It was a hot August and I was in my off campus apartment awaiting start of college classes. I’d returned to school early because of being on a couple of athletic teams that started practices prior to the start of school. Okay, mostly to get out of the house where my parents didn't seem to understand that I wasn't a kid anymore; that I was a man with a whole year of college experience under my belt, that whole “while you’re living under my roof” thing, just didn't cut it!
Since my two roommates hadn’t arrived back to school in western Massachusetts yet I had the place to myself. I could play my guitar without them complaining after the 200th time I played “Sounds of Silence”! I was into the whole folk rock scene, a natural progression from my days as a folkie!
That’s exactly what I was doing, sitting on my bookshelf, strumming my guitar and sipping from an illegally obtained bottle of vodka, when a friend from the cross country team named Phil, suddenly burst into the apartment! “Quick!” he said; “They’re having a big rock concert over in New York and they’re letting people in for free!”
Now one would assume that I jumped at that, but I didn’t know that history was being made! I wasn’t into the heavier rock from people like Hendrix and Iron Butterfly. I DO have a much greater appreciation now than I did then. So I said “No thanks”.
Phil looked at me like I had two heads! “Don’t you understand?” he pleaded. “It’s gonna be great! They have all these acts lined up, it’s a three day event; it’s gonna be awesome! “No thanks” I said, wishing he’d leave so I could play Sounds of Silence for the 300th time! “The drinking age in New York is 18”, Phil said in desperation. “Well now you’re talking! Let’s go”! And with that I was out the door and into a van with six other guys I barely knew!
When we crossed into NY we stopped and got beer, I remember thinking, this stuff’s gonna be heavy to carry, so I started trying to lighten the load. When we got there, we pretty much all just separated, and I started wandering around. A group of people included a blonde with long straight hair (okay that just described every blonde there), and she said “hey man, want to join us”? She didn’t have to ask me twice!
I sat down and shared my beer and they shared their food and a funny looking cigarette, which since I didn’t smoke, I politely declined, at least the first time, and to this day I’m not sure if I partook later or not, but shortly after that things are a blur, but I do have some specific memories.
Of the groups I heard, the one I remember most was Sha Na Na! Not sure why they stand out. I remember doing the Fish Cheer when they did that, of course there was a half a million people doing it at the same time; so not even sure if they were on stage or not. I remember bits and pieces of other performers like Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane, Sly and his Family, CCR and of course I tried to get closer when someone said Arlo and Tim Hardin were on stage, (folkie, remember?).
There was something in the air, besides the blue haze: All around me was basic chaos yet it was somehow peaceful. I don’t remember sleeping, I do remember the rain and the mud, but most of all I remember the sharing, and the feeling of belonging like I’d never felt before. The music was like back ground music. It’s why we were there. We listened and we cared. It was something I had never experienced before and probably never will again.
I don’t recall the trip back to school or how I even found my friends again. There have been many attempts to recreate that weekend, but it’ll never happen, there was something magical and in the words of Joni Mitchell, I am grateful, that for a little while, I made it “Back to the Garden”.
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