Now that I think about it, it occurs to me that Saturday, August 13th, 1994 was the first time I had ever woken up at a music festival, namely Woodstock ’94. I remember pulling back the flap of the little tent and being greeted with a sleepy field of tents that stretched to the horizon. Not only was Woodstock ’94 my first overnight music festival, it still stands as the biggest one I’ve been a part of, with an estimated five to six hundred thousand in attendance. So yeah, it was a sea of tents.
Saturday afternoon was sunny, I recall that for sure, and I spent the first part of my day exploring the concession area, a field of consumption that was as packed and manic as a mosh pit. I was attending the festival under protest. I felt like naming it “Woodstock” was a moneygrab that was cashing in on history but my free-wheelin’ neo-hippie girlfriend said she was going and she’d be sharing the tent with someone so I felt rather compelled to join her. But I did promise myself that I would spend no money onsite whatsoever. Heck, I even brought along home-made festival t-shirts for our crew so none of us would be tempted to buy one. Following the cash-grab model, Woodstock Inc. had advertised that no money would be accepted by onsite vendors, rather, attendees would exchange real money for “Woodstock money” which could then be used onsite. I was happy to not take part and so it was that I found myself among the myriad of vendors with no means to make a purchase. Funny that it would make no difference.
“Häagen-Dasz! Who wants a Häagen-Dasz?!?!?” was the first thing I heard upon entering the crowded area, prompting me to wonder, “What’s a hog-in-doss?” It was also the last thing I heard before being pelted in the head with a small frozen brick. I picked up the frosty treat and looked around to see where it came from. Then I spied the Häagen-Dasz dude standing atop his vending station throwing ice cream sandwiches into the crowd. Well now!
Next I conveyered past a guy selling cans and bottles of Pepsi that had been branded with the Woodstock logo. “Want a Pepsi?!?!” the guy asked me. “Sure,” I answered, eagerly reaching for a two-liter bottle. “Here, take two!” he said, smiling broadly and handing me another bottle. What the heck was going on?
“Want some ribs?” was the next thing I heard, and glancing around I saw a white-bearded man smiling at me who looked like a cross between Mr. Natural and Chopper McKinnon. “I’m sorry, what did you say?” I asked. “I said, do you want some ribs?” he responded, and I swear his eyes were twinkling like Santa Claus as he picked up a full rack of barbecued ribs and thrust it in my direction. I finished my half-eaten ice cream in two quick bites, shuffled the four liters of Pepsi under my arm and latched onto the proffered side of meat. It was heavy.
I couldn’t believe it then and barely believe it to this day, but if I’m not mistaken every single vendor was giving away all of their wares for free. And this was basically the very beginning of the festival, it was maybe around noon on the Saturday. Crazy.
As I was slowly snaking my way back to the campsite to share my booty (and I do mean “snaking” The fest was so big and full that pathways to get anywhere were nothing more than thin cowpaths that wound aimlessly through endless campsites and they were as busy as an LA freeway at rush hour) a guy emerged from his tent right in front of me and yelled “Anyone got a Pepsi?!?” The guy was literally two feet from me and without missing a beat I thrust one of my bottles into his hand. He gave my the biggest, most appreciative smile you could imagine and ducked back into his tent, emerging with a full bottle of Jamaican Gold rum, which he insisted I take in exchange. I protested very weakly and continued on my way, fully loaded.
As for the music, my girlfriend insisted we spend the afternoon at the secondary stage where we started the day with Youssou N’dour – which was great – and The Band – which was made even greater with sit-ins from Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman, members of Hot Tuna, Roger McGuinn, and Bruce Hornsby! As great as it was I can promise you two things: 1) I didn’t appreciate what I was seeing nearly as much as I should have (I think I might have even dozed off for a while during the set), and 2) I loved it.
My girlfriend made sure we were back at the main stage in time to see Joe Cocker, who was still young enough to live up to his legendary set from the original fest, and we also stuck around for CSN, who were also quite great.
But rocker that I was I was much too excited for the evening’s headliners Metallica (who don’t stand out in my memory at all, but I know I saw them) and Aerosmith, who headlined the evening with a set that started in the wee hours of the morning. And man, did they disappoint!
Okay, they weren’t terrible, but the band made the unforgivable decision to play their hit Crazy back-to-back with their hit Cryin’ completely tipping their hand that the two are in fact the exact same song! I’ll never forget it and I’ve not forgiven them yet. It’s actually quite possible that Aerosmith’s set at Woodstock ’94 was the wooden stake that pierced my vampiric FM heart once and for all.
Somehow I’m still glad I saw them, and when I finally hunkered down for the night there were no complaints about the day at all from me. I was surprised to find I was having a much better time than I possibly imagined I would have and I still had a whole other day of wonder ahead of me.
As I drifted off to sleep with the cries of a thousand celebrations bouncing off my tent walls it occurred to me that these camping music festival things were pretty solidly in my wheelhouse.