Good morning. I’m Melodee DuBois, and I’ve been an Ethical Society member for the past six months. This summer we’ve recognized some momentous 50-year Anniversaries: Stonewall in June, and The Moon Walk in July. Another major 50-year Anniversary is happening this Friday, August 15th, Woodstock. And I feel privileged to be among the few who attended this epic festival.
Over the decades, Woodstock has been eulogized and trivialized. But however you perceive it, it was a totally unpredictable larger-than-life phenomenon, the likes of which we’ve never seen again. Yes, there were problems and challenges, but now fifty years later, I still feel its enduring impact.
Woodstock was billed as a 3-day celebration of peace, love and music, and I and my brother decided we simply had to go. So we and two of his band members packed our ’57 Chevy with gallons of water and boxes of canned goods, all of which came in very handy since the festival’s concessions were fully depleted by the second day.
We took backroads into New York state, arrived early, and staked out our spot close to the stage. There were no hotels…you just had your tent or car for sleeping or shelter from the rain. And it did rain – 5 inches the first night, turning the meadow into a sea of mud! But with our water-proof tarp, rain parkas and provisions, we were fine and able to bask in the incredible music we’d come to hear.
And what music! The roster of artists read like a “Who’s Who” of late 60’s rock legends: The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and SO many others. My keenest musical memories were of the ‘protest songs’, and the rallying power they had with the crowd: from Country Joe’s Viet Nam Rag to Joan Baez’s rousing We Shall Overcome. These soaring moments united us all in the anti-war sentiments we were acutely feeling.
However, as extraordinary as the music was, it was the genuine spirit of generosity and friendship that prevailed. We all shared whatever we had, sometimes trading food for wine or weed, or vice versa. Many volunteered to feed those with no food in a hastily set- up food kitchen. Thousands of sandwiches made by local women were dropped by U.S. Army helicopters, while nearby residents gave us water. This was humanism at its best.
Today Woodstock occupies an iconic place in our pop cultural history. Nearly a half-million of us made it there. We were idealistic and believed we could make a difference. Were we a little naïve? Probably. Did all the societal changes we wanted happen? No. But did some good positive effects take hold on those who attended? Yes, I believe so.
I’m not saying that Woodstock was my sole influencer at the time, but that experience was pivotal in planting some seeds that helped make me who I am today. I came away with some significant truths: 1st — The value of sharing community with like-minded people; 2nd – Social or political differences should never prevent us from helping those in need; and 3rd — Good thoughts and prayers won’t bring about change…it takes direct action to make a difference.
These tenets have remained with me over the years. They are also at the core of the Ethical Society’s humanistic mindset, which is why I found my way here and am so glad to be part of this like-minded community today. Thank you.