So many great adventures begin with someone asking, “Hey, want to come along?”
That’s how my friend Tony Baldwin found himself at Woodstock 50 years ago tonight, on Friday, Aug. 15, 1969.
Tony was 17 at the time, living in Indianapolis and just about to begin his senior year of high school.
“If you’re not doing anything, you can come with us,” said Tony’s sister Jean, who was 21 or 22 at the time. So Tony piled into a VW bus with his sister, her husband Mike and another guy, a friend of theirs. They headed east.
“Thursday, we drove straight through. We stopped in New York City to see somebody there, but we weren’t there long. When we got to the site (in Bethel, N.Y.), it was Friday, early afternoon. It was of course people everywhere. We didn’t have a tent, but we parked the bus. It was total chaos, pretty much. We found a spot. It had already started,” Tony told me last night, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival.
“We had no idea what this thing was,” he said of Woodstock.
“We didn’t know where it was. We just followed everybody. We walked and walked. It took forever to get there,” Tony said.
“By the time we got there, it was late afternoon. There was no fence. It was already down. We didn’t have any tickets. We just walked over the fence, a chain link fence.”
Sounds great, right?
“If you see the movie, we are at the top of the hill. There was a hill, then a gully, then the stage. We couldn’t get any closer. There was music, but we didn’t know who it was. They had a poor PA system,” Tony said.
As 9:30 p.m. approached, the kids from Indy finally heard something clear enough to make some sense of it.
After a bunch of announcements from the stage — among them a marriage proposal, someone needing insulin, someone having lost a duffel bag with all their possessions — there was this:
“Let’s welcome Mr. Tim Hardin.”
“We heard Tim Hardin being introduced, then heard a little bit of him,” Tony said.
“That was it. We stayed at the site for no more than an hour. Can’t hear, can’t see, can’t get any closer.
“Then we left the top of the hill. It was after dark. We went to try to find our campsite. We made it back to our parking spot. By that time, it probably had started to rain. It was very hot and humid.”
The next morning …
“Saturday morning, the people I came with, they decided this is ridiculous. We’re gonna leave. We saw zero acts, we saw zero people. It’s miserable. It’s rainy. It’s not fun. We’re leaving,” Tony recalled.
“We left late Saturday morning, probably. We piled in the bus and we drove very slowly. It was just mud, ruts from the cars, and we followed the ruts out. We had the side of the bus open. I was in the back. The friend also was in the back. There were clothes, beer, in the back. We’re driving like 2 mph. It was like rush hour traffic.”
On the way out …
“A guy wants a ride. We said sure. He gets in, and the guy grabs Jean’s purse and takes off. The friend took off after the guy. Probably 10 minutes later, he comes back with the purse,” Tony said.
“We got to the highway, probably drove straight through back to home. We probably got home late Sunday.”
Some lingering memories …
— “I wish I did see all of it, but I didn’t have any say in it,” Tony said.
— “They were totally unprepared (for the crowd, which was estimated at 400,000).”
— “There was a guy being carried away. I don’t know what was wrong. They might have been carrying him to the first aid tent or to their campground.”
I was wondering …
How does someone from Indianapolis find out about a music festival in New York state? Maybe a magazine ad. I’ve seen those for Woodstock. Maybe a radio ad? If so, I haven’t found any. Tony doesn’t know how his sister might have learned about it.
“I don’t think they planned it too far ahead of time,” Tony said of his sister’s journey to Woodstock.
All these years later …
“We have the movie but not the record. We went to see the movie when it came out (in 1970). We didn’t see anything that was in the movie,” Tony said.
Tony didn’t see or hear much of Tim Hardin on that Friday night at Woodstock. He didn’t see any of him in the documentary film, either. Nor did he hear him on the original soundtrack. Hardin’s set didn’t make the cut for the film or the record.
So here’s some of what you couldn’t see or hear, my friend.
Though this is billed as “complete 1969 Woodstock recording of Tim Hardin,” it’s not. Here are the first, third, ninth and 10th songs from Hardin’s 10-song Woodstock set — “How Can We Hang On to a Dream,” “If I Were a Carpenter,” “Simple Song of Freedom” and “Misty Roses.”
Programming note: WXPN in Philadelphia is airing Woodstock as it happened, in real time, 50 years ago this weekend. Highly recommended. I listened to Tim Hardin’s set while writing this. It goes through Sunday, Aug. 18, ending with Jimi Hendrix’s set, which begins at 9 a.m. Eastern time.