Author: Campbell, Bruce

With Music, All Things Are Possible

It was forty years ago this month ? the legendary Woodstock festival. It was possibly the most iconic event in American history in the 20th century. Like any major event, especially after nearly half a century, there?s a ton of mythology surrounding the event, and what it meant, and what it continues to mean.

Maybe the years since 1969 can also work to peel away some of the layers of myth, too, though. A half million people in one place does not a ?city? make. It was more like a huge picnic ? there was no production or industry. Everything there was brought in, just like any camping trip. Did Woodstock prove that the hippie ideals of free love and peace could conquer all? Did they, as a group, or Woodstock, as an event, change the world? And most tantalizingly, how I can link all this to Bluegrass?

I was only 11 when Woodstock happened, and initially, it was just a curious news story. I didn?t even know where Woodstock was. I was picturing a little town in California somewhere. I did know what hippies were, though. I had family in San Francisco, and visiting them always meant driving along Golden Gate Park, and I could see real live hippies as we drove down Fell Street. ?Dirty filthy beatnicks!? my father would mutter.
But I was fascinated, and the mythology appealed to me -- and it still does. I could not understand why someone would be against the ideals of peace, love and freedom ? they seemed the very pillars of what we were all supposed to be about.

Young people always rebel against the generation that precedes them ? quotes from Socrates bemoan the same attitudes, obsession with sex, and lack of respect that so galled my father. I think it?s natural, healthy and necessary for each generation to question authority. Leaders have to be tested all the time. Is this a lesson of the Woodstock generation?

It?s just as easy to dismiss the Woodstock generation as fuzzy-brained drug-addled spoiled slobs as it is to give them too much credit. High minded ideals crash headlong into our baser tendencies. ?Free love? could mean empowerment for women, and an important step for women?s liberation, or it could just be randy young men trying to encourage girls to be more accommodating. Were drugs a pathway to enlightenment, or just the new generation?s way of numbing themselves? Every generation has its drug(s) of choice.

So what is the lasting, real, tangible effect of Woodstock upon our culture, and the world? Two things come to my mind. For the first ? just look around. A legacy of Woodstock and the 60?s is a greater acceptance of freedom of expression. Compare the variety of hair and clothing styles, music and art you see every day now, with you would have seen looking out the window in any big city in the early 1960?s. I am a personal example of this. I made sales presentations to the Pentagon in the late 80?s, with a beard, a ponytail, earrings and mismatched socks. Could I have made my way past the guards in 1965, looking like that? No way.

The other lasting effect is more tangible, and it does lead to a Bluegrass reference. Woodstock stands as a very brief moment in history when the glowing ideal of peace and love was possible and reasonable. We will always view those three days through rose-colored granny glasses, and we must acknowledge that for 400,000 people to squeeze into Max Yasgur?s farm, and come together as one community IS remarkable, and validates the notion of Peace and Love for humanity. Yes, it?s a dangerous world, and if invading tanks are rolling through your town, you?re not thinking peace and love. But it?s still a worthwhile ideal to pursue. What IF they gave a war and NOBODY CAME?

Bluegrass reference? Well, the papers made a big deal out of people getting together to enjoy music together, but I suspect there was a sizeable contingent of Bluegrass fans who saw the commotion in the papers and said ?Pshaw! We?ve been doing that all over the country for years!? And we STILL do!
Posted:  8/19/2009

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