My Summer of Woodstock

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.

Molly, Charlie & Sammi

Molly points her earlier self out to Sammi in 1969 LIFE: “And this is me!”


Words & photos copyright Sharon Watts 2019

What I Did on My Sommer Vacation

Bert copy

I won’t kid myself, I couldn’t have hacked* Woodstock. I am referring to the one and only original “3 days of peace & music,” August of 1969. I don’t like being outside my own little universe when it’s warm, muggy, muddy, and rainy. What would I have done in a crowd of half-a-million? I’d be in the freak-out tent without even doing any drugs.

My counterculture activities consisted of hanging an Easy Rider poster on the wall of my pink bedroom and protesting in favor of long hair on our boys at Cedar Cliff High School. Of course, I was horrified by the war in Vietnam, and I cried myself to sleep after Bobby Kennedy was shot. Martin Luther King’s assassination, race riots, man on the moon, the Manson murders, hippies, Yippies, Life and Time magazine coverage of LSD—all were wallpapering my suburban life. But I wasn’t really fully engaged. I missed something important, I know.

Dilemma du jour copy

This summer has been warm, muggy, muddy, and rainy. I am in my own little universe, revisiting Woodstock as an anthropologist of my teenage self, an archivist of the era that I lived through but did not fully absorb.

Now I race the clock to complete an illustrated memoir—By The Time I Got To Woodstock—by next year’s 50th anniversary.

Bert Sommer played Woodstock as his very first gig, and got the first standing ovation of the concert. What followed is a story unto itself, and I bet you never heard of him. Neither did I, and I want to change that. I wrote an original essay about him that got picked up by Boom Underground, and I am hoping to flesh it out into a larger article by next year. Hello, New Yorker? Rolling Stone? New York Times? (High Times?)

Meanwhile, today is the 49th anniversary of Day 2, Bert has already played his 10-song set, and he is golden. Until he fell thorough the cracks.


* 1969 slang for “handled,” “endured.”

copyright sharon watts

video courtesy youtube

Light My Fire

The 50th anniversary of Woodstock is a year away. That will be a milestone for “My Generation.” Who was I back then? A “good girl” from suburbia who had just gotten her driver’s license two days before the unprecedented cultural explosion we did not yet know would define our generation. Now I am an artist (who qualifies for senior discounts) revisiting my own long and winding road to Woodstock, armed with a sketchbook, a scrapbook, and always tuned in to quirky facts that amplify what was simply billed as “three days of peace and music.” As we now all know, it was so much more.

I live just 60 miles, or one hour, from this hallowed hippie ground, yet I had never even done a drive-by. Last December I visited the museum dedicated to all things Woodstock, and down the rabbit hole I went. I wandered the exhibits and started to think about who, and where, I was when Woodstock took control of the zeitgeist of a troubled, yet hopeful America.

By The Time I Got To Woodstock is the illustrated memoir I am immersed in, determined to finish in time for the 50th anniversary.

Rock icons Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison died, all at age 27 (all drug-related), soon after Woodstock. According to Michael Lang’s The Road to Woodstock: “The Doors were at the top of our list, but since Jim Morrison’s arrest in Miami in March, he’d become really paranoid. He told his booking agent he didn’t want to play Woodstock for fear of being assassinated onstage.”

Today is the anniversary of Morrison’s death—July 3, 1971. He was in a bathtub in Paris, and I was in the ocean at Stone Harbor, NJ. It was the summer before I moved to New York City to go to art school and (I thought) become a fashion designer.

What I didn’t know then was that what I really wanted to do was draw. And eventually, archive memories.

This summer I get to do both.

Jim Morrison copy


art & text copyright Sharon Watts 2018