'The Parable Of The Hot Dogs' At Woodstock The official Woodstock message, the festival slogan, was: Three Days of Peace and Music. But food? That was a different story.
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'The Parable Of The Hot Dogs' At Woodstock

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'The Parable Of The Hot Dogs' At Woodstock

'The Parable Of The Hot Dogs' At Woodstock

'The Parable Of The Hot Dogs' At Woodstock

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I know if you remember the '60s, you weren't really there, but, see, I was there. Photo: Copyright Shelly Rusten; Arrow illustration: iStock; Photo Illustration: Lars Gotrich hide caption

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Photo: Copyright Shelly Rusten; Arrow illustration: iStock; Photo Illustration: Lars Gotrich

I know if you remember the '60s, you weren't really there, but, see, I was there.

Photo: Copyright Shelly Rusten; Arrow illustration: iStock; Photo Illustration: Lars Gotrich

It had to have been one of the earliest examples of a viral event — long pre-dating blast faxes, mass e-mails, Web ads, the blogosphere, texting and tweeting. Somehow, 40 years ago, word spread from person to person about a fabulous outdoor rock festival at a farm a few hours outside of New York City.

I may have heard about it from my younger brother, who still has the three original $6/day tickets he sent away for and received ... by mail. Yes, it surely was a different time.

While I can still recall most of the acts and music I heard at Woodstock, a much more vivid memory is of the enormous crowd's evolving awareness that it — and not the concert — had become the real event. Perhaps sparked by some psycho-pharmaceutical bonding process, hundreds of thousands coalesced into a single — well, semi-sentient — organism. Inevitably, the crowd simply overwhelmed and upstaged most of the music.

My own most indelible Woodstock memory is what current parlance terms a "teachable moment."

I call the it "Parable of the Hot Dogs."

My circle of newfound friends and I were starving. Like so many others, we had arrived at Woodstock without much planning or preparation. That Saturday morning, rumors circulated of food kiosks located somewhere behind the gathered multitudes. Mud sucked at my knees as I trudged up the gentle hillside border of the festival site for nearly an hour. Wonder what was served at a typical American gathering for nearly 500K people? That's right: hot dogs!

On reaching the vendor area I waited in line for another hour and bought a dozen. I made the same muddy, laborious return trek, threading my way through masses of people, protectively clutching that precious food. Somehow I found our prime location, center-front of the stage. Three hours to get a dozen hot dogs! The cardboard takeout box holding them disappeared into a tangle of grabbing hands. When the box returned to me, all that remained was a glistening red blob of ketchup. In my zeal to be the good guy personifying the communal Woodstock spirit, to be the intrepid provider for my friends, I had waited until my heroic return so we all could eat together. While they — if by then their devolved reptilian brains could even muster a social concept — assumed that with so much time and trouble involved, of course I must have already eaten. What kind of fool wouldn't have?

So my oft-recounted amusing, if cautionary, Woodstock fable imparts this lesson, a familiar message we all know from air travel: Always put on your own oxygen mask first, before assisting others.

The official Woodstock message, the festival slogan, was: Three Days of Peace and Music. That still sounds pretty cool. Though to this day, I try to avoid huge crowds ... and hot dogs.

Robert Goldstein is NPR's music librarian.