SPRINGFIELD — It was 1969, the Summer of Love.
Janet Saunders, Springfield High School Class of 1970, was only a month shy of entering her senior year when she first heard the word “Woodstock.” She and her girlfriends had just returned from the two-day Atlantic City Pop Festival when they heard the radio advertisement for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair on local rock radio station WMMR.
At the time, Saunders was living in Springfield with her brother and late sister-in-law. When she mentioned her plan of heading up to New York for the festival, they didn’t want her to go because they had recently seen photos of nude festival attendees at the Atlantic City raceway concert published in the newspapers.
“I lied and went anyway, telling my brother that my friends and I were going to Wildwood,” smiled Saunders, the mother of two grown children who currently lives in Springfield with Joe, her husband of 40 years.
“We heard the ad on the radio on a Tuesday and we were in the car, heading to New York by Friday,” she remembers.
The rest is history and she never told her brother the truth until eight years later.
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair was held a half century ago, August 15-18, 1969. The legendary festival attracted more than 450,000, mostly young people. The concert included 35 of the most influential music artists and bands of the time. Billed as “Three Days of Peace and Music,” the music festival took place at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York, 43 miles southwest of Woodstock. The 50-year-old festival is considered by many to not only be perhaps the most famous concert in music history, but also the crowning achievement of the 1960's counterculture.
Saunders said two of her girlfriends backed out at the last minute, so she and a friend, Joanne Franco, tagged along with a group of guy friends and hit the road. She doesn’t remember their names, only that “Jimmy” the driver had huge speakers that he had hooked up on the outside of his car and blared the Iron Butterfly classic "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" over and over again, which “drove her and Franco crazy.” She laughs at the long ago memory.
According to the well-worn diary that she kept back then, they left Delaware County on Aug. 14, 1969, and came back on Aug. 17. There was a total of seven in her party and none had tickets — or food. She wore a bathing suit top, shorts and moccasins, which she kept as mementos and still has today. Their car got stuck in the huge traffic jam going toward the festival. When they realized they weren’t moving, they parked in a ditch alongside the road in Bethel and pitched the one tent that they had brought and spent the first night.
“We brought absolutely no supplies along with us,” Saunders chuckled. “We were middle-class suburbanites. We had no idea what we were about to experience.”
They were miles away from the action, so they began walking, according to Saunders, “a very, very, very long way.”
“We never did buy tickets. People kept motioning for us to go forward. It seemed like we would never get there. We left our car, our tent, everything, but it was amazing, because we all did stick together,” she recounted. “We did bring blankets so we ended up just sleeping in the crowd on our blankets.”
Saunders, who has been to hundreds of concerts since age 13 when she first saw the Beatles at Convention Hall, and saved her ticket stubs from all of them, says the Woodstock Festival had some of the greatest music of them all. She says that, at age 18, she was already familiar with many of the entertainers there, and that The Who was probably her favorite.
“I was really excited to see them,” she gushed.
Saunders discovered new artists that day, many of whom she had never heard, but became a fan afterwards, such as Joe Cocker and Crosby, Stills and Nash, who were performing at Woodstock for the first time as a group.
She remembers when she stood in a very long vendor line to buy a hot dog while Country Joe and the Fish came onto stage. When they shouted out their, by now, well-known profane chant, the crowd roared so loudly, she said, that she almost dropped her food.
When she felt really dirty from the heat, rain and mud, Saunders found her way to a lake, where people were frolicking in their birthday suits.
“You might call me a modest hippie,” she shared, laughing. “I was politically active, but I was modest in every other way. I kept my bathing suit and shorts on while getting washed!”
She said food wasn’t all that difficult to come by. Festival attendees, who were happy and mellow, were generous and passed around fruit and sandwiches that they had brought with them. When she went into the general store there, she remembers the only thing left on the shelves were bottles of grapefruit juice.
“The townspeople were really very sweet,” she remembers. “As we were walking back to find our car, they were handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and giving people drinks from their garden hoses.”
Recently retired from a career as a teacher assistant in the Wallingford Swarthmore School District, Saunders treasures the memories of the festival. In an interview this week, she laughed as she read excerpts from her long-ago diary. On Aug. 16, the diary has one short entry, “I went to the show all day long.”
“As a teenager, a lot of what I wrote in my diary was in code so no one else could read or understand it,” Saunders explained, grinning. “I think there was a lot of code on the dates of the festival.”
Chip Roberts of Upper Providence had a similar, but different, experience at Woodstock. Although he’s a graduate of Penncrest, Roberts was living in Choconut, Pa., and was just 16 years old in August 1969 when he headed to the festival in New York. He told his parents that he was going to the Woodstock Festival, and they were fine with it, but they thought he wouldn’t get in. They weren't alone. Neither did he, he said.
“I went with 4-5 acquaintances that I didn't know well, but we all felt like we needed to go,” Roberts recounted. “No one had tickets and I had no money and didn't even wear shoes. One of the guys owned a small Buick station wagon and that's what we took. I haven't seen any of those guys since the day they dropped me off after Woodstock. I don't even remember their names.”
Roberts said his group went to the festival two days early and took back roads and had no problem getting into the site.
“We parked the car in the field behind ‘Groovy Way.’ Since the stage was still being built, there was no security and no one was taking tickets so we were able to go right into the site,” Roberts remembered. “As soon as I stepped into the farm field — again with no shoes – I immediately went ankle deep into cow (dung).
Roberts, who is a professional musician, currently playing with the group Cowboys in the Campfire, has always been an avid music lover. A love of music runs in the family. He's married to longtime WMGK DJ Debbie Calton. Roberts said it didn’t matter to him who was playing, he was just grateful to hear live music.
“I wanted to see The Who, Mountain and Jefferson Airplane,” he recalled.
He said that he had never heard anything like Sly and the Family Stone or Santana before so they are stand-outs when he recalls the day.
“There were so many people on stage and they all seemed so excited that it felt like the whole crowd was a part of their energy,” Roberts related. “I was able to work my way all the way up to the stage in time for Jefferson Airplane's set on Sunday morning. I couldn't believe they were up that early and playing so great. The Who was incredible. I was there until Sunday night, through Ten Years After, but I was so tired so I went to find the car. Somehow, everybody was there and we left. Nothing was planned. It just happened that way. So I missed Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix and that really hurt.”
When Roberts’ group arrived at Woodstock, they all went their separate ways and didn’t reunite until they were ready for the drive home. Roberts befriended a fellow concert goer who was enjoying the music as much as he was and, he said, they hung out for hours talking about the music they were experiencing.
"The only food I remember eating was granola and I had never even heard of it before," Roberts said. "It was free at the breakfast tent provided by Wavy Gravy's Hog Farm people.”
Roberts said that when he reached his home, he remembers going straight to sleep, because he had been sleep-deprived for several days.
“At the time, I didn't think about the concert being historically significant. I didn't even really feel like I fit in because, thanks to my parents, my head was shaved and there was a lot of long hair there,” Roberts shared. “Going to Woodstock set me on a course of appreciating all types of music. I had been playing guitar for several years and this was a truly eye-opening experience.”
Dave Greene of the Milmont Park section of Ridley Township was only 17, living in Clifton Heights, in August 1969. He had just signed up to join the U.S. Navy. He was getting a physical at the recruitment office at 401 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, when the doctors discovered he had high blood pressure. He was sent home with instructions to visit his family doctor, get his blood pressure under control and come back to rejoin.
“I was walking through Clifton on my way home that day, holding the papers, and I ran into a buddy of mine,” Greene recalled. “He asked me to come with him to Woodstock. I asked him ‘What’s a Woodstock?’ I really had no idea!”
Greene had never been to a concert of any kind before so he said he would drive. He and four other guys loaded up his VW Bus with three coolers and three tents. Two of the guys on the bus brought nothing. The others picked up some cheesesteaks, chips and hoagies from Walt’s in Clifton Heights, filled up every empty bottle they found in his parents’ kitchen with drinking water, and off the guys went.
“I was a 100% hippie in those days, through and through” Greene shared, chuckling. “I had really long hair. I wasn’t sure where we were going, but my buddies said lots of chicks would be there, so I went. Remember, I was 17!”
Greene said his crew left on Thursday night, thinking they would get there ahead of the main crowd and be able to choose their spot.
“Yeah, right,” he laughed, thinking back to the multitudes of people.
There was no GPS in 1969 and the young guys didn’t even use a map.
“We headed north to New York and we figured we’d see people heading there once we crossed the state line,” Greene stated. “We saw cars of hippies so we just followed them and that’s what got us there.”
Greene, 67, who recently retired from Spanky’s Auto Sales in Southwest Philadelphia, said his favorite acts of the festival were Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
“When Janis came on, the whole crowd pushed forward,” Greene reminisced. “The next guy’s shoulder was on top of your own.”
Greene said he vividly remembers there was lots of rain and lots of mud. He had half of a box of moist towelettes in his VW Bus, which they used for personal clean-up.
“I told those guys, that they had better show up at my house Monday morning to clean my van, because it was a disaster by the end of that trip,” Greene recalled. “And you know what, every one of them showed up!”
Greene said he saw it all up there – drugs, nudity, sex.
“Most of my stories you can’t print in the newspaper,” he laughed. “But you know what? There were no problems, no fighting, which made it a great time. The police weren’t too plentiful there, so a lot went on!”
Greene says whenever he tells someone that he was at the Woodstock Music Festival, they always sit down and want to know more.
“There’s a lot for me to tell them,” he says, smiling. “It was the biggest party of my life.”
Bob Bramble, of the Woodlyn section of Ridley Township, had just finished his freshman year at West Virginia Wesleyan College in the summer of 1969 and was back in his hometown of Chester, working a summer job as a busboy at the Longhorn Ranch in Concord Township. The 19-year-old, who lived in Sun Village, and his best pal Bruno Bitin were “into the whole thing – new kinds of music, the new alternative hippie lifestyle and the anti-Vietnam War movement. Bramble and Bitin went all through grade school and high school together, graduating Chester High in 1968. They heard about Woodstock while they were at one of Chester’s record stores. They purchased their $18 tickets.
“I don’t remember how or why, but we went with a friend, Bob Wimmer and his girlfriend and I drove because I had a new car,” Bramble remembered. “We made it through the traffic jam, parked in some apple orchard and walked miles to the site. I carried two bags of rolls on my hips!”
Bramble said he had stopped at Buono’s Bakery in Chester before going, where his friend worked, and got two huge brown bags full of Kaiser rolls, which they ate all weekend.
The four Chester residents stuck together throughout the days-long event.
“I remember to this day when Richie Havens opened the festival,” Bramble recalled. “I listened to him play and he felt like a blood brother of mine. I felt that way years after, up until a few years ago when he passed away.”
Bramble’s best memory of the festival was when he got up close to the stage. Bitin’s friend worked at the Camera Shop in the Bazaar of All Nations and he had given him a large bag of high speed film. Bitin and Bramble had belonged to the Chester High School Camera Club so, loaded with film, the experienced amateur photographers brought their cameras on the Woodstock trip.
The pair met a guy selling bogus press passes and traded him some rolls of film for the passes. They got near the stage and, when security detected the passes were fake, the guards still let them get closer to take photos after Bramble and Bitin begged.
“All our pestering worked and we got great photos, plus we got to hear Ravi Shankar, Santana, John Sebastian, Joe Cocker and the Incredible Stringband.”
Bramble said that he and the others left the festival before it ended to come back to Delaware County because the girl with them got stressed out due to the masses of people and lack of bathroom and washing facilities.
“Bruno and I wanted to stay. We got cleaned up in the ponds behind the stage. Remember, we were 19-year-old boys so we were all about going to the pond where people were bathing,” he laughed.
Ironically, shortly after the Woodstock Festival, Bramble was drafted into the Army and arrived in Vietnam on Dec. 31, 1970, serving as combat infantry through 1971.
“That was a huge dichotomy in my life,” he explained. “I protested the war in college in 1969-70 and by 1971, I was over in Vietnam. But I always treasure the memory of being at Woodstock.”
Bramble, who currently works at Home Depot after a career in carpentry and millwork, still listens to all kinds of music and plays acoustic guitar for enjoyment.
“Going to Woodstock fit into the flow of my life at the time,” Bramble reminisced. “It was pretty memorable and it’s nice to be known as someone who was at Woodstock.”
Of these four Woodstock veterans, only Saunders is set to repeat one of the highlights of her life, and has tickets in hand for this weekend’s 50th Anniversary celebration at Bethel Woods.
Officials are expecting upwards of 100,000 visitors to Bethel for this weekend. The ’69 festival’s golden anniversary will be marked by four consecutive nights of events and concerts. Instead of one $18 to cover the full festival, this time around, tickets for each single performer’s event sold for $36 upwards. John Fogerty will cap the event, headlining Sunday’s show.
The weekend began with a free performance from Arlo Guthrie and a screening of the Academy Award-winning "Woodstock" documentary on the famed festival field Thursday. Ringo Starr and Carlos Santana headlines shows on Friday and Saturday, respectively, at Bethel Woods’ 16,0000-capacity pavilion before Fogerty performs. Saunders has tickets and parking passes for every single event.
“Nothing would have stopped me from going to this concert,” the seasoned concert-goer/Woodstock alumna said of the anniversary event.
The Springfield resident plans to head up with a friend because her husband is unable to go. Her daughter Julia and Julia’s boyfriend will also be a part of her travel pack. She said that once, Julia said to her, “You’re so lucky because your generation had all of these great things happening!”
The Woodstock veteran says that this time around, she is prepared and going “in comfort.”
“At my age, I am looking for comfort all the way,” Saunders shared, chuckling. “I am not as concerned about expense this time. I won’t be doing drugs, I’ll be sure there’s a better bathroom situation. I won’t be sleeping in a tent and hopefully, I won’t get muddy!”
She said that although the concert will have a mixed-age audience, the majority of people will be the over-65 crowd, reliving their glory years of the 1960s.
“I called to inquire about handicapped parking, in case my husband came,” Saunders smiled as she began retelling he phone conversation, “And the woman who answered, said ‘You better come early because I have a hunch there are going to be lots of people needing handicapped parking!’”
Saunders, not only still has the fringed moccasins, bathing suit top and shorts that she wore to Woodstock, but also scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and other memorabilia, and a mind full of memories of that 1969 historic weekend of “Music and Peace” that she’ll treasure forever.
“To this day, whenever I see film clips or photos of Woodstock, I always scan the images closely, looking to see if I am in those crowds,” Saunders said. “I don’t think there’s ever been anything that could even come close to Woodstock. It was just a beautiful experience of peace and harmony, and half a million people coming together to enjoy some really excellent music.”