WOODSTOCK: A NEW NATION part 4
Book excerpt from "Aquarius Rising" by Robert Santelli
THURSDAY, AUGUST 14
For those coming from New York City and New Jersey, the directions were simple: Get on the New York Thruway and head north until Exit 16. Then take the Quickway (Route 17) until one saw signs indicating the festival site. For those coming from the north, the directions were equally simple. It sounded so easy that those who left home early Thursday afternoon thought they would beat the inevitable traffic jam.
They thought wrong. Many of those people were still in their cars on the Thruway or Quickway when the sun came over the trees on Friday morning. But somehow they kept their festive spirits alive. From the looks of things, the festival was going to be big. It seemed as though every rock fan and freak east of the Mississippi River was converging on the town of Bethel. Also included was a pretty fair representation of young people from the western and southern parts of the United States. License plates from California and Colorado were so common that it seemed as if someone had picked up and moved the two states somewhere near New York without telling a soul. The whole scene made one feel important; kind of like being an eyewitness or even a participant in some big, historical event.
Part of the traffic problem resulted from a lack of police officers near the site to direct traffic. Woodstock Ventures had hired more than three hundred New York City off-duty police-men to handle security and assist the state police with traffic snarls. They were to be paid $50 per day. But at the last minute the New York City Police Commissioner forbade the men to honor their contracts with the promoters of the festival. He cited a clause in the police code that prohibited police officers from moonlighting as security guards outside the city limits. Many of the officers feared reprisals by the department or even layoffs if they worked the festival and so decided not to go. Others disregarded the commissioner's statement, but their presence was not sufficient to curb the traffic mess. There just were too many cars.
Along with the New York City police officers, the Woodstock security staff was made up of volunteers—fifty ushers from Bill Graham's Fillmore East in New York City, and one hundred members of the Hog Farm.
When it was all over, Roberts and the other promoters could not thank the Hog Farm commune enough. Without their invaluable assistance the Woodstock festival would have undoubtedly succumbed to disaster, the threat of which hung so precariously over the event for the entire weekend. The group performed all sorts of public services. They fed those who were hungry (brown rice and beans cooked in giant caldrons) and compiled a daily news sheet that, among other things, listed lost festivalgoers, messages from home, and the location of medical tents. They assisted in the distribution of free food that was flown in by Air Force helicopters when the festival site was on the verge of being called a disaster area. Most importantly, they helped take care of all those suffering from bad acid trips and drug overdoses.
The Hog Farm commune was formed in the mid-sixties on a hog farm north of Los Angeles. The group's philosophy was simple and straightforward: Help those that need help and advance the messages of the counterculture—love, brotherhood, peace, and harmony with nature. Their leader was Hugh Romney, better known as Wavy Gravy. Romney was a former poet in the Beat era as well as a former Merry Prankster who traveled the country with Ken Kesey. Romney was an outstanding organizer and crowd appeaser who, during the course of the festival, was usually found onstage calming crowd fears about an impending disaster.
It was one of Michael Lang's friends who suggested that the promoters fly the entire commune in from New Mexico to help with security, drug bummers, and food distribution. At first the idea sounded absurd. But the friend explained that the commune was well respected in the counterculture ranks and that the Woodstock crowd would relate much better to them than they would to regular police officers or other establishment authorities. At a cost of over $17,000, Woodstock Ventures flew the entire commune to New York City in a chartered Boeing 727. As they were debarking from the plane after landing in New York, a reporter asked Romney how he was going to handle the security.
"Do you feel secure?" Romney asked as he revealed a wall of toothless gums.
"Yeah," uttered the reporter.
"It seems to be working," answered Romney.
The Hog Farm arrived at Woodstock a full week before the festival was to begin. While most of the commune's members helped put finishing touches on the stage and other facilities, Romney and a few other Hog Farmers planned security strategy with Wes Pomeroy. Pomeroy had been hired by Woodstock Ventures to head and organize a festival security force. He was a police officer himself and had a superb reputation as a crowd controller. He had handled security at the 1964 Republican Convention and took a deep interest in young people. Two of the most important decisions he made at Woodstock were not to allow any guns or weapons on the festival site, and to dress the off-duty police officers in low-profile uniforms. Pomeroy insisted they wear jeans and T-shirts with the Woodstock logo on the back of them. No badges were worn, and the idea that they were "peace officers" rather than police officers was to be obvious at all times.