BACK TO THE GARDEN
The Story of Woodstock
By Pete Fornatale
Illustrated. 303 pp. Touchstone/Simon & Schuster. $24.99
By Michael Lang with Holly George-Warren
Illustrated. 304 pp. Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers. $29.99
Edited by Mike Evans and Paul Kingsbury.Illustrated. 288 pp. Sterling. $25.
Published: August 6, 2009
The Woodstock festival (“Three Days of Peace and Music”) has been celebrated for 40 years as a great moment in American cultural history, although we’ve never quite agreed about why. Sometimes the argument seems to be that it was important because nothing terrible happened.
“It was unique in that there were a half-million people not stabbing each other to death at a concert, and that hadn’t been done before,” said Grace Slick, who sang there with Jefferson Airplane.
“Nobody killed anybody, nobody raped anybody, nobody shot anybody. In the history of humankind, I think it’s probably the only group of people that size that didn’t do any of that,” said David Crosby of Crosby, Stills and Nash.
We will pause for a moment to contemplate the dark opinion American musicians circa 1969 entertained about humankind in general and their fans in particular.
To really appreciate Woodstock, you have to understand that it was, in many ways, incredibly awful — the rock concert in the middle of nowhere that attracted so many young fans it became a nation unto itself, surrounded by a ring of stalled traffic. The weather was terrible. The lines at the concession stands were endless. The smell from the Port-o-Sans was ferocious. “It was the most horrific stench I have ever smelled in my life,” one woman said. “And once I got done with what I had to do there, I literally had to walk around to clear my head a little bit because I thought I was going to fall down.”
Yet everybody seemed cheerful. Pete Fornatale, in “Back to the Garden,” offers up the Slick and Crosby analyses, as well as one from Ravi Shankar, who said of the huge audience: “It was drizzling and very cold, but they were so happy in the mud; they were all stoned, of course, but they were enjoying it. It reminded me of the water buffaloes you see in India, submerged in the mud.”