Friday, August 21, 2009

WSJ Woodstock Rant - Revisited

The August 14th, 2009 edition of the WSJ was kind enough to reprint an editorial it published almost 40 years ago about that summer's Woodstock Festival. As I did not read it then - I was not into the Journal - I found it a fascinating reminder of those polarizing days, those days when "Which side are you on?" was becoming serious business. It would get worse.

What strikes me after all these years is the obvious anger this autonomous editorial writer feels. Nowhere does he mention - in those days it certainly would not have been a she - the Vietnam war, the civil-rights movement, women's liberation, the environment movement (the first Earth Day would be the following spring), or the growing sense among many young people that there was more to life than obedience to authority and the individual accumulation of wealth. But I am sure these were in the back of his mind as he turned looking for "Three Days of Peace and Music" into "opting for physical, intellectual and cultural squalor."

The Wall Street Journal is still published by and for authority, whether political or economic - and presumably after 40 years maybe by some of us who grew out of the "it" below. Oddly their two-page remembrance contained little mention of the capitalist roots of the festival. It was a money-making enterprise gone wrong. The first blow was struck a month before the festival was to open when the town government where the festival was planned effectively banned it. The lesson from this would be right up the WSJ's alley, never trust the government.

The festival promoters were not able to find an alternate site and construct the facilities in time to receive the second blow, many more thousands and thousands of young people than the site could well accommodate. The WSJ lesson would be to spend more money on market research.

So it became a "free festival," and depending on who one talked to, either a disaster area or a peaceful first gathering of the tribe. Then, finally, it rained. I am not sure how the WSJ handles bad weather even today. They probably are against it.

I had first considered annotating the editorial below with clever, amusing comments developed in the fullness of time. However I decided to let the oddly bitter words of the author speak for themselves. We of the Woodstock Nation still love him anyway, and would give him a big hug and pass him a joint if he wanted a hit. Peace brother.

I will only note sadly that the spirit of this editorial writer still haunts the offices of the WSJ. Try reading their current smug, myopic, and disingenuous opinions that suck up to the powers of our day and age. Personally I still refuse to read anything on their editorial pages.

By Squalor Possessed
Wall Street Journal, Aug 28, 1969
The so-called generation gap is not really so much a matter of age as it is a gap between more civilized and less civilized tastes. As such, it may be more serious, both culturally and politically, than it first appeared.
bysqaulorpossessedStarting with the relatively small hippie movement several years ago, the drug-sex-rock-squalor “culture” now permeates colleges and high schools. When 300,000 or 400,000 young people, most apparently from middle-class homes, can gather at a single rock festival in New York State, it is plainly a phenomenon of considerable size and significance.

We would not want to exaggerate. Probably a goodly number will grow out of it, in the old-fashioned phrase. On campus, the anti-radicals seem to be gaining strength, and it may well be that these more conservative youngsters will be the people who will be moving America in the future.

But that prospect is by no means certain enough to encourage complacency. For various reasons it is being suggested that many rebels will not abandon their “life-styles” (the cliches in this field! ) and that there are enough of them to assume some of the levers of power in the future American society. It would be a curious America if the unwashed, more or less permanently stoned on pot or LSD, were running very many things. Even if the trend merely continues among young people in the years ahead, it will be at best a culturally poorer America and maybe a politically degenerated America.

Now taste is that amorphous quality about which one is not supposed to dispute, so we won’t argue whether rock is a debased form of music; we don’t like it, but never mind. Without pursuing that argument, it is possible, we think, to say a couple of things quite categorically about rock and related manifestations.

One is that a preference for a particular kind of music is not necessarily a matter of age. In times past many young people were drawn to classical music and retained that taste as they grew older. Today the young’s addiction to rock is at the same time a rejection of classical and the more subdued types of popular music, and considering the way rock is presented it must be counted a step down on culture’s ladder.

That is our second point: The orgiastic presentation on the part of some of the best-known groups. It is not prudish, we take it, to suggest that a certain amount of restraint is appropriate in these matters. But then, the whole “life-style” of many of the performers is incredible—disgusting or pitiful or both, but certainly hoggish.

The same applies to public sex in the audience, also in evidence at the mammoth Woodstock festival. It is not necessary to be a Puritan to say that such displays are regressive from the point of view of civilization. As for the ubiquitous drugs—well, we guess on that score we feel more sorry for the kids than anything else.

What perhaps gets us most is the infatuation with squalor, the slovenly clothes and the dirt; at Woodstock they were literally wallowing in mud. How anybody of any age can want that passes our understanding. Again, though, it’s not a question of age. A person doesn’t have to be young to be a hobo. He does, however, have to have certain tastes and values (or non-tastes and non-values) which are not generally regarded as being of a civilizing nature.

Now we are aware of all the cant about how these young people are rejecting traditional tastes and values because society has bitterly disappointed them, and we would be the last to deny the faults in contemporary society. It is nonetheless true that their anarchic approach holds no hope at all.

They won’t listen, but if they, and some of the unduly sympathetic adults around, would listen, here are some words worth bearing. They occur in a speech by Professor Lawrence Lee to a social fraternity at the University of Pittsburgh, quoted in National Review:

“You have been told, and you have come to believe, that you are the brightest of generations . . . You are, rather, one of the most self-centered, self-pitying, confused generations . . . .

“The generation gap is one of the delusions of your generation—and to some men of my generation. . . . The only generation gap is that we have lived longer, we know more than you do from having lived, and we are so far ahead of you that it will take you a lifetime to have the same relative knowledge and wisdom. You had better learn from us while you can. . . .

“It is not mawkish to love one’s country. The country, with all of its agony and all of its faults, is still the most generous and the most open society on the earth. . . . All generations need the help of all others. Ours is asking yours to be men rather than children, before some frightened tyrant with the aid of other frightened and ignorant men seeks to make all of us slaves in reaction to your irresponsibility.”

In any event, opting for physical, intellectual and cultural squalor seems an odd way to advance civilization.

Monday, August 03, 2009

FloydFest 8 - Revival

floydfest 8July 23rd through 26th I attended my fifth consecutive Floydfest. All have been different; all have left me with wonderful memories. By now I know enough to expect the unexpected. One would think that mindset would have prepared me for this year. It didn't.

First, instead of attending with several carloads of relatives, this year it looked like it would just be Anita and me. Then, about a month before, Anita badly damaged a big toe. I will spare you the details and photos. As Floydfest approached it became evident she would not be able to go. We had hoped Anita's niece, husband and daughter Rachel (A former Best Camper) would be able to take the tickets. They bowed out the weekend before the festival was to start. With not enough time to to sell the two (rather expensive) tickets, I decided to go by myself. I then offered my daughter the other ticket. A few months pregnant and having not been feeling all that chipper, she had decided weeks ago not to attend. But she reconsidered mid-week and told me she would meet me on site Friday evening. So Thursday morning early I pointed Buster, Anita's old truck, north.

I had decided before I left that I was going to try camping in the woods this year to avoid the sun-baked heat of field camping.Camp
But by the time I arrived, about four hours after the gates opened, many of the best sites were taken. Undeterred, I found a spot and managed - with some passerby help - to get the tent in place and the camp established. This photo makes the site look flat. It was not. Still the trees did provided shade and it was very convenient to the music, food, and porta-potties. I then wandered about in search of the music.

My first surprise was the Jesse Chong Band from Virginia Beach at the Hill Hollar stage as the sun was going down.Jesse Chong They were just smoking. Sure, the guy could play and his band was tight, but what impressed me were the arraignments. There was always something interesting going on with the beat, the rhythm. Here is a sample on YouTube. His website also has videos. None really do justice.

The next day I happened by the Garden Stage and caught the last part of the set by Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers. Samantha CrainIf someone can kick some serious musical butt sweetly, it is Samantha. I took the photo to the right the next day when she played the Hill Hollar. Difficult to categorize, Samantha's music has an edge that belies her demeanor and the familiar forms her music takes. Her website has videos also.

After Malindi arrived and was settled in we walked about as the sun was setting in search of more music. Then Floydfest went dark, quickly, mostly. Actually a fuse blew on a power line off-site and for about two hours the festival was operating on a few backup generators and batteries.

So what happened with thousands of festival goers and seven stages? Simple; the musicians played and sung acoustically, and the audiences mellowed around them. Read about it here.

While walking back towards the Main Stage we stopped by the Children's Universe where we heard the Barcelona Institute of Gospel.Barcelona Gospel They were singing in the dark without their microphones everything from Proud Mary to Billie Jean, J.S. Bach to a song from the Lion King. The arraignments to bring the young singers from Spain to the U.S. had been made by a Floyd County Virginia Tech student, details here. Malindi and I sat in awe. Someone had a video camera and posted part of their performance on YouTube. As we walked away I felt as if nothing could top that. I was (again) wrong.

I had heard that Friday night's closing Main Stage band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, was pretty good.Grace Potter & the Nocturnals As the festival electricians were patching together enough emergency power so the band could take the stage and we were taking our seats on the side stage (a benefit of those expensive tickets) the local power company restored power to the site. Late, but now with full power, the show would go on. When Grace and her band hit the stage it was as if one had shaken up a hot two-liter coke bottle and then ripped off the cap. I had seen and heard bands on that huge stage for four previous festivals. I had never questioned if the stage was large enough, until Grace Potter. Friends and neighbors, they almost took the roof of that sucker. She sounds like a combination of Janis and Bonnie Raitt, with all their energy but with a better feel than either for a ballad. Her band could have been playing full tilt at Woodstock or almost any venue since. Timeless rock and roll. Playing mostly originals with a few covers that they well honor, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals just get it. It may be too late to catch them in a small club again, but catch them if you can. Mp3s of that performance can be found at It is worth the download. I was awestruck, again.

It proved difficult to top Friday night. But for about 25 minutes Saturday afternoon...

I had first heard Donna The Buffalo at Floydfest 4.Donna in the Rain More or less joining their Herd, I had probably listened to them a dozen times since. But Saturday was special. As they took the Main Stage at 5 dark clouds rolled in. By the second song the wind was blowing a hard rain across the stage soaking us all. Donna played on. It got worse. Donna played on. The rain rendered Tara's violin bow useless and she wisely left the stage looking like she was fleeing an unvoluntary wet-T-shirt contest. Her band mates played on. Equipment started to fail. The band played on; the audience kept dancing. When I realized they were not going to stop I set my camera on video mode and captured a few minutes. Those videos became my first YouTube posts - here and here. Electrical power outages? Wind and rain? Not a problem at Floydfest.

Of Saturday night, no comment. Blues Traveler brought additional gate receipts, but that was about all. As my mother always reminded me, "If you can't say something nice...."

Kat MillsSunday morning at 10 found me in the Pink Floyd Garden Stage for a short set by local (Blacksburg) singer/songwriter Kat Mills. She is a Floydfest regular and so I hope she remains. Motel Blues, Saturday; what a wonderful way to start the day. After she finished I made my way to the Virginia Folklife Workshop Porch to wait for Peter Rowan.

Rowan is a legend, with a wide and deep musical heritage that defies categorization. Born in Boston, he formed a Tex-Mex band in high school. He played with Bill Monroe in the mid-196o's.Peter Rowan He then joined David Grisman in a folk-rock band, Earth Opera. He played in the rock-fusion band Seatrain in the early 1970's and then recorded a one-shot album with Grisman, Vassar Clements, Jerry Garcia, and John Kahn, Old and In the Way. According to Rowan's website it remains the biggest selling bluegrass album of all time. His song from that album, Panama Red, recorded later by a Garcia side project, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, is iconic.

Since the seventies, Rowan has traveled widely, playing almost every kind of music imaginable - and a few beyond - including reggaebilly. But he always seems to come back to front porch music and bluegrass. And on Floydfest's small Workshop Porch Rowan parked himself Sunday morning, sang several songs, told some stories, and then played a short set with his bluegrass band prior to taking the larger Hill Hollar stage at 1:30.Rowan & RRE Later Rowan joined Railroad Earth on that stage for a version of the mountain standard, the Cuckoo.

Railroad Earth closed out the festival, playing until past 6 pm. I have written so much about them over the years anything more seems unnecessary. They have remained a Floydfest staple, bringing their very American eclectic music to a very eclectic American gathering. Sufficient to write that they played well and it was great the see the guys again. We have tickets to see them again next month in Charlotte.

There were dozens of wonderful performers at Floydfest I have failed to highlight: The Emmit-Nershi Band, The Duhks, Grupo Fantasma, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas, Olabelle, Adrienne Young and Old Faithful, Doug and Telisha Williams, William Walter & Co., The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker, the Lee Boys. And then there was Spiral. All deserve space on someone's blog, just not mine this time around.

I could also mention the wonderful food the folks from Chicago served behind the main stage. I could highlight the helpful volunteers who made us all feel so welcome. The vendors who add so much were out in full force this year. I could mention the couple who dreamed up Floydfest and then made it happen. Maybe next year.
Best Camper this year goes to my daughter, despite her needing to find a port every 30 minutes. It was a special treat to once again share Floydfest with her. Like Grace Potter and her Nocturnals, Malindi gets it. Driving rain and power outages, rank potties and two bands you want to hear scheduled at the same !#@**! time, all are just ingredients in the gumbo. All are a part of that experience of becoming just a bit more alive than usual, of being with thousands of friends you just haven't met yet, of being for one long week-end a year in that Virginia state of grace, Floydfest.