Purely Political, By James Buckley
Upon a closer examination of the chaos at the southern border of the United States, it occurs to me that two of the situations the U.S. faces today have stark similarities to a seminal event that occurred on a farm in upstate New York some 54 years ago.
It was officially called the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, but the town fathers in Woodstock decided they couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to) handle the expected crowds the festival was likely to attract. Other nearby towns were considered (White Lake, Saugerties), but organizers finally found and settled on a 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y. — 50 miles or so from Woodstock — owned by a compliant and easygoing farmer named Max Yasgur.
You may not be able to pick us out, but my brother David and I were two of the faces in that crowd of nearly 500,000 mostly twenty-somethings who gathered on Max’s property in the summer of 1969 (Aug. 15-18) for what is now known simply as the Woodstock Festival.
As my brother and I headed north on New York State Highway 17W, the radio advised us that the crowd was growing too large, that there was no water to drink, the few toilets on site had become steaming boxes of offal and were already overflowing, gas stations had run out of gasoline, and food was hard to come by. My brother and I looked at each other upon hearing this and agreed that “All right; this sounds like fun!”
We had to park about a mile (maybe two) away from the entrance as traffic had completely stopped on 17W. I abandoned my car on the side of the road, and we began hoofing it, along with thousands of others making their way single file and abreast with one goal in mind: to get to the music festival. For the most part, local inhabitants were thoroughly bemused but friendly and helpful.
They, of course, had never seen anything like the army of high-spirited bedraggled hippies swarming through their neighborhoods.
When we finally arrived, there was no gate, nothing to stop anyone who didn’t have a ticket from getting in. The entrances had been completely overwhelmed, and the fence laid flat hours before.
As we walked toward the stage, we heard the plaintive words of Richie Havens’ calling out from his song, “Freedom.” Bert Sommer performed his own material. John Sebastian from The Lovin’ Spoonful, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joe McDonald of Country Joe and the Fish and well, pretty much every 1960s hit maker other than the Rolling Stones and the Beatles appeared onstage over the next three/four days.
It wasn’t easy to sleep. It also wasn’t easy to wash, eat or use a toilet. My brother and I stayed up all night, as most people did that weekend.
Melanie sang “Beautiful People” sometime after midnight, as I recall, and Janis Joplin arrived in a helicopter, but don’t hold me to any time schedule, as this was a long time ago and the 30 hours or so that I spent at the festival rolled up into one long day’s night.
After the rain came the mud, which didn’t matter much because everyone was wet and dirty anyway. We sloshed our way to the edges of the crowd and came upon what I’ve determined was the undoing of this entire generation.
A LITERAL “DRUG STORE”
It was a “street” (more like an alley) filled on both sides with vendors who’d set up portable tables and were hawking various forms of intoxication. Marijuana, hashish, Benzedrine (bennies) and amphetamine pills, various other uppers and downers, LSD tabs, hallucinogenic mushrooms, cocaine, and finally, heroin were all available at a price.
Law enforcement was non-existent, and even if there had been police present, the ruling attitude was completely “hands-off.” No one was busted, and no one was going to be busted for anything.
The sales pitch of the heroin dealer went something like this: “Yeah, you can take your grass, your hash, your magic mushrooms, but if you’re looking for a real high, this is what you want. C’mon give it a try.”
“This will not end well,” I remember thinking.
For all the idolizing of the three days of Music and Whatever that took place on Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, N.Y.,. those many years ago, that extraordinary gathering was also an early glimpse into the self-destructive nature of the festival attendees.
And when I look at the southern border of the U.S., I see overflowing crowds pouring into the United States from all over the world. There is no entry gate, the wall is no longer an effective barrier, and law enforcement is non-existent.
Along with those multitudes streaming across are drugs such as heroin, cocaine and opioids, many spiked with fentanyl. All of which are spirited past an overwhelmed border patrol in order to feed the drug habits of the members of the Woodstock generation … and their offspring.
This too won’t end well.
James Buckley is a longtime Montecito resident. He welcomes questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers are invited to visit jimb.substack.com, where Jim’s Journals are on file. He also invites people to subscribe to Jim’s Journal.