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WOODSTOCK TO WATKINS GLEN: Four More Years?

Photographs by Robert Ely (1,2), and Stuart Bratesman (3,4)

By Timothy Carlson

BY 2 A.M. SATURDAY, ten hours before the scheduled start of the concert, anyone that arrived was already late. He or she needing a place to fall asleep, had to make do with a sleeping bag wedged in between thousands of white or yellow Port-O-Sans. Others, undaunted at the prospect of stepping on perhaps fifty heads in the last eight hundred yards to the stage, pressed on toward the dull glowing red stage lights. Land was gold and there was a rush but the only claim you could stake was with your body. As they were stepped on, sleepers yelled out that there was no more room up front. Weren't they leaning up against one another a hundred yards from the stage? Of course there was room, there was always room for someone who knew what they wanted in this free enterprise society. If the pressure built much more people would just have to sleep upright, stacked together like cords of wood. The steady murmuring of the stepped on was punctuated every now and then by the squeals of puppies curled up around the foot of their masters' bags. There were no cats to be found in the quarter mile wide three quarters of a mile long concert field because there was no one place where a cat could find a single space where he wouldn't be touched before he could lick himself clean. A cat's nightmare. One could imagine, say, 600,000 dogs snuggling up to a huge Gaines or Gravy Train bowl to lap up a few stray sounds while the cameras whirred away.

* * * * *

ON ONE of the scaffoldings which held spotlights there was a banner: Choate Freaks United. It was hard to imagine some alumni there. John Kennedy, for instance.

* * * * *

"Sleep is bogus!"

"This is a festival!" Nobody can sleep out here. I can't find my bag anymore anyway. I can't get into that bag anymore. For a while I was seein' stars (or was it arc lights?) and everything was real peaceful. Until this hopped up cokehead hopped on my head. This foot just gunches my jaw. I could a been into some sleep, but I just crossed over the line. Whoooeee! Parsons! Possuns! I want some coke! Course if somebody around here had some downers, some goofers, I could get down, but as long as I'm flyin' let's party. Let's boogie! Wake up, everybody! You are just crouching there with your sleeping bags over your heads hoping I'll shut up so you can pretend you're trying to go to sleep, but that's just bogus. Hey Mark, you and me are standing here and nobody's saying anything anymore. Either we've won 'em over or they're maybe fifty people gonna jump us any second."

"If they were on our side they would a been up and partyin' by now."

"Well, everybody's been on my ass all day now, bitin' my ass! I just wish everybody'd get off my case. I lost my goddamn bag, and who knows what's curled up in it now. Gimme a beer."

Mark throws Dennis a beer and it bounces off the shins of the one person who hasn't raised his head up from under his blanket during the shouting. The bottle of Genesee makes a dull clinking sound as it bounces off.

"Hey Mark, do you suppose that there's really a person under that blanket?"

"Not alive. Hey, wake up!"

"Aw, forget it. He's bogus."

* * * * *

WHEN THE CONCERT STARTED, the sun bore down on the field and the Grateful Dead played a four hour set. Normal Dead enthusiasm was diffused by the sun which scorched into brains which had much of their juices drained by various portions of beer, wine, liquor, LSD, THC, MDA, quaaludes, sopors -- and some horse tranquilizer was reported as well. THC and acid were being sold for $2 a hit in plastic prescription bottles. Someone said there wasn't much Drano around like there was at Woodstock.

* * * * *

There was a sheet hung on two sticks with "OWSLY" written on it. After an absence of about a year, during which time he was reportedly in jail, the famous Owlsley was back in touch with his old friends from the Haight Ashbury days, the Grateful Dead. Owlsley was the chemist in the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test who mixed up the best acid on the coast, and who personally mixed up the kool aid for the acid test for Kesey, the Dead, and the Merry Pranksters in 1967. Now Owsley the brilliant technician had helped design the sound system for the Grateful Dead, which had two innovations -- cross phasing and a digital delay unit. Cross phasing is the placing of two microphones aimed at the singer so that, after the sound comes out of the mixing unit, the voice of the singer would come out of a speaker purified of the music amplification. The digital delay unit compensates for the difference in the speed of electricity and the speed of sound. In past outdoor festivals, music from speakers a half mile away would wash back over the audience in weird waves of sound like an echo chamber. The digital delay unit let the music come out in total synchronization. But of course no one could hear a note in synchronization with the hand that struck it. There was a half second delay between ears and eyes.

* * * * *

DURING THE MIDDLE of the Band's set, there was a heavy summer thunder and lightning shower. The pianist got drenched, but after the tech crew put plastic sheets over all the electronic equipment, the Band played on. During one of their heavy rocker numbers, a skydiver plummetted. It seemed that his parachute opened a little early, and he drifted over the field. He seemed to be whirling curiously around on his straps, and he landed over a clump of trees behind the stage. Later, three skydivers jumped amidst the lightning with three red flares held in their hands. The next day, the newspapers reported one of the skydivers had been killed, burned to a crisp by his flare before he hit the ground. The only one who seemed out of control, like a dead weight, was the first diver. But by the time I saw him floating down, there was no flare. Also in the papers was the report that 8 people died in automobile crashes while en route to the festival. Fewer than 100 people were arrested, all on minor possession charges, and just over a hundred people were treated in hospitals. Only one seriously bad acid trip. The crowd was remarkably quiet. More Confederate flags than the red, blue, and yellow of the NLF which had become so familiar at mass gatherings of the young the past five years.

* * * * *

After the rains and the Band were through, the Allman brothers' technical crew took over two and a half hours to set up, and it was hard for the crowd to keep patient, there was no outlet for frustration, either. But a lot of people cheered when firecracker flares were aimed at the Allman brothers when they finally took the stage, without apology. Bill Graham introduced them as a rock band "with balls." The P.A. announcer had refined his routine so much that he underestimated the crowd size and refrained from commenting on the spirit of the whole enterprise until he introduced the Allman Brothers at 10:30 p.m. "As far as we're concerned, of all the outdoor festivals, this is THE ONE." Woodstock was never mentioned and the whole tone of that understatement was taken straight from the Campaign to ReElect the President. The Committee to ReElect the Outdoor Festival.

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