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June 27, 2022

Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock - Book Review

By Lydia Manx

Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock, by Pete Fornatale.

Heralded long afterwards as the "Summer of Love," history paints a free form, granola-crunching happy sort of time at the end of the 1960s when such expressions as 'Make love not War' came out. Pete Fornatale's Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock gives the true brushstrokes to the events that shaped so many people's memories -- both real and fictionalized decades later. Plunging into a forgotten reality with a purity of words, the reader goes back to the Garden and what created Woodstock.

Despite the horrific road conditions, people made the best of it.

Arthur Levy (rock historian who has written extensively about Joan Baez): A lot of people just chickened out when they saw the traffic and the mess of the whole thing. But the people who had schlepped and decided to stay wanted to be a part of it. Every year somebody else made a different photographic scientific analysis about how many people were at Woodstock.

In a name-dropping, music-bopping, fast-paced chronological recounting of the Woodstock Nation, Pete takes his connections and other folks' recollections to an accessible level. He begins with his experiences as a New York City disc jockey, where in his job, he is hyping some large music and art festival outside the city in the town of Bethel at White Lake, and from there he weaves the world according to rock and roll. Here is what he read on his first day as a DJ that went out into New York -- and eventually the world.

"The Woodstock Music and Art Fair is a three-day Aquarian exposition at White Lake in the town of Bethel, Sullivan County, New York, Friday, August 15, you'll hear and see Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Tim Hardin, Richie Havens, the Incredible String Band, Ravi Shankar, and Sweetwater.

"Then on Saturday, August 16, it's Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater, the Grateful Dead, Keef Hartley, Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, Mountain, Santana, and the Who-the hottest group on the scene right now.

"Sunday, August 17, the Band; Jeff Beck; Blood, Sweat and Tears; Iron Butterfly; Joe Cocker; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Jimi Hendrix; the Moody Blues; Johnny Winter; and that's not all. Tickets are available by mail or at your local ticket agency for any one day at $7.00, two days at $14.00, and for all three days, just $18.00. A special two-day ticket is available by mail for only $13.00."

Pete Fornatale takes the recordings from interviews, notes from biographies and discussions with reporters and musicians, then he shapes for the reader a concept of how Woodstock became epic. He lets them tell their story while filling in the blanks and explaining the seen and the unseen behind the scene world at Woodstock. He doesn't pull any punches or dismiss the tragedy of some of the stars, but explains hour-by-hour and day-by-day what occurred.

Capitalizing on the presence of all the idealistic, eager-to-change-the-world minds, was the movement, which is really just rough nomenclature for groups of people who organized social and political protests. The promoters felt that it was necessary to include the movement in their plans for the festival. At the time, if you weren't playing with and for the movement, then you were playing against them. And there could be nothing worse for the promoters than the movement portraying Three Days of Peace and Music as an overly commercialized, capitalistic, soul-sucking venture.

I thumbed to the front of the book "Players" section to check out the names scattered in the book at times. The voices of various artists rings clear and true, while some are muddled by death and fuzzy memories of the events due to time, travel and mind-altering substances. He mentions the bands promised by the promoters and how they did and didn't make the shows. He explains the dynamics of the behind-the-scenes people who literally kept the crowd under the best controls available without having to bring in the National Guard or a police force. The shadow specter of 'what if' is also addressed in the work by Pete Fornatale. He illustrates well how Woodstock could have ended up being a tragedy of monumental proportions if things had been twisted a little one way or another. He talks about Abbie Hoffman's LSD rant after ripping the microphone from the hands of Peter Townshend, of the Who, and how then he was bonked on the head by the man's guitar.

He talks about the lack of food, useable restrooms and the rainstorm that nearly electrocuted more than one musician and sound technician. The way everyone opened up their food, their hearts and their minds to experience something that was unheard of at the time. We all take for granted the huge mega-band shows that scatter arenas and stadiums now. Then, the only 'large' venue was the Monterey International Pop Festival, which had captured the attention of the promoters who crafted Woodstock. After the horrible 1968 Democratic National Convention riots there wasn't any rulebook for what was possible. The promoters took a huge risk with their reputations and their investors' money.

The music line up reads like a Who's-Who of rock for us now, but then many of the bands were little more than unknowns who walked out on stage to a sea of humanity and were embraced. Quite literally as well as emotionally at times. He makes mention of the documentary that Mike Wadleigh created that showcased various artists and how the editing of some bands created their careers in many ways, while snipping short others.

Mike Wadleigh (filmmaker, photographer, and writer most famous for his Academy Award-winning documentary about Woodstock): One thing I want to set you absolutely straight on: there have been many questions through the years about why certain groups are in the movie and certain groups aren't. We absolutely could have put anyone we wanted into the movie. It was not because they didn't give us their permission. It was certainly not because certain acts weren't Warner Brothers acts.

Our contract with both Warner Brothers and the organizers said I could do whatever the fuck I wanted to do. Believe you me. I did it.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-07-14
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