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By the time I got to Woodstock… it was over

Those of us fortunate enough to remember the sixties (or at least part of them), have two remarkable events logged in the recesses of our minds. One was the lunar landing, but the second, and definitely the more important, was the Bethel Rock Festival, known to most of us as Woodstock. What teenager of the day, wouldn’t want to attend such a cultured event? My friend and I set out on a warm August morning in 1969, in his ’62 Chevy. The car was special, because we had spent an entire weekend painting it gold. Unfortunately, we used a brush, and it came out a mustard colour, but none-the-less, off we went. The road map was marked and, after tedious re-routes we headed south to journey the 400 miles into New York State, to see the likes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Grateful Dead; 32 fantastic artists. We had a portable, eight track player, which blasted tunes throughout the car and out the windows. Excited and enthused, we had saved our $50 (each) in (Canadian) cash, and had calculated gas would cost us about $18. Food would be fries, burgers and whatever we could find… cheap. The festival was held on a 600 acre dairy farm, owned by Max Yasgur. The property was about 40 miles outside of Woodstock and was quite secluded, which meant camping, dancing and unchaperoned fun, would be tolerated. We were coasting along Upper New York State, just south of Rochester, anticipating the excitement, when suddenly a strange noise came from beneath the car. We pulled over and checked most everything. Finally, we decided the carburetor was the problem. We spent the next few hours trying to fix it, but even with help from a few passersby (who in those days would stop for you), it was a no go. We walked several miles and saw a service station, with adjoining motel and restaurant. We had dinner and tried to decide the best course of action. After a lengthy discussion with a service station attendant, we sighed and set out to have the car towed. After a detailed analysis, we learned the cost of repair would be way beyond our cash flow and we did what every teen would have done… phoned home. Neither of our parents answered the call, so we decided to check into the motel, and at least get a good night’s sleep. We watched television coverage of the opening of the Festival, drowning our sorrows and trying to sing along. The next day we reached my parents, and my father said he would come out and help us. We told the mechanic to fix the car, and when my dad arrived the next day, with enough money to pay for the repairs, we learned it would take two days to complete. My father returned home, as he had to work the next day, leaving us stuck in a small town, watching our dream of Woodstock fade away. Finally, two days later, the car was fixed, and we had just enough money to drive home. For us, Woodstock will be fondly remembered by the television documentary of the event. Jonathan van Bilsen is an award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at

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