Wednesday 24 August 2011

What's Real And Right

I happened upon a documentary last night, called “The Festival Express”. It was about a 1970 train tour across Canada featuring the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band and Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, with stops in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver. I remember this concert tour, but what I can’t remember is if I went to the concert. Judging from the movie, a good time was had by all.

Watching this documentary caused me to reflect on other concerts that I went to back in the day. There were many good concerts, but the one that got away was Woodstock. I was just a little too young and middle class to have gone to upstate New York during the summer of ’69. I didn’t really hear about it until it was happening and of course by then I had missed the boat. I vowed that if it happened again (fat chance) I would be there come Hell or high water.

My chance came about four years later in 1973 when the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen New York was being held on July 28th. It featured The Allman Brothers Band, The Band and The Grateful Dead. Believe it or not, more people attended Watkins Glen than Woodstock. The crowd was estimated at 600,000, and take it from someone that was there, I think they under estimated.

I had some friends that were from NY, I met them while they were avoiding the draft and since they were going home I hitched a lift. The trip from Toronto went by in a smoky haze. We spent a night or two with a kind of a commune of more or less retail thieves. They must have stolen about ten thousand albums from the record store they worked in and their ladies lifted pretty much everything else in the house from where they worked. They were very nice people, but couldn’t join us at the concert because they had to work. It is nice to see young people so dedicated to preserving the American way of life. Joe’s brother agreed to drive us to the racetrack where the concert was being held. He had to stop about ten miles from the track, because that was where the parked cars started.

So, we had a ten mile hike before we even got to the gates. This is shaping up well. We didn’t have tickets of course, because we were pretty sure that with all of these people the fences were sure to come down. They did. On our walk, the skies opened up and we were slogging through mud and water. Hey, didn’t the same thing happen at Woodstock? God knows how long we hiked for, but eventually we made it to the venue. This wasn’t Woodstock; there were people with large trucks selling water for $3 a bottle and chips for a couple of bucks. They were the only game in town and the summer of love happened four years ago. Times change, and those without change don’t get water or chips.

We walked to the top of a hill and looked down on a vast mass of people. It was incredible! I had never seen anything like it and I doubt that I ever will. The hills were truly alive and undulating.

I told my buddies that we should meet here if we get separated and they agreed. They took it to mean they could bugger off as soon as I turned my back. I looked at all of the people and it occurred to me that I couldn’t see a stage or hear any music. WTF? I asked a girl where the stage was and she smiled and pointed towards another hill on the horizon. I could just make out the speaker towers if I squinted.

There is no damned way I was going to wend my way down there, because I don’t really like crowds at the best of times and this wasn’t the best of times. I just wandered on the fringes of the crowd, watching and talking to people. They had come from all over the continental US and the one thing they had in common is the desire to recapture that Woodstock feeling. Everything was just too strained, and just didn’t quite make it. Oh, the people did the same things, and smoked the same things and dropped the same things, but it was all forced. It seemed like a cardboard cut out of a good time.

The only real thing that happened to me other than hunger and thirst was when I went for a hike in a ravine to get away from everyone with the hopes of making sense of the weekend. Things became forest quiet and then surprisingly, just on the edge of consciousness I could hear the music! Not loudly or even clearly, but kind of like a really beautiful elevator that doesn’t go anywhere. I sat on a rock and just listened to the world for a while. I looked up and saw this old hippie (25) sitting on a folding chair in front of a card table. When I went over to say hi. I saw an array of pipes, papers, grass, hash, hash oil and some brownies on the table. We talked for a while and what a wonderful man he was. I suggested that he might do a better business if he were located closer to people. He just shook his head and smiled. He told me that all of that isn’t real, what’s real is what’s right and what’s right is what’s real. Dig?
You know, I did, and have been looking for what’s real and right for the last forty years.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the memories and I do remember the Festival Express coming to Winnipeg, and like you didn't like crowds then and still don't today and that's why we live on the island. There was some great music back then and still enjoy it now and then on Satellite radio for change of pace. You still find a few of those hippies here selling their wares at the many farmers markets that we have . B