Does the name Sri Swami Satchidananda ring a bell?
On August 15, 1969, he was the Yogi who opened the Woodstock Festival with remarks about the “sacred art of music,” after which he led the assembled masses in several chants. And while many factors combined to keep this event relatively calm, there are those who believe the Yogi’s words … “Hari OM” and “Rama” … were symbolic of the peaceful nature of this iconic gathering.
With the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock just over the horizon, there is another well-known Yogi who comes to mind … Yogi Berra. And though he has been gone since 2015, one of his immortal malapropisms seems an especially accurate capture of the chaotic planning for this event: “It’s like deja vu all over again.”
Thinking back to the woefully inept preparations for the original Woodstock, a number of memorable fits and starts come to mind … several communities rejected the festival before Max Yasgur stepped in at the very last minute … food and water supplies ran out almost immediately … medical care was inadequate … police were vastly outnumbered … and traffic control was non-existent.
Considering the near-catastrophe in 1969, one might have expected a cooperative and competent planning effort this time around. Recent reports, though, indicate otherwise … in one press release, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts emphasized that their planned anniversary is not affiliated with the organizers of the 1969 Festival, going on to underscore that they are not associated in any way with Michael Lang (the key promoter of the 1969 festival).
Meanwhile, Michael Lang has announced that he has plans for the anniversary as well, though details of who will be performing, and when and where the show will be held are not yet available. Lang says further information will be coming soon.
In other words … when it comes to planning Woodstock Festivals, it is business as usual.
Although I have been retired from policing for a number of years, I always celebrated my good fortune at having been assigned as a young officer to work at Woodstock. I learned much from that experience, but there is no denying that those days and nights in August, 1969, were long and busy. All of us … cops and hippies alike … were wet, tired, and hungry, but when it was over, we knew we had been part of something remarkable.
My wife, Bonnie, and I will be heading to New York for the 50th Anniversary, but this trip will be different in a number of ways. First and foremost, I will not be working, so the miles-long traffic jams on Route 17-B (now known as “The Woodstock Way”) will be somebody else’s problem. Instead, during this visit we will be engaging in some of the activities I witnessed but could not participate in last time.
No, we will not be sleeping in pup tents, using illegal drugs, or eating brown rice from a hand-thrown pottery jar. Instead, as we set out for Bethel, New York, this summer, we will be guided by the words of Don McLean in his 70’s anthem American Pie: “We all got up to dance. Oh, but we never got the chance!”
In 1969, we did not have the chance … but this time we will ……….