Memories to legend to myth: Reflections on Woodstock and the Okeechobee Music Festival

“Major Tom to Ground Control?”

Yo! Tom here!

The orbit degraded, so the escape pod was in order.

I still reach out, but it’s getting far and few between.

Yes… I went to the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. Since it’s the 21st century, I’ll just call the extravaganza the “Fest.” In my impending dotage, and of course hoping to see thousands of nubile flower children babes to refresh my memory of Woodstock, I headed over to the Fest.

Had to. It was a requirement in my brain. Just one last time, I thought – just for old time’s sake.

It was a good decision. Pending a couple days and hazy nights in the environs of ChobeeWobee Village for a couple days, I just could not get Woodstock out of my mind.

I went to Woodstock for a couple days back in 1969, hitching a ride with one of my friends. It was my last ‘hurrah’, since my draft number was “0,” and I was due to report to Richmond, Va. to get on that really happy bus to Fort Polk, La. the following week. Fort Polk… Home of the Combat Infantryman For Vietnam… When your (as I viewed them) psycho-killer, sociopathic, sadist drill sergeants were called “Yogi Bear” and BooBoo,” you don’t forget that memory; and it sure is a legend now!

Speaking of memories, for me the whole Woodstock thing was becoming more of a legend than a memory.

Worse, some of the legend was fast becoming a myth.

The Fest was a good way to see how far things have come since my days as an errant youth. I was pretty errant back then, and according to the love of my life and mother of my otherwise well behaved children.., I still “err”, and am still given to “rants” when I can’t find my glasses and my morning protein supplements… You get the drift.

If you are of the Woodstock generation, you surely see the point, if but hazy and blurred.

If you are of the Fest generation, as in the 18-35 year old, socially mobile, economically self sufficient, cell phone cyborgs, you really won’t see things much differently when you pull the plug, wish your kids the best, and head off to live in your eco-friendly, all electric RV (with all the necessary amenities!)

In reality, other than the fact that Woodstock was almost 50 years ago, and there were more than 400,000 folks packed into what could best be described as a fishbowl that turned into a mud pit, the Fest was similar in more ways than most can imagine. For the young folks it’s a legend; for the old decrepit rockers, it still has memories!

The endearing moments that turns back the sands of time are simple. First and foremost, the folks who attended the Fest were of the same mind as Woodstock’s “Bethel Fishbowl” of legend. Nice folks. Very nice. For the most part, they were well behaved, courteous to each other, and just there for an honestly good time.

There were the few who just insisted that the Fest was a drug tolerance event; but fortunately, others just walked around them as they lay on the ground  clutching their slowly waning “glow bands.”

There were a lot of “glow things” working in the crowds. Most impressive were the impromptu hula hoop folks and the few who gave a new meaning to juggling acts. Good thing it was not with real fire…fan creates light show 3

A big one for the “memories to legends to myths department” was the strange odor wafting gently through the pines and cabbage palms. Took a few minutes to tune up the memory banks, but it dawned on me like a “diamond bullet right between the eyes” after a while.

Cruising around was OK, but… I was overcome by weird strange desire to claw my way to a vendor and buy vast quantities of macaroni & cheese, smothered with grilled chicken and extra onions, topped with sauces, extra this and more of that…

I pondered the moment of that epiphany for a minute or two as I inhaled my delicious bowl of goodness.

Back in the day, hair was longer, mustaches were “cool”, T-shirts were tie-dyed, and some of the liberated babes ran around with no external support. Some of them should have had such “support mechanisms,” but when you are 18 years old, hungry like a wolf, such a panorama was impressive! At the Okee Fest, however, the temps were much cooler and the majority of the babe attendees had the common sense to at least wear bikinis during the day. Good for them – good for me too… Lowered my blood pressure.D3X_7190

On that note, Woodstock in 1969 was stink hot, and then it started raining on Saturday evening, and everything turned weird.

NOTE: Don’t ever go to a rock concert in an old Buick Roadmaster station wagon that your so-called friend stole from his father for the weekend. You may be able to slither out from the collective Grand Theft Auto charge that we faced on Monday afternoon. Oh Yeah… They were waiting for him (and me).

For that matter, don’t drive to a rock concert that says they will have 50,00 people and by the time you get there it’s more like half a MILLION! And never go to an outdoor “fest” venue without looking at maps… or even better… getting there a day or two early…

For Woodstock, it took us 24 hours driving straight through, existing on really bad coffee on the refuel operations, together with Ding Dongs, jerky sticks and whatever chips we could find.

The closer we got, the worse it was. We finally arrived in the Bethel area on Saturday morning, ended up parking on the side of road about 3 miles away, between a VW van and an old Ford station wagon covered with peace signs and inhabited by some girls. We all started talking and decided to head towards the concert together. Strength in numbers, I suppose; but it was really strength in misery…

The Fest was different! I knew my way around, knew the best route to get to Mr. Rosen’s farm in Okeechobee, and there was actually parking for the “day visitors.” Woodstock never took this into consideration; after all it was a “happening”, and “happenings” always turn into logistical nightmares when you have the Who, Jimmy Hendix, etc. on the schedule…Lights in the woods

The Woodstock “dairy farm”, owned by Max Yasgur, was a great venue, but compared to the Okee Fest, the Woodstock festival was simply was not able to accommodate more than the original 50K with tickets. Max died in 1973 (RIP), but sometimes I wonder if the notoriety led him to the early passing. May the Gods and Deities guard his soul well.

Woodstock had major problems, all again related to the “numbers.” First of all there was NEVER a concert in “Woodstock”. Woodstock ended up in Bethel, about 30 miles away… The locals had insanely fought the concert. It was relocated from the different venues as the local governments passed emergency orders, refused permits, and got Governor Rockefeller involved with the National Guard! Sullivan County (where Bethel was located) was were it ended up.

Okee Fest, fortunately did not have that problem, The plan laid out for the entire “happening” was far more organized. Permits, concerns, and services, in the Okee Fest’s case were organized far in advance, and resulted in a smooth operation. This was evident during the course of the Fest, seein’ as how I did not have to go very far for water, a bathroom, and a place to take my mid-afternoon nap…

Memories to legends, to myths… Woodstock was a flurry of memories; the traffic, jumping the fence, “babe search” (I was 18, what did you think I was gonna’ do?); finding food, water, and hoping to make performances that I really wanted to see.

The girl was from Austin, Texas from the station wagon gang. All was fine until Sunday afternoon and she left with the rest of the station wagon gang. I never saw her again. No legend there.

For the Fest, these concerns never entered into my scheme of any legend. I went with my beloved. the love of my life. I also took my 18-year-old son.

Notwithstanding the Fest “tech”, I had to think about my memories from 1969. Single stage at Woodstock, with some Altec plywood boxes, etc.

The Okee Fest had three serious stages in the “Grove”, with other stages, most notably in “Jungle 51”… That stage featured e-dance music from 9 p.m.to 9 a.m.D2X_0087

It had a space ship and after a quick visit, I decided that I was really too old for that. My beloved took me home, and after I raided the fridge, pantry and, from what she’s telling me, the catfood, I crashed on the front porch. I know this because on Sunday morning the cats were cleaning my beard and asking for more food (“Meow?”). I’m getting too old for this!

Woodstock had nothing in the way of “customer support” unless you want to call mudpits, no toilets within easy distance, etc., some form of charcater building…

Back in 1969, the local “authorities” had banned the porta potty folks from servicing the happening. Fortunately, the vendors ignored this and there were some around.

The Okee Fest fortunately had toilets! Lot’s of them! With toilet paper. It’s the simple things that make the difference.

At Woodstock they had the “pond”. Looking back, I would not have bathed my worst enemy in the pond.  At  the Fest, there were showers set up.

I’ll be honest here… I had no idea who most of these performing bands at the Fest were. Not a clue!  Back in the day it was Canned Heat, the Who, Ten Years After and Hendrix.

Not this time. No idea.

I listened, and the positives did overcome and surpass the details that I would have otherwise complained about.

Some of these performers were really good.

Mumford & Sons presented a show that will long be remembered.My music is a memory, surely becoming legend, and when I’m long gone, will be the next rock concert myth.

After Woodstock, I went to many concerts for many years. It’s still a memory, as it should be. As I walked around at the Fest, it really struck me hard.

The Fest was, however, not about me. Music is a terribly subjective experience, and as we get older our tastes and tolerances change. My son and others told me that it was better than sliced bread, and to give credit due, I believe them.

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On that note, I will still say that I really don’t go for hip-hop, rap, etc. No bother, If I did not like that, I wandered down to the other stage where the jazz bands were doing their thing.

In 1969 I missed missed Swami Satchi doing the opening, but this time I did not miss the guy I decided to refer to as “Shakra Bob”… I don’t have any idea who Bob was, is, or whatever he may want to be as the result of his metamorphosis… But for me, Bob gave the Fest a certain mood.

Plenty of space, alternate things to do when the rap music just drove one crazy, and a level of “old time hippy” reality that still exists to this day. May the Gods bless them, and Bob…

chobee wobie

When I first arrived, instinct kicked in…, and I made a beeline to ChobeeWobee Village and the “YogaChobee” sub-division. I arrived just in time for the instructional lesson on Astral Travel and the free tea …

I then astral-traveled over to the white inflatable igloo area which was even more interesting, and then to the giant “Burning Man” that looked like a welded steel replica of the Stay-Puf dude from Ghost Busters. They burned stuff in the burning dude at night until he glowed fiery red. They all danced around and then … I swear I did not stay long past dark so I don’t know what they did then. Really. That’s my story, and from what I can remember, I’m stickin’ to it.Burning guy

I kept asking folks if there was anyone there that was older than me. Apparently, there was one guy with really long gray hair pushing a walker with wheels and tennis balls. It seems that he went to bed over in the YogaChobee area so, out of profound respect, I let him sleep. I trust others will do the same for me next year.

Woodstock cost me $20, not including the $50 contribution for gas. Tickets cost $270 this time, but it was well worth it.

Next year it will be even better! I’m lucky because I only have to crawl about 15 miles to see the Fest.

For you oldtimers, it’s Carpe Diem. It’s worth it. Puts some spring in your step.

But the best thing is that you will at least see that your sons and daughters … maybe even your grandchildren … are really not different than you when you were scurrying about 40-50 years ago, trying to make sense of this world.

For you young whippersnappers… go for it. You won’t regret it, and it will be your chance to add to collective memories to the legends to then to the myth saga that is the story of all of our lives.

Nothing really changes it seems, but in retrospect, the Fest was far better.

More legendary than Woodstock? Time will tell.

I don’t want to miss next year’s Okeechobee Fest.

And Ground Control still won’t answer me!

Out from here,

Major Tom

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