With just a sleeping bag and a cardboard sign that read "Woodstock," I easily hitched a few rides for 100 miles from suburban New Jersey to the Catskills in upstate New York. When the highway became clogged with parked cars, I began walking the last half-dozen miles. People were asleep in their cars and Hwy. 17B was peaceful as I got closer to the town of Bethel, N.Y., on mid-morning of the festival's second day.
Just out of high school, I'd seen an ad in Rolling Stone for the festival and eagerly sent for tickets. I'd persuaded the editors at the Newark Star-Ledger to let me bow out of my proofreading job that weekend to write a story about Jerseyites attending this festival.
Spotting a van with New Jersey plates and legs dangling out, I conducted my first interview. The people were friendly, sharing their food and drink, thoughts and feelings about the first night of the festival. From van to van, along this river of humanity, I found my story before I ever made it to Woodstock and the music.
While passing through Bethel, I approached a couple staring from their stoop. I explained that I was a reporter, but I still had to pay them all my cash to call collect from their phone to dictate my story to the newspaper. Then I walked about another mile, full of anticipation, and arrived in time for the second day's music to begin.
That afternoon, Santana, then little-known, rhythmically rocked my 18-year-old world. In rock nirvana, I soaked in the harmony of the people and the astonishing music, from Sly Stone to the Who to Jefferson Airplane. A high point came around sunrise after that night's music ended at dawn; most people had gone somewhere to sleep. I was wandering about and came upon the Hog Farm commune's enclave, where they were sharing some edible mush. Then, I stumbled upon the Grateful Dead playing an impromptu acoustic set for hours for a small laid-back audience.
I came home from Woodstock with a new sense about community and music -- and my first professional byline on the front page of New Jersey's largest newspaper -- and I'd left my mud-soaked sleeping bag behind.
Bruce Krupnick (pictured at right) is a software project manager from Edina.