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19 Aug 2019


A lot happened in the history of the world 50 years ago.

In July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped foot on the moon. Pretty impressive.

A month later, almost half a million hippies stomped their feet in the mud of a 600-acre farm in Bethel, New York.

Jimi Hendrix stepped foot on a purpose-built stage there. Thirty-two acts in total played in what was billed as “3 Days of Peace & Music” at the Woodstock Music Festival.

Armstrong and Aldrin made it back from the moon in time to attend Woodstock, but there is no record of them being there. Might have been a little anticlimactic for them.

One man who did attend, and who still has the original Woodstock program and flyer, is a retired scientist from St Louis who has called Australia home for the past 40 years.

Joe Swartz was 28 at the time of the Woodstock festival and was in his final year of an elementary particles physics doctorate at New York’s Cornell University.

That was just a couple of hundred kilometres from the farm southwest of Woodstock.

He describes the event as a definite highlight of his life, but says it wasn’t all fun.  

He told his story to Australian Medicine

“About ten miles from home the traffic was already backed up. From there it was just sort of climbing over cars to get in,” he says.

“There were times when it was actually depressing because it was overwhelming and yet very lonesome, and the conditions were really bad.

“We got there on Friday and managed to get in and pitch a tent on the site. But that night it rained, and I woke up lying in water because I had actually pitched the tent partly on a roll of barbed wire.

“So we left that site on the Saturday morning and never went back to it. I went with another guy but after that first night I never saw him again. You never saw anyone more than once. It was so massive.

“Another guy who was bringing all our food and beer didn’t make it. So we had no food either. I lost my shoes too because it was muddy come Saturday and you just left your shoes behind in the mud. And I’m walking around cold and wet and muddy and hungry, and starting to feel down. But then Saturday night there was this pick up.

“What got me out of the downs was when Sly and the Family Stone came on stage and sang Higher and Higher. That woke you up and it picked me up. Following on from that, in regards to keeping me feeling good – were people like Janis Joplin; Jefferson Airplane; Crosby Stills Nash and Young, all one after the other. It just kept getting better and better and better. I was there the whole time and saw almost everybody.

“The Who played Tommy as the sun rose. It was all incredible music. Helicopters started dropping food parcels and you’d run up and grab one. That kept us going.

“I didn’t see any debauchery. There wasn’t really any of that. Even the drug stuff was largely beat up. There was marijuana around, but I never saw anything harder … maybe that was just with the musicians. But I wasn’t part of the young crowd really. A lot of people there were a lot younger than me.

“One thing I really remember most was when Jimi Hendrix hit that really loud stuff on the guitar in Star Spangled Banner. Wow. I walked to the right spot in the middle just to get a good view of him.

“Hendrix was on last, on the Monday morning. When he finished playing it was over. He was supposed to close it all down on Sunday night, but it ran late and he chose to play Monday morning.

“After he played, I went around the back and there was a fence behind the stage and a caravan that was some sort of control centre. Hendrix came out and he went into the caravan to listen to some of his gig. Then he came out and saw someone near me on the fence who he knew, and he came up and started talking to them. I was right there.

“It is all a great memory and has stayed with me my whole life. And it was all part of the times. The war was going on and the civil rights movement was in full swing. It was actually a relief from it all.”


Picture: Dr Joe Swartz with his original Woodstock program









Published: 19 Aug 2019