If you had asked me two years ago what I would be doing in August 2019, I never could have remotely conceived of this tie-dyed detour in my life, this retro-tinged scenic route that had me fully in the present moment at every milepost. This past summer I was a part of Woodstock’s 50th anniversary.
At the end of May, my illustrated memoir, By the Time I Got to Woodstock, was stacked in boxes in my hallway, my AmEx card bearing the full brunt of a self-published labor of love. I had actually met all of my self-imposed deadlines as the anniversary loomed. In some respects I felt like a kindred spirit to the original co-creators of Woodstock, Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld—reveling in the experience and not too concerned whether or not I was “taking a bit of a bath.”
While planning my “marketing strategy,” I recalled that I couldn’t even successfully sell Girl Scout cookies when I was a kid; each march up the sidewalk and front porch steps to make my pitch to whoever answered the door was excruciating to a shy ten-year-old. Fifty-plus years later, I had two rules. Keep it fun. Keep it manageable. Somehow that worked.
I had books for sale on consignment throughout the Hudson Valley, and also arranged a few events that I thought would be—yep—“fun” and “manageable.” I returned to the hometown I left when I was eighteen and had a book event at the retro-themed Hanna’s Ice Cream Shoppe, the very same place we used to hang out before going to see films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at the West Shore Theater right next door. Back then, it was known as Brunhouse Drugstore, with a classic soda fountain. Fifty years later, I had a perfect summer day teeming with old friends, classmates, and family members who showed up to support me and buy my book . . . and ice cream! It was fun. Manageable. And absolutely wonderful. Maybe I could get the hang of this!
The following month, my local library in Beacon, New York hosted an author’s talk, warning me that the turnout typically is not that large. The room was packed, and so I stood at the dreaded podium and just winged it. I have no idea what I said, but the hour flew by.
Meanwhile, I’d had the recent good fortune in becoming friends with Ira and Maxine Stone, who were on the original Woodstock stage back in 1969. We teamed together to share our creative output and our love of Bert Sommer, the “lost bard of Woodstock.” They performed at the Dancing Cat Saloon, in Bethel, while I sat with my books and enjoyed the audience that included some hard-working and passionate tour guides for the nearby Museum at Bethel Woods (aka the “Woodstock Museum.”) Everyone had a groovy time!
Then came the big August event—the three-day celebration on the original site of Woodstock. I was in a tent called the Writer’s Den with other authors, photographers, and filmmakers, selling product we had all created, inspired by the original phenomenon. The whole experience was naturally very different from the first time around. I watched Lisa Law, the original Hog Farm organizer who commandeered the free kitchen that fed the multitudes in 1969, approach the bar inside the “Green Room” (a V.I.P. tent that we were all ushered into when the skies opened to a torrential downpour, right on cue). I am sure the twenty-something bartender had no idea who this “old hippie” with her walking stick (“Wavy Gravy”) was, nor the irony invoked as she denied Lisa a free glass of water. Most likely she was following instructions from the manager, as well as hopping with the suddenly desirable demands of us who were not allowed in before the rains came (and who happened to now keep the tip jar overflowing).
Still, the 50th anniversary event was not without its own magic. A rainbow appeared. Jimi and Janis and so many others might have been smiling down on us all.
People ask me—how did I do? Meaning, how many books did I sell? To tell you the truth, I have never crunched the numbers. Maybe I am still that underachieving Girl Scout cookie salesgirl, or maybe that really wasn’t the takeaway I wanted to remember. I just know that my Woodstock experience was exactly what the doctor ordered. And it’s also time to pass the wand.
Words & photos copyright Sharon Watts 2019