Woodstock's 40th Draws Geezers, Maybe Sex and Drugs Too

Hendrix and Joplin are dead, but spirit of Woodstock lives on in aging rockers.

August 11, 2009, 10:21 AM

Aug. 13, 2009— -- It's the 40th anniversary of Woodstock and they ought to be offering senior citizen discounts.

Ten Years After is playing 40 years later and Country Joe McDonald will be headlining: "Give me an O, give me an L, give me a D."

In 1969, an estimated 400,000 music lovers descended on Yasgur's farm in Bethel, N.Y. -- now hallowed ground for hippies -- creating the most celebrated rock festival of all time.

Despite food shortages, overflowing port-a-potties and torrential rain, Woodstock became a symbol for an entire generation -- peace, love, beads and a lot of good music and drugs.

Some of the musical heroes of that drug-infused era have returned for the Aug. 14-16 retro concerts -- Richie Havens, Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat and Big Brother and the Holding Company, among others -- but nearly all are pushing 70.

Gone are rock gods Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, who long ago died of overdoses.

Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead is dead, as are The Who's bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon. The band's guitarist Pete Townshend, 64, after years of "Tommy Can You Hear Me?" is mostly deaf.

David Crosby, 68, had a liver transplant and former band mates Neil Young and Stephen Stills, 64, have survived brain and prostate cancer, respectively.

Click here to join our Woodstock Discussion Group

Today, concert goers will not roll around in the mud hoping a neighbor will pass around a bowl of brown rice. Rather, 4,500 aging rockers will sit in plush seats in a covered amphitheater with access to public toilets and concession stands selling hamburgers and hot dogs.

Most of the 15,000 who have bought tickets for the "Heroes of Woodstock" concert [some will sit on the lawn] will arrive in their hybrids and Subaru wagons rather than in psychedelically painted VW buses.

Drugs are not allowed, but some promoting the anniversary confide there may be those who "have their own little experience" at the hillside monument erected on the original site.

Any free love will likely happen at new nearby hotels like the local Marriott, which are already booked for the entire weekend.

Returning Woodstock characters like Wavy Gravy, now 73, admit they are "fast approaching official geezerhood."

Hippie From Springsteen's Hometown

But the flower children who flocked to Woodstock in 1969 aren't withering on the vine. Though most say they don't get high anymore -- except in the metaphorical sense -- the spirit of Woodstock left an indelible mark on their lives.

"I don't feel like I'm old," said Marc Gellman, 57 and a psychologist from the University of Miami who will trek back to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts this weekend. "I was politically active then and I remain politically active today."

Gellman was a long-haired 17-year-old from Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, N.J., when he and a friend ordered tickets by mail for the three-day rock fest.

He had railed against the Vietnam War and laws that made draft-eligible 18-year-olds wait until 21 to vote.

"I was a young hippie with peace symbols on my car," said Gellman, who managed to avoid being drafted, despite a draft lottery number of 28. "I had to be part of the scene."

The teens set off in Gellman's car and headed up the New York Thruway just a month after getting his driver's license.

What he found was a "great lab to observe masses of people" sharing food and hand-rolled joints and consuming "vast amounts of drugs."

"All the stars were aligned," said Gellman. "It could have been a disaster and wasn't because everyone was so mellow and high."

They left the site during Jimi Hendrix's signature finale of "The Star Spangled Banner," and ended up barefoot and hungry at a rest stop with photos of the event spread across newspaper front covers.

"We knew then we were part of a historical event," he said.

Today, at 57, Gellman conducts research for the National Institutes of Health and teaches one college course -- "PSY 305, Drugs and Behavior."

Barry Levine was only 26 when he took the still photography that was later used in the 1970 documentary, "Woodstock."

He has followed many of the old Woodstock bands on gigs around the country. "There are a lot who are dead, but the folks who are still alive are still kicking," he told ABCNews.com.

"People don't give a sh*t what year it was," said Levine, who just published "Woodstock Storybook" with his wife, Linanne Sackett, whom he met in Bethel.

"Woodstock still represents something," he said. "But there won't be that many of us around for the 50th."

Woodstock Rains Arrive

At 18, Kathee Miller traveled to Woodstock with a boyfriend she met on the New York City subway.

"We were foolish and music driven," said the now 56-year-old California psychotherapist. "We didn't bring supplies. We bought an inflatable tent for ten bucks and woke up in the woods one rainy morning to find ourselves floating downhill."

"We laughed back then," she told ABCNews.com. "No problems."

The Hog Farm, a spontaneous cooperative between Wavy Gravy and the local farmers, fed Miller and other hungry hippies.

Today, Miller is on the faculty of Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara and still holds on to the love beads she wore around her neck.

"Though we were much more naive, I think the passion of protest and the passion for living out loud and loving art and music and dance carried me to this age in life still dancing," she said.

Janie Hoffman's photo appeared in Life magazine, just to the right of the centerfold. At 17, she bought a weekend pass for $45 from a friend who was busted for a joint found on the floor of his car.

"Did I mention I went to jail to buy the ticket?" Hoffman told ABCNews.com. "The ticket was in his wallet, the wallet was with the desk sergeant and the money was for his bail."

Hoffman, who is 57 and living in Venice, Calif., was the only girl in her group allowed to go. "My father had to convince my mother. He fished up in that neck of the woods all the time and knew it was safe."

Posters were everywhere and tickets were promoted on radio stations. "They kept saying, if you don't have a ticket, don't come."

Woodstock Becomes Free Concert

She and a half million others got stuck in traffic on the New York Thruway, which came to a dead stop for hours. "Everyone was out of their cars, sharing food, drink and more."

By the time they arrived the chain link fence was down and promoters declared it a free concert. The stage was still being built. "The heat, the humidity, combined with well, you know, caused a lot of us to simply lay down and take a nap."

When I woke up, it was dark. Folk singer Arlo Guthrie ("Alice's Restaurant") had asked everyone to strike a match.

"The light went as far as your eyes could see," she said. "Until that point, we had absolutely no idea how many thousands and thousands of us were there."

"That moment, I turned to guy I was with and said, 'I am going to be in the music business,'" said Hoffman, who toured with bands for a decade and now runs an entertainment production company. She still tours with bands and runs her own boutique company, all things possible.

Like others who say their lives were shaped by the anti-war stance of the generation, Hoffman said Woodstock was a clarion call.

"We were the first group that had one voice and that voice was: We don't like what's going on, but we are going to tell you through our music," she said.

"You could never pull something off like that organized chaos today."

No Food, No Supplies

At 23, Ginny Loveland of Ann Arbor, Mich., went to Woodstock with a boyfriend who became her husband. They arranged to meet her friends at the first aid station at noon on Saturday. They had packed nothing for the trip.

"I remember walking back to sleep on the car the first night and in some places it was almost single file getting around cars and then suddenly noticed that 75 percent of the people around me were totally naked."

Then the rains came and she had no fresh clothes or a towel. "We were sleeping on top of the car in sleeping bags, actually on the hood, and when we woke up to being soaking wet, there were no other clothes, no food and no way to get dry."

Today, she is a retired graphic designer, working in a landscaping nursery, and remembers "just being filthy, dirty and not caring...being exhausted and charged."

Larry Thaw, now of Fountainview, Ariz., turned 20 at Woodstock.

"My family had spent summers in bungalow colonies in the Catskills, so when I heard that the New York Thruway was closed, I just started hitting back roads until I got there," Thaw told ABCNews.com. "I found my older brother and the first thing he said was, 'Does mom know you're here?"

Bonnie Powell, now a 57-year-old from Freehold, N.J., had the same problem. She bought her tickets without telling her parents, heading up to Woodstock with her boyfriend -- now her husband -- in a borrowed a station wagon.

"I packed my duffle and left my Mom a note, knowing she was going tokill me when I returned," she told ABCNews.com. "We were thinking wewere going to be gone just for the day."

But when she returned home, she was grounded her for two weeks. "My mother never told my Dad where I really was or I'd have gotten two moreweeks," Powell said.

No Toilets and Lots of Free Love

When he's not dealing cards at the black jack table at the Mirage casino in Las Vegas, Jan Katz, now 56, remembers his favorite Woodstock bands -- The Who and Sly and the Family Stone.

He was only 16 when he and a carload of friends took four to five hours to drive a short 20 miles to the festival site.

"The cars were backed up and people were sitting on their hoods, passing joints back and forth, and getting in and out of each other's VW vans," Katz, now 56, told ABCNews.com.

But the "happening" was not all idyllic. The lines at the portable toilets were legion. "I will never make it," he told his friends. "I will die."

The woods were also overpopulated. "People were all over the woods getting it on," he said. "I wasn't going to crouch around people making love."

He found relief eventually, but swore off food the rest of the weekend.

"Right now in hindsight, I wish I could go back to that time," Katz said. "People were so loving, giving and caring to each other. It was a blast all the way."

Janis Lavine, then a 17-year-old, is featured in the 1970 documentary in her pink paisley, puff-sleeved dress, leaning up against a Harley Davidson. She had lugged her friend Deb's belongings, hoping to find her at the concert.

Debby eluded her for three days, but she found a spot up front to hear her "rock hero," Jimi Hendrix.

"I looked at the muddy field behind me filled with shoes, sleeping bags, blankets in disbelief that most of the concert-goers had left," she told ABCNews.com.

"As he played, he handed a guy in the press pit his Benson & Hedges cigarette, who turned around and gave it to me. As I puffed and passed the cigarette on, I reached Nirvana!"

"I was a teen lost in the moment and had no idea that this would become history," said the now 57-year-old from Beverly, Mass.

"As I trudged up the hill I lost one of my sandals in the sea of mud. Alone and still stunned I made it back to New York City with one shoe and Deb's and my stuff."

Larry Gross, who at 57 has devoted his life's work the nonprofit Coalition for Economic Survival since attending Woodstock as a 17-year-old had his own Age of Aquarius moment.

A bit "hung over" sitting back at their car on the third day, Gross and his friends waited for the grand finale performance of Jimi Henrdix.

"All of a sudden a car comes up the main road and stops right next to us," he told ABCNews.com. "He sticks his head out the window and looks right at me and raises he fist and says, 'Pilgrims together, on forever.'

"We sat there for a second silent," said Gross. "Then we looked at each other and said who was that? Yes, it was Hendrix all in his pearly outfit, right there."

ABC News information specialist Brad Martin contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events