Lehigh University, Class of 2003
May 2000

[1]    The 1960’s symbolized a tumultuous time in American History.  An unpopular war was raging in Vietnam, and unrest was building at home.  The drug culture was emerging, and our youth was being captured by the lure of mood-altering drugs. Marijuana and acid were drugs of choice, and attitudes about most “recreational drugs” were changing. The War in Vietnam had progressed to the point that a draft lottery was in place to determine who would be shipped over to fight for our country.  The young men in America came to the realization that they had no control over whether or not they would be chosen to fight.  Many of them were barely old enough to graduate from high school when the reality of paying the ultimate sacrifice for their country sunk in.  Making matters worse, the war was being fought in a country half a world away and for reasons that many did not believe in or even understand.

[2]    These were the ingredients that made the young-adult generation very scared.  They wanted their voices to be heard.  Their mantra was “make love, not war.”  People resorted to drugs to medicate their anxiety and nervousness about the situation our country was facing.  Furthermore, influential people like Timothy Leary, were telling the young people to “drop-out” and “get high”(Start Your Own Religion, p.2).  Many of these people gathered at Woodstock as a way of coming together to promote peace.  They were scared, and music and drugs helped quell the fear.  As the crowds gathered at Woodstock, the drugs followed.  Massive numbers of people showed up at Woodstock, and this gave these kids hope that they were not alone when they felt uneasy about the notion of fighting for something they did not believe in.  Woodstock was an example of how youth would teach the world the way to co-exist, peacefully.  The feeling of total freedom from worry, police, and other controls made for a peaceful weekend of sex, drugs, and rock& roll.

[3]    Michael Wadleigh's documentary on Woodstock painted a very realistic picture of what actually occurred there.  It showed how the events slowly evolved into one of the biggest concerts of all time and became an icon for young people everywhere in the 60’s.  The young people wanted peace rather than war.  They preached love rather than hate, and they used drugs to escape the realities of the real world.  The enormous turnout was unexpected, and it truly showed how many people were affected by the problems that our country was dealing with.  This documentary depicted the emotions, anxieties, and hedonistic pleasures that the Woodstock attendees experienced.

[4]    Woodstock earned a place in history books.  It was an event driven by conscience, fear, and the knowledge that there can be strength in numbers.  Many may differ in the rationale that people of good conscience were in attendance.  Patriots felt that it demonstrated lack of support for our country’s fighting armed forces.  The morale of our military was low as we fought a difficult war, and unrest at home left them feeling unappreciated.  What Woodstock did show was the freedom that a free society has to free speech.  Discontent and fear about the war were voiced as those who attended “dropped out” and frolicked under the sun in a drug-filled, rock and roll environment.  For one short weekend, reality was obfuscated, and thousands of young people celebrated peacefully, without arrest.

[5]    The film presented drug use as a way to relax and create.   Lang implied that drugs were okay as long as the people using them didn’t hurt anyone and everyone got along.  The idea that drugs aided in the creative process was accepted, and drugs seemed to inspire musicians.  At one particular part of the movie, Jerry Garcia, who was one of the icons of the hippie movement during the 60’s, is seen holding a joint and he gleefully tells the camera that he is about to smoke-up.  Peaceful co-existence was the goal at Woodstock.  It was a “love in.”   Perhaps the most memorable scene in the movie concerning drugs was a five-minute segment of film of the camera panning the crowd and looking at different people in the crowd using drugs (1:44:12).  Lang showed the scene of drug users with rock music playing in the background.  There were no words spoken during this interval.  He only had music playing in the background.  It was evident that these people were retreating to the safe haven of the drugged mind, and the way Lang shows this makes it seem as if everyone at Woodstock was on drugs.  The medical risks of taking these drugs was not of concern to the users.  The social consequences of drug use were depicted in a positive light, since everyone got along and “made love, not war.”

[6]    Aside from the few scenes of actual drug use, like the one described above, the film seemed to concentrate more on the festivities at Woodstock and how everyone was happy and got along.  But another memorable scene concerning drugs occurred when a man got on the speaker to warn everyone that there was some “bad acid” out in the crowd and to be careful.  There were “acid tents” provided for those who were on a “bad trip.”(38:10)  He also told the crowd to only use the good acid and to steer clear of the low-grade acid that was “floating around.”  Clearly, the only negative connotation concerning drugs at Woodstock was to make sure that you did not use the low-grade drugs because they were making people sick.  By using the good drugs, like most everyone at Woodstock was, peace and harmony was the result.  Lang saw this a very good trade-off and promoted the positive effects of drugs.

[7]    In revolt against the war, America’s youth had become hippies.  They rebelled against a society whose morals they held in disdain.  They used drugs to medicate their fears, and they consoled one another for comfort.  Many who experienced Woodstock used drugs as a way to “drop out” of the war and fighting that consumed our nation during the 60’s.  The throngs and throngs of people that showed up showed America just how much the war in Vietnam was affecting our young adults.  They came together as one and, in essence, “lived for a weekend in the still eye of the hurricane.”