On the 50th anniversary of the iconic music festival, a local couple reminisces, and Lansing celebrates
by Jamilyn Hiskes
LANSING, Ill. (August 1, 2019) – Lansing will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the famous 1969 Woodstock Music Festival on Friday and Saturday, August 9 and 10, at Fox Pointe, Lansing’s premiere entertainment venue. The Lansing Public Library has organized the anniversary event, which they are co-sponsoring with the Village of Lansing. The line-up of artists will recreate the style and vibe of the original Woodstock, as indicated by the tie-dye flyers created to promote the celebration.
But to attendees of the real thing—people who were actually there at that farm in Bethel, New York, with 400,000 other concert-goers—how will it compare?
Only memories, no photos
Artist Jim Siergey and his wife Cindy of Munster, Ind., remember attending the festival as teenagers and have some interesting stories to tell.
“The thing is, we have no proof,” Cindy began with a smile. “We didn’t think to bring a camera.”
“We didn’t even bring a change of clothes,” Jim added. “I think I had 12 dollars in my pocket, and four was to buy a ticket.”
The two of them were working summer jobs in Chicago in 1969, and the “big funk festival happening in New York” wasn’t even on their radar, Cindy said. But after a sudden phone call from her brother asking if she and Jim would like to go, she agreed.
Masses of people
“We were in a car with three other people, and [Cindy’s] brother and one of his friends, who has since become one of my best friends, were going to go out there on a motorcycle and meet some people in Ohio who we would then meet at the front gate [of the festival],” Jim said. “And then we got there Friday and there was no front gate anymore.”
Jim said the front gate had been trampled by the sheer number of people flooding into the festival grounds. There wasn’t even anyone available to sell or check tickets, so Jim and Cindy just walked in.
“There was just nothing,” Cindy said. “The organizers had no idea that it was going to be that big. They were so overwhelmed by the masses of people that they just gave up trying to collect tickets.”
After wandering outside the festival calling the names of Cindy’s brother and his friends to try and find them—and listening to singer-songwriter Richie Haven’s set from afar—Jim and Cindy finally met up with some of them and went to work setting up a tent to camp in for the night. They found a spot in the woods surrounding the farm, but by morning, they weren’t alone.
“None of us knew how to set up the tent,” Jim said. “And it was pitch-black and raining. Somehow we got it up, and by morning, there were about 20 people in our tent. It was like a clown car.”
Saturday was when Jim and Cindy finally got to enjoy the music closer to the stage. After starting the day with a drive into town for some food—which was hard to find, given that the small grocery stores had been invaded by hundreds of thousands of festival-goers and were therefore nearly barren—they got to hang out and really experience Woodstock.
“It’s an old-fashioned word now, but it was a very mellow environment,” Cindy recalled. “Everybody was pretty laid-back. Some people were just playing in the mud. Nobody bothered anybody.”
“It was in the collective unconscious that it was just us here,” Jim said. “So we all knew that we had to take care of each other.”
The two of them then spent the day watching legends like Carlos Santana—whose band at that time was only touring around San Francisco and hadn’t released its first album yet—as well as rock and soul singer Janis Joplin and English rock band The Who. Jim said he remembers watching the sun rise on Sunday morning behind the stage while psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane played—a moment he called “far-f—— -out, in the language of the time.”
Back to reality
By Sunday afternoon, Jim and Cindy and the friends they’d come to the festival with had been awake about 20 hours and decided to head home. Because they were still living with their parents, there were some strong reactions upon their return, according to Cindy.
“I remember being dropped off and opening the front door and my mother coming down the stairs,” she said. “And she looked and me and told me, ‘I never thought I’d see you alive again! Where’s your brother?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, we couldn’t find him!’”
The end of an era
It truly was a surreal event. But why does Woodstock belong in the history books, and why are people still being interviewed about their time there 50 years later?
“There was change going on in the ’60s…. There was the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War going on, which was very divisive in our country,” Cindy said. “And from that came things like ‘America: Love it or Leave it’ and ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and the whole hippie thing, going to San Francisco with flowers in your hair. I think that Woodstock and ’69 was the culmination of that change. It was peaceful, and it was music and…everybody was sort of on the same page. I can’t see that happening ever again.”
“It really was the end of the ’60s,” Jim added.
Given the positive community vibe that has characterized Fox Pointe events throughout the summer, it’s easy to imagine that the upcoming 50th-anniversary celebration of Woodstock will have the same peaceful, mellow atmosphere as the original Woodstock. The Siergeys plan to attend, though Jim says, “Instead of a tent we will be bringing those folding chairs that fit in a bag. Perhaps granola and brown rice too.”
Debbie Albrecht, Library Director, is “so excited” about the anniversary celebration. The tribute bands lined up on Friday and Saturday will recreate Santana, Joplin, The Who, and others that Jim, Cindy, and hundreds of thousands of others experienced in 1969. Albrecht was living in New York at the time, but her parents told her that at 14 she was too young to go to the concert. Still, she has fond memories of the incredible crowds, the hippie ideals, and the tensions between generations.
“The thing about Woodstock was,” she said, “it really was a peaceful gathering of folks who pulled together to get through some travails—rain, mud, too many people, not enough food, etc., but they did it together. As hard as folks have tried, it will never be replicated. It was a singular event in a very turbulent time where there was peace, love, and music.”
The anniversary event on August 9 and 10 won’t replicate Woodstock, but it will commemorate it. So Albrecht encourages attendees to “Put on your best outfit from 1969 and join us!”
Fox Pointe Woodstock Celebration Line-up
- Friday, August 9
- Saturday, August 10
Jim Siergey’s perhaps-Woodstock-influenced artwork can be seen on the pages of The Lansing Journal. He regularly contributes nartoons for publication.