Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Biking into Dendermonde, in the Flanders region of Belgium on August 6, we saw a brightly colored sign advertising Little Woodstock outdoor (and indoor) music festival.

The festival had ended the day before. Once again, as in Bethel Woods 43 years ago, I had missed Woodstock. From pictures I have seen posted on a festival website, this Woodstock was cleaner, dryer, and less crowded than the first one. But it also featured Belgian fries and mayonnaise. So you have to take the good with the not so good. The attendees also seemed old enough to have been in Bethel in 1969. Of course, so am I.

In Flemish, Little Woodstock was described as  "een festival met GRATIS TOEGANG voor alle optredens en fuiven!" (With Google's help, the Flemish seems to say it was a festival that was free of charge to enter in which all could play and celebrate.) That's pretty much how the lucky 1969 attendees felt, or so I have been told.

In January, Pete Fornatale, veteran DJ and rock music chronicler, spoke at my synagogue about Woodstock (the original, not the one in Belgium) and his new book Back to the Garden. Sadly, Pete died just a few months later. I miss his unique style of putting a radio show together (no one made a playlist like he did) and his knowledge of 60s and 70s rock stars and their music.  I also regret that I never got the chance to ask him that day which version of the song “Woodstock” he considered the most fitting for the 3-day seminal event – Joni Mitchell’s slow and haunting or Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s upbeat and rocking. I guess it depends on your mood when you put yourself into a Woodstock state of mind.

All of which makes me wonder if Woodstock is not so much an event as a celebration of being young (or not so young anymore) and open minded and willing to get muddy if the occasion arises. Or even to ride a bicycle through central Belgium with 14 other 60-, 70-, and 80-year-olds behind a German tour guide who was always in a hurry and sometimes got a little lost.

In the Introduction to Back to the Garden, Pete quotes Abbie Hoffman’s testimony at the trial of the Chicago Seven in 1969. It's a pretty funny exchange of miscommunication between the generations.

Hoffman is asked, “Where do you live?”

His reply: “I live in Woodstock Nation.”

When asked where that is, Hoffman says, “It is a nation of alienated young people. We carry it around with us as a state of mind.”

When he is pushed by a befuddled prosecuting attorney to explain in just which state Woodstock is located, Hoffman says, “It is in the state of mind, in the mind of myself and my brothers and sisters. It is a conspiracy.”

I love that word conspiracy. I don't think I have ever really been involved in a conspiracy, but if Woodstock counts, then maybe. . . 

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