Peace, mud and understanding
This week marks 50 years since half a million people came together for a “happening” called Woodstock. Sally Mann Romano was there, and shares her memories with Stellar.
Fifty years ago this week, nearly half a million people descended on a farm in upstate New York for Woodstock, a “happening” that captured the spirit of a generation and changed music forever. Sally Mann Romano was among them, and today she writes for Stellar about her key memories of the chaos and community she encountered there
It’s one of the most famous photographs from Woodstock: Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, sitting with an attractive blonde wearing a fringed vest and hoop earrings while in her hand, stacked with rings and adorned with bangles, is a hash pipe. That woman is Sally Mann Romano, who at the time had featured in Rolling Stone magazine’s infamous Groupies And Other Girls issue. Mann Romano was one of the 400,000 people who gathered at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York, for what was billed as “an Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music”.
It was a mix of mud, drugs, sex and traffic that stretched for kilometres and boasted a legendary line-up that included Joan Baez, Santana, Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Jefferson Airplane.
Mann Romano, now aged 71 and living in Texas, who went on to marry (and later divorce) Jefferson Airplane’s drummer Spencer Dryden – was not only there, but she also had a front row seat to the cultural phenomenon that defined its generation as well as a moment in time. Here, she shares her (suitably hazy) memories with Stellar.
For us rickety and wizened baby boomers, the question is no longer “What did you do in the war, Daddy?” but “Were you at Woodstock?” And while there’s much I don’t remember about the ’60s, to that I can answer a resounding and grateful “Yes!” I have the photos to prove it.
After being on the road with my boyfriend and future husband Spencer Dryden of Jefferson Airplane for much of 1969, we found ourselves in Bethel, New York. Our crew made an entrance, almost falling out of the helicopter as we ﬂew in over the unexpectedly vast festival grounds, wonderstruck at the mind-boggling, sky-high sight of half a million like-minded people gathered together harmoniously for music and mud-wrestling.
In a place where non-mood-altering provisions were almost impossible to come by, Paul [Kantner of Jefferson Airplane] had brought a tombstone-sized slab of rariﬁed blue cheese, so obscenely ripe that the cultures were growing before our eyes. As I sat cross-legged on the stage next to Grace and the rest of our merry troupe, we
“Our crew made an entrance, almost falling out of the helicopter as we ﬂew into the festival”
were positively transﬁxed – not by the record-shattering crowds or even the sight of a shirtless [master of ceremonies] Chip Monck in a snug pair of faded blue jeans – but by Paul’s box of hyperactive cheese.
When the sun set and the temperature plummeted, my red suede fringed and beaded sleeveless party vest, which had looked so fetching in the full-length mirror at the Holiday Inn, no longer seemed like the most prudent fashion choice. The bands’ starting times were delayed and things went slowly downhill as far as my personal comfort level was concerned.
By nightfall, after a few of the East Bay rufﬁans and their roadies – Santana, Country Joe, CCR, you know who you are – had passed around some MDA
soaked hashish, I began to feel uncharacteristically, inconveniently, and deathly ill. The problem was there was no way out of Woodstock except by air or on foot, and the latter was out of the question.
The makeshift medical tent was ministering way beyond its capacity to manage assorted acid casualties, crosseyed freak-outs, and other equally indisposed patients temporarily (one hoped) speaking in tongues. Fortunately, Spencer spoke to someone, and an outbound helicopter was commandeered to airlift me back to the Holiday Inn.
My life ﬂight evacuation took me out of Woodstock before the towers began to
sway like dashboard hula dolls, and (sadly) before Pete Townshend made a somewhat strenuous point with a Gibson SG to Abbie Hoffman about the proprietary nature of
The Who’s stage rights. But for me, the memories of the Saturday sunshine, Paul’s blue-cheese banquet, and the arresting appearance of the always melodious Chip Monck in various stages of undress are what I treasure most from that sanctiﬁed cow pasture in Bethel, New York. Most importantly – historically speaking – I was photographed in good light by Henry Diltz and Jim Marshall. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what Woodstock was all about?
The Band’s With Me by Sally Mann Romano (Big Gorilla Books, $43) is out now.
HAPPY DAZE (clockwise from top) John Sebastian performed before a massive audience at the legendary Woodstock music festival in New York in August 1969; Sally Mann Romano in a now iconic photo with Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane; the crowds also made their own music at the three-day concert.
ROCKING HISTORY (clockwise from top left) Jimi Hendrix was a star attraction at Woodstock; festivalgoers gathered to attend the “free stage”; Graham Nash and David Crosby of band Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young rocked stretched for kilometres at the event; headliner Janis Joplin got into the spirit backstage; Mann Romano (second from right) with members of Jefferson Airplane, including her boyfriend and future husband Spencer Dryden (at right).