We yearn to be in some way part of a moment that will never come again; so we relive it in film
It had been almost 40 years to the day since Woodstock, that now-mythical concert that just "happened" on Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York and so set the standard for self-expression and social progress. Or, whatever it was.
Having missed that one by a couple of generations, I set out to experience as best I could the biggest "happening" of the mid 20th century, at least in my neighborhood. I bought an €8 ticket to watch Michael Wadleigh’s documentary Woodstock at the "Kino wie noch nie" in the Augarten.
The setting for the Augarten’s outdoor summer cinema was quaint, yet whimsical. Small "slow food" stands dotted the wooded area leading to the cinema. Patrons filled the picnic tables that were arranged so perfectly in no particular order, providing prime terrain for getting into the Woodstock spirit. The lanterns hanging from the trees cast a dreamy glow over the area as my friends and I took part in a time-honored ritual that is synonymous with the original "Three Days of Peace and Music."
The low roar of enjoyment filled the space as movie-goers and "foodies" alike enjoyed the offerings of the Augarten Kino. With the pungent smoke still hovering in mystic wreaths above our heads, we heard the first unmistakable sounds of the Summer of Love pouring over the Augarten...
Lost in our reverie, the show had started without us. We made our way through the food stands, past the ticket booth and into the theater nestled in the woods. Quickly taking our seats near the back, we settled in to watch the spectacle of our parents’ youth: Richie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, they were all there. All the martyrs to free love were on hand to perform in the open air at Augarten. Their messages remain poignant and unchanged. The moment, though unrepeatable, or perhaps because of it, has become immortal.
As I watched my peers of 40 years prior playing in the mud, it dawned on me how far removed from the moment in time I was. Hippies covered in slime, celebrating the rain, seem to stand 20 feet tall, in stark contrast to an orderly audience covered in designer labels. Had we fallen so short of the Hippie generation’s dreams?
There have been attempts to re-create what happened on that dairy farm in 1969. We tried again in ’79, ’89, and ’94. The dreams that following generations held of participating in their own Woodstock seemed to die at Woodstock ’99, as the Red Hot Chili Peppers played and Rome (New York) burned in the foreground. The crowd had revolted after two days of $5 bottles of water and the complete commercialization of what had now become a sacred event. The show was ended early after concert goers dismantled the wooden fences and started fires that eventually destroyed several truck-loads of over-priced merchandise. This seems nearer to the world I know…
It was Jimi Hendrix’s searing rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" that brought me back from this introspection. The film was drawing to a close. The cameras followed the flower children as they left the farm for places unknown. While the theater too was emptying, our destination was certain. The gentle forest of foodstands awaited us outside the theater to ease our transition back into the real world.
It was a quiet walk home that night, we hardly said anything. Conversation slowly grew from our silence as we shared what we were thinking. We all seemed to yearn to be in some way part of that moment, a moment that will never come again. Many of my generation dream of being in that moment. I only wonder what and when our moment will be.