Woodstock Rewrite

Uh-oh, a friend was fact-checking my copy, testing the memory of a raw, 16-year-old observer who was then more interested in hitting baseballs than defining life.

The phone call came from Bethel, N.Y., Saturday night about 7:30, pregame show, Red Sox-Rangers, on the tube. Friend and dentist Mark Wisniewski was on his cell. He, wife Nora and daughter Bree were attending Woodstock 2009, the 40th reunion of the iconic “Summer of Love” concert. Seems they’d been trying all day to substantiate facts from the story I had published a few days earlier about attending the infamous 1969 concert as a twisted teen. It had been just the previous day that “Dr. Mark” had pulled into my driveway around 11 a.m., big cigar, upbeat as always, trying to entice me and my wife to join him for the ride. No such luck. I was working a rare Friday night and my wife was on her way to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom for a family gathering. There would be no Woodstock reunion for me, stag or otherwise.

The caller ID showed who rang. I knew it had to be live from Bethel, probably a “you-don’t-know-what-you’re-missing” call, and it was, sort of. The good doctor estimated 20,000 in attendance, a far cry from the half-million in ’69. Country Joe and the Fish was playing in the background; good, but Big Brother and the Holding Company had been superb. The female vocalist hit the highest notes he could remember hearing, and Dr. Mark gets around, has been to a few gigs over the years; my kind of dentist, even when he’s poking and prodding below the gum-line.

Truth was my friend hadn’t called to critique the bands, though. No, he was vetting my story, had been asking around, trying to conceptualize the layout, having difficulty. He shouldn’t have been surprised. I had warned readers that I couldn’t remember every minute detail, just certain anecdotal events burned deep into my memory. Forty years is a huge gap to fill when trying to reconstruct scenes relying on the blurred memory of a teen with an unsophisticated eye for detail. I wasn’t at Woodstock as a writer or commentator. I was just traipsing about, a bit impaired, on a footloose lark; no one to tell me what to do or where I couldn’t go; autonomy I had only dreamt.

Anyway, after telling me how much he wished I had accompanied him, that he was having a blast but it would mean more to me, Dr. Mark jumped right into his probe, nowhere near as invasive as removing mercury amalgams. Maybe things had changed since ’69 but he hadn’t been able to find the bar I had written about, or the small center of town where it sat. He had asked many ’69 concert veterans and no one seemed to recall a bar. How far away was it, anyway? Did I recall? When I guessed a quarter- to half-mile, he was bemused. Something didn’t add up. I had described the bar as located among a little cluster of small homes. The only place that fit that description was three or four miles away. Oh yeah, and he hadn’t seen a pond anywhere, just a river far in the horizon behind the stage. No, it wasn’t a river behind the stage. It was a mud hole on the other side of town, not far off the road. That was confirmed a few days later, when I saw a photo on the bulletin board at Clarkdale Fruit Farm in West Deerfield; just as I remembered. Tom Clark remembered it, too. But, let’s not digress. Back to the interrogation.

Did I remember what direction I had traveled from the concert to town? Yes, that I could say for sure. The town was behind me and to the right. He explained that he had arrived in Bethel from that direction and again, unless the settlement had moved, the only cluster of homes he passed was nearly four miles from the concert. Although I couldn’t remember walking that far, it wasn’t impossible. A four-mile walk wouldn’t have been outrageous to me as a teen. I had hoofed it my whole life before receiving my first driver’s license some six weeks before Woodstock, so it’s conceivable it had been a four-mile trek. I just had no recollection of any extraordinary distance. I guess it wasn’t important in the bigger picture. Many people walked 20 miles just to get to Max Yasgur’s Farm after the highway had been closed. I felt fortunate.

Before hanging up, Dr. Mark repeated that he wished I had been there to help him scope out the place, investigate the scene of my teenage adventure. He loves that kind of activity. Me, too. I guess that’s why we’re friends. I suspected I hadn’t heard the last of him. Just a hunch, but I knew his discovery mission was ongoing. Sooner or later he’d figure things out; likely sooner. That’s him: persistent. Still, I was a little surprised when the phone rang in less than 15 minutes. I was just getting ready to hit the People’s Pint for a quick oatmeal stout and there he was, Dr. Mark on the caller ID. He had found a source who knew the bar. It was Hector’s.

Yes, of course, it immediately rang a bell. Hector’s: that was it. I Googled it a few days later and got several hits; had been mentioned often in recent blog posts and newspaper articles about this year’s Woodstock reunion. People camped and partied there over the weekend. The full name of the place is Jerry Hector’s Last Chance Saloon. A little hole-in-the-wall watering hole that could just as easily be located in backwoods Appalachia or rural Arkansas, it is now a national landmark. I guess to me, the 16-year-old rascal who once enjoyed temporary anarchy there — well, no law but friendly order — Hector’s will always be my “first-chance” saloon. Never before had I been served at a bar. No one was carded. Call it look-the-other-way bliss; flower-power mob rule; whatever. And I have to wonder: Could it have been Mrs. Jerry Hector herself who tried to shortchange that $20 bill I gave her for a whiskey-and-ginger?

Looking back, I admit I probably should have remembered a four-mile trek to town, even a bit farther to the pond where I had swam, slept and bundled … Sixties style. But that memory’s gone. I guess if the only thing I lost at that surreal event was my ability to recall distances covered afoot, I came away unscathed. Some lost far more, are still riding a bad trip home, their sanity baked into Bethel’s red clay.

Thankfully, I weathered the storm; lived to resurrect dormant memories, albeit flawed, and tell my tale.

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