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Woodstock had lasting effect for attendee
By Anita Lilburn | Naperville

Anita Lilburn, 2009

 

Anita Lilburn, 1969

 

The view of the sea of humanity at the Woodstock concert in 1969.

 

Photo courtesy of Anita Lilburn

View of the people arriving to Woodstock in 1969.

 

Photo courtesy of Anita Lilburn

Anita Lilburn's friend, Bill, holding a box of Krispy crackers, while at Woodstock in 1969.

 

Photo courtesy of Anita Lilburn

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Published: 8/14/2009 12:01 AM

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Yeah, I was a Woodstock child - seems like so long ago, now.

It was the summer between high school and starting college at Ohio State University. I was 18 and living in Toledo, Ohio, and I took a short-term job at Cedar Point working in the big concession stand under the sky ride, mostly to get away from my parents, but also for something fun to do for a summer job. A bunch of folks I made friends with there invited me to come along to this "big music festival" in New York. I had never been away from home before on my own and it sounded like a great weekend adventure.

Since I was living in the under-21 dorm there, the dorm managers insisted on getting my parents' permission for me to go. I don't know what possessed my mom, but she let me go, vowing to not tell my dad (and she didn't tell him for another 5 years after that!). She must have been completely freaking out when the news stories started coming in about "half a million people camped out in a sea of mud," but she kept her cool about it.

Seven of us - me, Greg and his friend Bob from out of town, Anil, Becky and her boyfriend Chuck, and Farley - piled into a Corvair with bedrolls and somebody's guitar and drove 14 hours to New York, where the highway was completely closed at a certain point. We had to abandon the car and walk the rest of the way, and every time we asked how much further it was, we were always told "another 3 miles."

That went on for hours - just a sea of people walking and some cars inching along in the same direction. Once in a while, a car would let us pile on to ride a little ways so we could rest. It started pouring down rain and we were thoroughly soaked but kept walking until we almost got into the festival.

By then, we were exhausted and we had to find some shelter for the night so we asked various residents if we could put up in their barn or in a wagon or whatever, but they were pretty nervous about all the "freaks" rolling into their community, so they all turned us down. We were just about to crawl under a bush to get out of the rain when we discovered a side porch on a house, so we quietly crept up there and sacked out for the night. Come morning, we discovered the house was empty! I don't recall if it was for sale or what, but there was an upper porch where we stashed some of our stuff for the day and walked on into the concert.

Because of the rain I was just grungy, so I had my hair braided and I think I had on a pair of Bob's jeans because my cute stripey bell-bottoms had gotten so wet. I wasn't a full freak before that weekend, but my look changed radically after that!

We were wayyyyy up at the top of the hill where you could barely see anything on stage, but the slope of the land created a natural amphitheater, so we could hear just fine. I didn't really know a lot of the musical groups back then, but I remember hearing Santana, Canned Heat, the Grateful Dead, and Mountain. When I look at the set list from that weekend now, I'm like "Jeez, what an awesome concert! How can I not remember more of it?!" and "I'm sorry I missed a lot of that!"

I've seen the Woodstock movie enough times by now that it's hard to recall what I remember from that, and what's from my own memory, but the movie has incredible footage from the concert, especially Ten Years After's "I'm Goin' Home", one of my favorites. And I wish I could have been there to see Jimi Hendrix play!

I was pretty naive about drugs back then - there hadn't been a drug culture that I was aware of at my high school - so I didn't partake in any at the festival. I know some of the other guys did, but they either didn't offer or I declined. Becky and I hung out on our blanket all day Saturday just soaking in the crowd and the music, while the other guys explored the festival. One of them had gotten down to within about 20 feet of the stage and spent most of the day there. Somebody else came back with free food that was being handed out by the Hog Farm commune and somebody else came back with a story that they had seen 3 couples (having sex) in one of the medical tents. 1969 was pretty much the era of "free love," remember!

I can't recall seeing anyone walking around naked, although I know there were some shown in the movie.

Anyway, we had to head for home early on Sunday because we all had to be back to work at Cedar Point by Monday, so we walked the long walk back to the car - and amazingly enough actually found it again! I recall that we made it back just mere moments before my folks rolled in to Cedar Point for a surprise visit. Boy, was my mom nervous about how that was going to play out if I hadn't made it back in time!

I guess the most amazing thing about the whole weekend was just the sense of community among all those thousands and thousands of people there. Everybody was helping each other survive and enjoy the weekend, and every time they made an announcement from the stage about how big the event had gotten or that free food was available from the Hog Farm, it really made you feel connected to the whole thing and the other people there. We were a small city!

The whole experience had lasting effects on me when I went to college, as I became a lot more aware of and interested in a wide range of musical groups, the Vietnam War, Nixon politics, the drug culture (did some experimenting in college), and just more conscious of what was going on in society in the late 60s and early 70s.

It was probably one of the reasons I chucked my pursuit of a degree in engineering physics in favor of psychology and why I hung with a "different" crowd in college rather than, say, pledging a sorority. It made me a lot more open to liberal ideas and appreciating life on a day-to-day basis.

A lot of that idealism gets submerged after working for 25 years in a high-stress tech company (I went from psychology to computer science as a grad student), but it's nice to relive those memories whenever these anniversary events come around.

Anita Lilburn lives in Naperville, and retired after a 25-year career at Lucent Technologies. Her current musical interests include classic rock (Rolling Stones & Led Zeppelin), alternative (Kings of Leon, Keane), and a lot of blues guitar (Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Jonny Lang, Eric Clapton). Her latest musical adventure is seeing Adam Lambert in the American Idols Live tour in three cities.