ourselves.  Those who chose to remain outside this renewed form of community had always seen individuality as the key to success.  It became apparent that these outsiders were not comfortable with the inherent freedoms, if they can be called such, that were being enjoyed by those involved with a communal lifestyle.  These freedoms included things such as being able to participate in free love when so motivated.

[3]            Throughout the course of the weekend it became obvious that the organizers didn’t know what they were getting into.  People weren’t able to find much of anything to eat.  On Sunday morning, when most people were wondering where they might find something to eat, a man named Wavy Gravy put words to the Woodstock sense of community welfare.  He announced that everyone who wanted it would be served “Breakfast in Bed for 400,000" (tape 2:  1:01:54). The breakfast wasn’t anything spectacular.  Rolled oats or bulgur wheat cooked with peanuts until the texture of goulash doesn’t sound too great.  The spectacular part was that these people were willing to give what they had and then some until everyone had had enough.  As Gery Krewson put it, “These people were feeding literally hundreds of thousands of people with nothing.  They were taking what they could get and feeding people with it.”  The truly ironic thing is that a lot of the food came from donations from those “outsiders.”  The director of the film, Michael Wadleigh, had the opportunity of a lifetime.  When else would someone be able to show such an honest representation of the power of a caring community?
            [4]It has been said that, “Community is neither more nor less than a mutual commitment to share in the pursuit of a common vision.”  In the film there is a recurring theme related to that commitment and its vision.  People were ready to help others in need of assistance no matter what the circumstances.  One authentic commune had a very important role during the event.  The Hog Farm, a commune in New Mexico, became the festival organizers’ “crowd interface.”  Stan Goldstein, organizer Michael Lang’s buddy, explained, “We needed a specific group to be the exemplars for all to follow.”  This film shows the Hog Farmers in a various assortment of roles.  They did what needed doing, from tending to the sick/injured and those under the influence of drugs, to setting up their own alternative stage where crowd members could show off their own music talent.  In a community of equals, these were the people in charge.

[5]            The common hardships faced at Woodstock only served to feed the sentiment of connectedness between those who would soon have to return to the reality of their daily lives and those whose reality before coming to Woodstock was very much along the lines of the festival itself.  It becomes plainly obvious when watching the film that there were many different types of people in attendance at Woodstock.  Under other circumstances many of these people would not have chosen to interact with those that they did.  Yet in the spirit of community we see how each and every one of them is willing to forgo prejudices in favor of a weekend of peace and music.

[6]            This documentary seems to be a simplistic representation of the interactions of those at Woodstock.  As we now know, the organization was not the best, and there were some questionable financial dealings, but this is not what was focused on.  As a whole, this group created a legacy that even thirty years later was recreated at Woodstock `99.   No matter what went on behind the scenes, there was one thing that was most likely to remain in the minds of all who witnessed Sunday morning’s mess call.  Wavy Gravy who said it; “We must be in Heaven, man!”  Just before Jimi Hendrix, the final act of Woodstock, Max Yasgur spoke to the crowd.  He praised them all when he said, “You have proven to the world that half a million kids can get together and have three days of fun and music and nothing but fun and music and I ‘God Bless you’ for it.”  The history of a sense of community at Woodstock need not be put on trial through this film.  Based on its portrayal of the Woodstock community, I see this documentary as a useful historical tool that will be used for generations to come as a way to remember one of the greatest gatherings of all time.