What One Attendee Remembers From Woodstock The late NPR music librarian Robert Goldstein was at Woodstock. We offer his "Parable of the Hot Dogs" on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the festival.
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What One Attendee Remembers From Woodstock

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What One Attendee Remembers From Woodstock

What One Attendee Remembers From Woodstock

What One Attendee Remembers From Woodstock

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The late NPR music librarian Robert Goldstein was at Woodstock. We offer his "Parable of the Hot Dogs" on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the festival.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Fifty years ago today, Joe Cocker took the stage of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair to sing "With A Little Help From My Friends." Was supposed to be the final day of the festival, but performances continued into the late morning of August 18, 1969. Jimi Hendrix closed out the event.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIMI HENDRIX: (Playing guitar).

SIMON: Between four hundred and five hundred thousand people were at Woodstock. Millions of baby boomers claim they were. Among those who were actually there was the late Robert Goldstein, NPR's beloved music librarian and a musician himself. Ten years ago, Robert wrote an essay for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. We thought it the best way to mark the 50th.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROBERT GOLDSTEIN, BYLINE: It had to have been one of the earliest examples of a viral event - long predating blast faxes, mass emails, 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CANNED HEAT: (Singing) I'm going up the country. Baby, don't you want to go? I'm going up the country. Baby, don't you want to go? I'm going to some place where I've never been before...

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

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE: (Singing) I want to take you higher.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Higher.

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE: Higher.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Higher.

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE: Higher.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Higher.

GOLDSTEIN: My own most indelible Woodstock memory is what current parlance terms a teachable moment. I call it the parable of the hot dogs. My circle of newfound friends and I were starving. Like so many others, we simply 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 500,000 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 hem 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 it was so much time and trouble involved, of course, I must have already eaten. What kind of fool wouldn't have?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS")

JOE COCKER: (Singing) Oh, baby, I get by with a little help from my friends. All I need is my buddies. By with a little help from my friends. Yes, I'm gonna try. By with a little help from my friends. I'm gonna make it, oh, my Lord (ph).

GOLDSTEIN: So my oft-recounted amusing, if cautionary, Woodstock fable imparts this lesson, that 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.

SIMON: NPR music librarian Robert Goldstein. We loved him. He died in 2016.

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