DAVID GREENE, host:
This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Some of you were there, others have just seen that iconic image shot from the stage and used in the poster for the original film, "Woodstock," a crowd stretching to the horizon. And if you look carefully, you'll spot a young, slightly disgruntled looking face under a black cowboy hat, sixth from the right.
It's NPR music librarian Robert Goldstein. Here's what he remembers.
ROBERT GOLDSTEIN: 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-a-day tickets he sent away for and received by mail. Yes, it surely was a different time.
(Soundbite of song, "Going Up the Country")
Mr. BOB HITE (Canned Heat): (Singing) I'm going up to country baby, Don't you wanna go I'm going up to country baby, Don't you wanna go, I'm going to someplace 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 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.
(Soundbite of song "I Wanna Take You Higher")
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE: (Singing) One burning desire, fire, fire...
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 take-out 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 there 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")
Mr. JOE COCKER: (Unintelligible)
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.
(Soundbite of song "Voodoo Child")
GREENE: That's NPR music librarian Robert Goldstein. He went on to become the guitarist for the new wave band the Urban Verbs, and I'm staring at his face in the crowd at Woodstock on our Web site, npr.org.
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