Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Building on last week’s 50th anniversary look back at the moon landing, those of a certain generation will mark what in their heads may be an even bigger milestone: The Woodstock rock festival, half a century on.

I offer recollections on Arlington’s contribution to that history-making crowd of 400,000 hippies and hippie imposters who braved traffic jams and rural New York mud August 15-17, 1969.

The storied concert may have been a mess, but it remains a baby-boomer thrill.

I didn’t personally go. I turned down an invite for fear of jeopardizing my summer job moving furniture. (I nursed a hunch the scene would be messy, crowded and lacking in sanitation.)

But I lent our family’s Army tent to a caravan of eight from Yorktown High School classes of ’68, ’69 and ’70. When they returned, I wrote them up in a hard-hitting dispatch for the school paper.

At the time, no one knew Woodstock would be a seminal generational event drawing worldwide news coverage and decades of retrospectives. We anticipated it simply by the posters (that famous guitar neck with a dove) and the $18 tickets (bought locally at Giant Music in Falls Church) promising one heckuva music line-up.

Group Attends Woodstock Festival Featuring Recording Stars, Bands,” said my squaresville headline on the festival confusingly planned first for Woodstock, N.Y., then White Lake but later datelined Bethel. “Compassion, friendship, love — it’s all beautiful,” said my friend Jim Massey, whose fellow-travelers were forced — by traffic that famously closed the New York State Thruway — to pitch tents miles from the stage.

A local farmer helped with food, but their water became contaminated.
A helicopter dropped flowers and ashes over the crowd “symbolizing peace and love,” said my friend Marianne Koerner. The teenagers were “dedicated to peace and reducing the barriers between men.”

Their companion Laurie Mathews recently reminded me that they arrived at the chaos after gatekeepers abandoned checking tickets, so she nearly missed linking up with a friend at the counter. She slept through the set by The Who but woke up for Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner.

My classmate Ron Hiss set out but never made it to Woodstock. Doing post-10th-grade summer school, he was at Ocean City when he and friends packed his Camaro.

En route, he traded some Schmidt beer for a gallon jug of wine from a guy in a Winnebago. But when the rain came a-drenching, they turned back.
Many in my generation would lose their virginity among Woodstock’s naked mobs, later straining to spot themselves in Life magazine photos and the movie.

The unplanned triumph of sharing in that instant city finally convinced stodgy record executives — types who preferred the Mantovani 101 Strings — that youth rock had reached critical mass.

In the1990s, I took my young family to the Woodstock site for a Christmas card portrait at the monument in the natural amphitheater of Yasgur’s Farm. One merchant still at the general store was happy to recall the most exciting three days ever in Sullivan County.

One coda: My friend Todd Lewis, having graduated Yorktown in 1969, was working construction that August. His co-worker and classmate Mark Marder walked off the job and went to Woodstock. Todd didn’t see him for 20 years.

At a high school reunion, Todd approached Mark gingerly. “So,” he asked, “how was that concert?”

Yet another new incarnation of what I’ve long called the “jinxed restaurant.” At the trafficky intersection of Lee Highway and N. Lexington St., you can now eat in at Sloppy Mama’s barbeque.

Its outdoor cookers had been serving its Ballston outlet while renovations freshened the 1970s-era building.

The site began as a Pizza Hut, then an Indian health food place, a Bolivian-Colombian combo, the diner-like Charleyhorse Grill, the upscale Tap and Vine, the fusion Asian Kitchen and Misomen noodle place.

May Mama’s secure the secret sauce of success.