Woodstock Times Online -> UGLY WOODSTOCK




Ugly Woodstock

Just before the 1994 Woodstock festival at the Winston Farm in Saugerties the entertainment multinational Polygram, which bankrolled the event, was busy bullying local merchants who dared to use the name Woodstock on their merchandise. Heavies from the corporate legal department said they had to strongarm little guys to protect the good name of their product.

Interesting, isn't it, how things turn out. A festival called Woodstock in Rome, New York, has ended badly. And the event that appropriated Woodstock as a trademark may have tarnished the reputation of a town that never wanted that festival in the first place. So should Woodstock the town sue the owners of Woodstock the commodity for mishandling Woodstock the concept?

Sure we should. Just as soon as we straighten out the post office mess and the green conflicts and fix the water system and entomb the landfill and build the highway garage and the police station and.... Oh how reality intrudes on our delusions of grandeur, reminding us we have a responsibility to care for the place where we live and work, which just happens also to be a name that draws people from around the world who can't contain their curiosity about what goes on here.

Still, it's irresistible to speculate about what went wrong in Rome and why. By now there are more theories about the cause of the rapes, arson and looting than there were attendees. People blame the music--splitting by subset into those who condemn the misogynistic lyrics, the musicians' incantations to violence, the preponderance of angry rockers, and those who write off the whole generation as a bunch of losers--not to mention the heat and the outrageous prices for water and food, and the lack of adequate sanitation. All these undoubtedly served as contributing factors. But maybe another problem with Woodstock 99 was where it was.

The 1969 Woodstock festival sprang up by default in a Sullivan County cow pasture. Fences never went up. As neutral ground, the site was made special by what happened there. Likewise, the Winston Farm five years ago was a gorgeous, bucolic setting. And it didn't take long for the flimsy chain link barrier to yield, admitting anyone who cared to step over it. An optimist might conclude that such chaotic circumstances bring out the best in young people, who sense the necessity for cooperation in the absence of authority and structure. They made the land their land.

The former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome is anything but a neutral plot of ground. Physically, its perimeter is impenetrable. Unlike the sites of the previous two festivals, it is a manmade facility adapted inorganically to the commercial ends of the promoters. The place both excluded and confined unlike the previous concerts. Yet these superficial differences needn't have contributed to trouble any more than the mud of '69 and '94, except for a darker, more troubling aspect of Griffis that was all but ignored by promoters, attendees and the media alike.

Until a few years ago, Griffis was home to B-52 bombers of the Strategic Air Command. The planes were equipped with thermonuclear weapons, which, had this country believed it was under attack, would have been dropped in a counter offensive resulting in the end life on this planet. Even acknowledging the tortured logic of the Cold War, the planes and the base that supported them were tools of a profoundly immoral proposition. Inescapably, then, a shadow of enormous proportion hangs over the place where this festival took place.

All the more curious, then, that unlike a polluted industrial site resurrected for some new and useful purpose, none of the parties involved in this event made any serious attempt to cleanse Griffis of its monstrous past. We all have selective memories, but have we so distorted history that neither the promoters nor their children's generation recall how the Woodstock festival achieved its saintly reputation? It came to symbolize the antithesis of our violent intervention in a war of national liberation half a world away--a war in which this country relied on B-52s to terrorize a civilian population.

More than the looting and arson, this historical amnesia, or worse, this accommodation with symbols of the immorality of global destruction, exposes the true ugliness of Woodstock 99. But imagine instead that the bonfire was not fueled by vendors' merchandise but by a full-sized model of a nuclear bomber. What if some of the youthful anger and frustration and energy and lust had focused for just a brief moment on never again allowing humanity to be placed at such risk with so little to gain? If that had happened, what would people remember about the last Woodstock of this century? What do they think of it now? ++


By Parry D. Teasdale. Copyright ©1999 Ulster Publishing
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