“I just remember a lot of traffic,” Dr. Dennis Herrick said one day during a music lesson in which I was supposed to be playing my scales.
“You mean you were that close and didn’t even go to Woodstock?” I asked.
“I was too busy practicing my instrument,” Dr. Herrick said with just a hint of sarcasm.
Herrick came to Montgomery in 1988 and I was among the handful of high school students who joined his private lesson studio at Huntingdon College during his first year in town.
It all came about when he visited our school on a recruitment tour and one of the other students said if we took lessons with Dr. Herrick he’d show us the secrets of double and triple tonguing.
I wasn’t so good at articulation — I couldn’t even single tongue on my trombone, I just foo-foo’d my way through the music — so I knew I needed to meet this guy.
Fifty years ago this week, 500,000 people descended upon Bethel, New York, for three days of peace and music at Woodstock. It was free. It was peaceful. And landmark performances by the cream of the crop of rock artists all happened during three unbelievable days.
Look them up on YouTube: Carlos Santana, playing as if his life depended on it (when in reality he was tripping out and thought he had a snake in his hands instead of a guitar); Sly and the Family Stone, whipping 500,000 people into a funky frenzy; Joe Cocker interpreting The Beatles whilst flailing around the stage in his tie-dye shirt; maximum R&B band The Who performing their then-new “Tommy” as well as some older hits; Creedence Clearwater Revival stuck in a middle-of-the-night slot but still chooglin’; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young harmonizing sweetly at their first-ever gig; Jefferson Airplane wailing away during a breakfast performance; and Jimi Hendrix, crowning the festival with his blistering interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And more.
It’s hard to imagine how this festival occurred at all considering the hurdles the promoters and backers had to overcome. They were fortunate to find dairy farmer Max Yasgur, who was sympathetic to their plight. Although ostracized by the townspeople for being a hippie lover, Yasgur never hid his affection for the peace and love crowd that came in and turned his farm into a muddy mess over three days.
There were some follow-up events in 1979 and 1989, and a big one in 1994 that remained somewhat true to the original spirit. But the expensive, commercialized Woodstock ’99 ended all that as the event devolved into looting, fires and rapes — everything the 1969 festival had been against, the 30th anniversary version had become.
The dream is never over and this week is a great time to look back at what was accomplished by that festival 50 years ago.
Music was changed forever. It’s hard to imagine a Bonnaroo, Coachella or Lollapalooza without Woodstock having happened. They say if you remember being there you weren’t really there.
So Dr. Herrick missed it because he was practicing his instrument. The younger version of me couldn’t believe it. Today’s version makes me admire his dedication even more.