Saturday, March 3, 2012

Iconic Images: Woodstock


The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, to give it its proper title, was “3 Days of Peace & Music” in Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in 1969.  500,000 people saw 32 acts perform in what would later be regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history.  Rolling Stone magazine, in its 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll, includes Woodstock in the list as having brought together the hippie nation.  (The list is chronological, rather than perceived importance of the events.  The first moment in the list is Elvis cutting “That’s All Right” in Sun Studios in 1954).

In 1970 the Woodstock album used the above pic on its cover.  It was also used on the movie poster.

The young couple are shown huddled together in a blanket, greeting the dawn.  Other late leavers are asleep on the wet ground, the scene being reminiscent of a western movie showing an Indian massacre, the butterfly on the stick looking like a spear in the ground.  It is an image that one commentator has referred to as “an enduring image of love, care and protection”.

The couple were Nick Ercoline and his girlfriend of 10 weeks, Bobbi Kelly.  

The 30 days prior to Woodstock had been a momentous period in the history of the US:  Ted Kennedy had driven off the bridge at Chappaquiddick Island, killing Mary Jo Kopechne and his hopes of becoming President; the Apollo 11 astronauts had landed on the moon and Charles Manson and The family were responsible for the slaughter of 8 people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate.  

Nick and Bobbi heard of the large crowds heading to Woodstock and decided to join them.   Nick:  "We just got to thinking, we were never going to see anything like this the rest of our lives, ever." 

At Woodstock they were forced to leave their car in the traffic jam, managing to get a lift with a van full of naked hippies.  With them was a stoned Californian named Herbie, who travelled with a staff with a butterfly at the top.

At the festival site they found a place on a slope, on the wet ground.  Bobbi:  "It was a sea of humanity. Someone with a guitar here, someone making love there, someone smoking a joint, someone puking his brains out, the din of the music you could hear over all of this—a bombardment of the senses."

Life magazine photographer Bert Uzzle had declined an invitation to photograph the event but, being camped nearby, he travelled to the site at various times to take informal shots as he pleased.   Bert:  "Gracie Slick of Jefferson Airplane was singing, bringing up the dawn, and just magically this couple stood up and hugged.” They kissed, smiled at each other, and the woman leaned her head on the man's shoulder. "I just had time to get off a few frames of black and white and a few of colour, then the light was over and the mood was over.”  

Bobbi and Nick were unaware that the photos had even been taken.  When the Woodstock album came out in 1970, one of their friends who had been with them at the festival brought over the album.  They immediately recognised Herbie’s butterfly and then themselves. Nick: “We latched on to him that day because he was having a very bad experience. He was tripping pretty heavily and he had lost his friends. After I saw that staff I said, ‘Hey that’s our blanket.’ Then I said, ‘Hey, that’s us.’ ” Bobbi:  “Woodstock was over and done with at that time.  The only thing was that then I had to tell my mother I had gone. She didn’t know. But by then, she didn’t mind.”

Bobbi and Nick remain together today and have been married for 40 years.  They have two grown sons and live less than an hour from Woodstock. Bobbi is an elementary school nurse and Nick, a retired carpenter, is a building inspector for Orange County.


Those who recall Jimi Hendrix’s closing of Woodstock by playing the Star Spangled Banner, complete with explosions and distortion, may be surprised to learn that he was not the original act chosen to close the festival.  Woodstock organiser Michael Lang revealed in 2006 that he originally asked cowboy star and crooner Roy Rogers to close the event.  Roy realised that Woodstock was not his type of gig. 

Michael Lang:  "I had this inner dream I grew up listening to Roy Rogers sing Happy Trails on the radio and I thought, `What a perfect way to end the show ' He was the only artist who turned us down. He didn't get it at all "

Roy Rogers:  "I would've been booed off the stage by all those goddamn hippies."

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