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Culture

40 years on, what is the legacy of Woodstock?

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-08-09

To those who were there on August 15-18, 1969, Woodstock was more than a music festival. It was the promise of a beautiful new era. "Woodstock Nation", they called themselves. Forty years later, what's left?

AFP - Woodstock's hippies turned on, tuned in, dropped out, tried changing the world -- then got haircuts and jobs.
   
To those who were there on August 15-18, 1969, the rock festival in Bethel, upstate New York, seemed at first to promise a beautiful new era. "Woodstock Nation," they called themselves.
   
But the big high led to a big hangover and today, 40 years on, it's unclear whether Woodstock changed anything at all.
   
Quinnipiac University journalism professor Rich Hanley says the festival was the last gasp, not some fresh dawn, for the '60s counter-culture revolution.
   
"By 1971, it was all done. The protests were down tremendously. The Woodstock generation had to go out and get jobs and jobs put an end to the fun."
   
Only half joking, Hanley added: "Now hippies have all become Republicans and instead of taking LSD, they're taking Viagra and losing their hair."
   
At Bethel's Woodstock museum, director Wade Lawrence says the flower children didn't have to wait long before reality bit.
   
Less than four months after Woodstock, in December 1969, a similar rock concert at Altamont Speedway in California ended in bloody, drug-fueled mayhem.
   
The wider world wasn't looking much happier either.
   
Despite anti-war protests, US troops kept fighting in Vietnam until 1973 and a year later the Watergate scandal toppled president Richard Nixon.
   
"I think people got disillusioned," Lawrence said. "The peace and love thing, it seemed a bit quaint."
   
Much of the Woodstock legend -- gentle marijuana highs, naturist-type nudity and dewy-eyed vows of peace -- seems quaint in today's less innocent society.
   
Some former hippies, like photographer Michael Murphree, now 56, are unapologetic about their youth. "Peace, love, happiness: we strived for that," he said with a smile, while taking a nostalgic trip through the museum.
   
Yet Woodstock left few tangible legacies beyond music and the look, including the once-again fashionable bell bottom jeans.
   
Ironically, the most direct result was probably the corporate takeover of rock music, transforming concerts from folk gatherings into mega-money spinners.
   
"Woodstock changed the music industry," said Stan Goldstein, one of the original organizers. "For the first time you could see the power of artists to attract not just crowds, but crowds of people with money."
   
Meanwhile, the seemingly most powerful element -- a mix of hedonism, pacifism and political activism, or what Goldstein termed "hippy consciousness" -- has evaporated almost entirely.
   
Twenty-year-old Sarah Duncan, visiting the museum in a hippy-style tie-dye shirt, said her contemporaries would never catch the Woodstock vibe.
   
"Then, it was enough to be free and open," said Duncan, who was working at a nearby summer camp. "I don't see my friends doing that, though. They'd get drunk and be crazy, not just love and peace."
   
And although US troops are again fighting unpopular wars, she doesn't see her generation taking to the streets, or penning songs in protest.
   
"Now it's not as big a deal. People say what they think, but they don't want to demonstrate or put it art form," Duncan said.
   
"They might send a mass email."
   
 

Date created : 2009-08-09

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