Peace, mud and un­der­stand­ing

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Stellar Contents - Writ­ten by SALLY MANN RO­MANO

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).

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