Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Woodstock Invasion

Leading up to the release of Woodstock: The Oral History, 40th Anniversary Edition, we're hoping to run some personal recollections of that historic event from SUNY Press staff, colleagues, friends, family, etc. We encourage you readers to share your memories of Woodstock with us as well: drop us a line in the comments section, as some of you have already done.

Today we kick things off with a piece from our Director, Gary Dunham. We're calling it "The Woodstock Invasion." Enjoy.


Those long ago August days of the Woodstock Festival signaled clear, profound change for villagers and farmers in rural New England, a change heralded by fear and the threat of invasion more than love and music. Growing up on a small farm in the Maine mountains, I remember those specific days vividly. The usually rutty dirt road winding up the mountain to our village of eighteen people was being paved for the first time, at last, cars would not need to be left at the base of the mountain in the spring while the mill workers trudged a long, muddy road home. As the unfamiliar smell of hot tar drifted up the mountain, my family one afternoon scrambled for hours through the surrounding woods looking for a stray pig.

Despite the excitement at home, all the talk by my parents and older relatives centered on Woodstock. Yes, the festival was taking place some six hours to the faraway south in the Catskills, a place traditionally out-of-sight, out-of-state, and out-of-mind for those I grew up with. But this particular event mattered because it unsettled my folks and many townspeople as a larger, more complex world drew in around them. I remember overhearing talk of Woodstock a number of times, including my father muttering to one uncle and a few friends that “the damn hippies had come into the mountains, taken over a farm, and, by the Jesus, they might try to do the same thing here (pronounced hee-uh).” Men even talked of forming militias to roust the hippies if they tried to move into the western Maine mountains (I am not kidding). Woodstock shattered the innocence for us rural New Englanders that country lives were separate and safe from the rapid, sometimes rabid changes going on around us in the cities during the late 1960s. Woodstock changed us by breaching the divide we had always drawn between urban and rural. Slogan-ridden protests, unfettering drugs, unwashed long hair, and bewildering music were no longer someone else’s world, someone else’s problem. The invasion had begun.