By George Stahl
Today is a most auspicious day as far as history is concerned, especially in the world of entertainment and police work. One of the most iconic and regularly quoted movies premiered in Hollywood at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1939. No, it wasn’t Gone With the Wind or Frankenstein, it was the one with flying monkeys and Munchkins, a lost girl with ruby red slippers, a brainless scarecrow, a cowardly lion, a tin man, a couple of witches, a wizard and that little dog too. You get it? No? Nevermind.
August 15 was a harrowing day for two California Highway Patrol men in 1960 as well. Officer’s Garson and Scott (not Boyle?) were each in their patrol cars near the city of Red Bluff in the northern part of the state when at around 11:59 p.m. they were distracted by a strange red object headed toward the town of Corning. Both men saw it from different directions, but meet up at a vantage point to the light. They watched as it came down about 100 feet above them and stopped, silently. They said they watched it for about 2 hours as it changed from red to white to red and white lights and emitted a red beam that swept over the ground, eventually, it lead them away to a fire station and there, the first craft was joined by another, they hung around for a while and then both of them sped away. The next day, the Air Force officially said that the objects were weather balloons, northern lights, or some sort of refractions in the sky. Charles Garson and Stanley Scott knew different.
On this date in 1965, the Fab Four, or the Beatles, played to a sold-out crowd of 55,000 screaming fans at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York. At the time it was home to the New York Mets and the New York Jets, but in 2008, it was slated for dismantling. When the Beatles performed that night it was the kick off to their second American tour, but it was to go down in history as one of the highlights of their career. Forty-three years later, Paul McCartney returned to Shea with Billy Joel to perform the last concert the old stadium would see. He didn’t play any of the 12 original songs the Beatles released on that historic hot August night in 1965, but that first night was no doubt on McCartney’s mind as he sang with Joel as one of a half dozen other guests, including Garth Brooks who helped Joel say good bye to the venue in front of 110,000 people.
This date, August 15, was life changing for an entire generation of young people. It was 1969 and a revealing time, a rebellious time, and time for redirecting ideas and values for millions of people who would eventually be called baby boomers. At the time, however, this group of new thinkers were called, hippies, rockers, punks, and bums. Hey, you know who you are! And on the weekend of August 15 through 18, the whole nation found out who you were.
The place, a 400-acre dairy farm in the south of New York State. The owner of the farm, Max Yasgur, decided it would be a good idea to agree with an offer made to him for the use of his land for a music festival. So, in 1969, in the Catskill Mountains, over 400,000 people came to his dairy to listen to 32 of the country’s most up and coming, name brand, and message laden bands and performers ever to come from the world of rock-n-roll. ‘The Woodstock Music and Art Fair’ was on! From the opening ceremony, presided over by world renowned, Swami Satchidananda, to the closing act of Jimi Hendrix, the crowd was committed to the experience. It rained, it got cold at night, and the wind blew across the field, and there were spots of sunshine too, but the spirit of witnessing something very special never allowed the attendees to snarl, complain or boo.
They took it all in stride and when it was over, there were no reports of violence, fights of any kind or disputes. The promoters thought that was phenomenal. Apparently, the governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller intended to send 10,000 National Guard troops to the site for crowd control. The promoter of the event persuaded him not to and the decision proved to be the right one.
Even the personnel at nearby Stewart Air Force Base were lending a hand by airlifting the performers in and out of the concert site.
The overall bohemian attitude of the concert goers over rode any feelings of anger or frustration that something of this magnitude could breed, and after the concert, dairy farmer and host, Max Yasgur, said that he saw it “as a victory of peace and love.” He spoke of how nearly half a million people filled with potential for disaster, riot, looting, and catastrophe spent the three days with music and peace on their minds. He stated, “If we join them, we can turn those adversities that are the problems of America today into a hope for a brighter and more peaceful future.”
Maybe we could use another Woodstock, almost 50 years later, into Yasgur’s future. Maybe, with our own music festival that we call River Rhythms every Friday night in August, we could be looking at a pretty good start here in the KRV.