My Friday night was peaceful. The last quiet night before Friday night lights begin and I spend my time with the Honesdale High School marching band going from game to game. Saturday morning, I mowed the lawn—an hour of music in my ears and nothing but the smell of freshly cut grass.
Saturday afternoon, Jonathan Fox (our arts & leisure columnist) called via Facetime. His car was making funny noises and he didn’t want to drive it. “Uh huh,” was my reply. “Maybe it’s just your brakes squealing?”
It made a funny noise with this action and that, he explained, and he didn’t want to drive it until he made it to the mechanic. I must have raised an eyebrow at that and he posed the question. “So, I was hoping you could cover tomorrow night for me?”
With a deep sigh, I told him I would. An air kiss and an 'I love you,' and he signed off, saying that he’d make sure the photo credentials were switched.
And so, despite all my efforts to stay away from Woodstock 50 weekend, I ended up there.
I was surprised at the lack of congestion driving to Bethel—probably because every other local had the same strategy as I: to stay the hell out of "Ground Zero." Yet, the traffic around Bethel Woods was actually calmer than on most concert nights. I was impressed. I guess my dread of the masses of vehicles was a little over the top.
I parked in C5. Right next to the third tree in… just like always. I packed up my gear, and started to walk into the grounds. For once, I didn’t get stopped with my bag. Either the new security guards finally remember the ‘rainbow haired gal’ was working, or they weren’t paying much attention.
The air hung hot and humid as people slowly made their way through the main gates. The crowd was a mix of young and old, hippies and non-hippies. A young girl, who couldn’t have been more than 12 smiled at me and told me my hair was pretty. I told her hair was pretty too. She was quite proud of the blue streak her father let her add for the summer.
With a smile on my face, I made it to the “Media Center” (aka Bethel's event gallery) and stowed my gear on a table. I was more than a half hour earlier than I needed to be, but it felt good to sit in the air conditioning and rest up a little before photographing three acts.
I checked my messages and laughed at a text.
It’s gonna rain again. Hope you packed a poncho.
I looked at the radar… and surer than shit, the message was right. I checked the time frame for the storm. Of course, the big red blob in the middle of the radar was supposed to hit at 5:35 p.m., exactly five minutes after the scheduled time to walk down to the pits and begin my night.
Of course it would rain. Would it really be Woodstock if there weren’t masses of soaking people listening to John Fogerty?
I talked to a few fellow photographers and journalists and warned them of the weather. They looked at me funny. “Trust me," I countered. "It’s going to be bad.”
“Like, tornado bad?” one guy asked.
I laughed. “No, we generally don’t get tornadoes here.”
“Oh, you’re a local…”
I shrugged and smiled at him. “Yep. And the way the weather has been lately, you’re gonna see a hell of a lightning show when it hits.”
I walked out the back door to look at the sky and realized it was going to be almost pitch black in another ten minutes. As I was about to walk back in, there was an announcement over the small stage speakers. “We’re asking everyone to head indoors or back to their vehicles to wait out the storm.”
Yeah, this was going to be bad.
I returned to the table and sat down to wait it out. The first crack of lightning reverberated through the large room and I settled in with a sigh.
I returned the text from before.
You’re right. It’s nasty out. Hope it stops.
Me too, but I don’t think it will for a while. Be careful.
Yeah, I don’t think it will either.
As I hit send on my reply, the doors to the Media Center opened and in came the masses. Some were soaked while others had umbrellas and ponchos.
They gathered around tables, took chairs from the sides and filled the room. The room had gone from the comfortable quiet of a dozen people, to hundreds filling every available space. Strangers gathered and talked. Funny how that happened. It was similar to the event in ’69, where people joined together and bonded over the rain and the music.
There was actually music playing in the background. The staff turned on songs from the original Woodstock artists and some in the crowd sang along. I laughed as the next song filtered through the speakers. “Who’ll Stop The Rain?” was a perfect choice.
Huddled in what had been the media room, I met people from across the world and discussed a variety of topics. When Wade Lawrence walked through the room announcing it would be around 15 minutes before people could head back into the grounds, he stopped and said hello. We laughed about how much the golden anniversary was the same as the original, and yet how different it was. This time, people were safely huddled indoors and out of the weather, but the camaraderie was just like it was 50 years ago.
As people were finally herded out of the event gallery, I looked at the radar again. Off and on rain for the next few hours. Great. At least I had the poncho in my bag. Or, I thought I did.
I dug around looking and couldn’t find it. Well shit. I know I put it in my bag. Too many places for it to be in there. I checked each pocket and section again and didn’t find it.
That put a little damper on my spirits as I zipped the bag up and walked out the door.
Grace Potter was first up to play. Because of the rain, the show was behind schedule, and they cut her set short. Shooting from the pit gave me a ton of great photos (like the one on the front of this week’s print edition). As she finished song three, I made my way out to my favorite bench for a 15-minute break between acts. The drizzle continued and actually got a bit harder. I moved from the bench to under the trees by the bathrooms. While I was there, I struck up a conversation with a biker from New Hampshire. He and his buddies came down for the weekend. His only hopes were that the skies would clear up for their ride home tomorrow.
As he talked, I looked above the beer tent in the distance and watched as a gorgeous rainbow formed. I snapped a few photos with my cell phone and then pulled out the Canon. I changed the aperture and the shutter speed and snapped a few more quickly. I saw a few others take notice too and begin to snap their own photos. As the rainbow faded, I walked back to the pit to get ready for Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Their combination of blues and rock had the crowd excited and dancing as they hung out in the lingering rain. The sweet sound of the tenor saxophone sang through the night as the band jammed along. The trumpet and trombone were also grooving, but my heart has always been with the sax.
Three sweet songs later and I was back to my bench. The drizzle was fading, but it was an hour and 45 minutes until John Fogerty was scheduled to take the stage.
Sure, I could have sat in my seat under the pavilion and been completely dry, but that’s not where you meet people and hear stories. And so, I killed the time in the drizzle talking to people and listening to the music in the background.
The people there were feeling the vibe of the evening (or something like that). Even those I thought should have been downright wet and miserable were happy. The speakers played "Sweet Caroline" and the crowd sang along. It was, honestly, the biggest and most off-key bar rendition of the song I ever heard. It was still fun to hear.
When Fogerty finally came on, the crowd was pumped. I stood with a few other photographers and snapped pictures during the first three numbers. When the third number ended, I checked my photo count for the night: 1,726. I was going to regret that in the morning when I had to sort through them all.
I stood around long enough to listen to Susie Q and then headed up the hill and back to the car. As I rounded the corner, he began to play "Who’ll Stop the Rain?"