WOODSTOCK: A NEW NATION part 10
Book excerpt from "Aquarius Rising" by Robert Santelli
SUNDAY, AUGUST 17
If it was truly a disaster area, one could not have picked a better one to be part of. By Sunday morning most crises that had threatened the festival were brought under control. Those festivalgoers who wanted to leave but had been prevented from doing so by the endless line of abandoned automobiles clogging the roads could now do so. State police had cleared most of the roads linking the festival with the Thruway. There was now a regular helicopter service transporting accident and drug-overdose victims who required serious medical attention. The phone lines that had come down during the rainstorms were repaired; young people could finally call home and alleviate parental fears that sons or daughters were helplessly trapped in a sea of mud and madness. Even the Port-O-Sans had been flushed out so that those tired of squatting in the woods could now sit in semicomfort in a sanitary closet without being overwhelmed by the fumes. The only major problem that still existed was the threat of more rain. And through it all, the music played on.
"All right friends," said Gracie Slick to those who were awake enough to comprehend what she was saying. "You have seen the heavy groups, now you will see morning maniac music, believe me. It's a new dawn!"
With that the Jefferson Airplane launched into "Volunteers" with enough might and alacrity to begin the third and final day of the Woodstock festival in grand fashion. The Jefferson Air-plane, like a few other San Francisco bands, had played almost every major festival since the inception of the concept in June of 1967. They were proven festival attractions, and in the two years since the Summer of Love, the Airplane had only increased their potency and charm.
But there were signs of philosophical alterations in the group's lyrical content. Some of the music from Volunteers, the band's most recent album at the time of Woodstock, indicated a deliberate step away from the notions proclaimed in the early Haight-Ashbury days. The peace and love theme from 1967 had withered away and was replaced by a more forceful, revolutionary tone. The Jefferson Airplane sought to represent this new attitude the same way the Rolling Stones ("Street Fighting Man") and a growing number of other rock bands were doing at the time: using expressive, inflammatory lyrics exhibited in a we're-not-going-to-take-any-more-bullshit attitude. And even though this image was not entirely relevant at Woodstock, it did serve to make the transformation from the generally passive resistance of the mid-sixties to an activist and ultimately militant stance of the early seventies a decidedly quick one.
Just as Joe Cocker was finishing up his resounding and symbolic version of "With a Little Help from My Friends," the final collection of rain clouds came over the horizon. From the darkness of the sky, it promised to be one of the worst downpours of the weekend. The now-familiar sound of thunder rumbled a few miles distant, and its threatening booms were picked up by the festival's sound system. There was nothing to do about the upcoming storm if one was in the middle of the crowd except get wet. Trying to blaze a path through the huge mass of people was a major chore that required balance, skill, and patience. Most people were just plain tired of the rain, however. They were tired of being cold and wearing wet clothes. They were tired of sitting in mud.
"Hey, if you think real hard, maybe we can stop the rain!" A voice from the stage tried to rally the spirits of the crowd as everyone prepared for the inevitable. The thunder grew louder and the winds swept across the festival site. A few seconds later the first drops of the approaching storm were felt.
"No rain! No rain! No rain! No rain! No rain!"
The crowd picked up the rhythmic chant begun on the stage. Soon everyone was shouting the defiant chant at the top of his lungs. It was the last great challenge; the last battle for the Woodstock crowd to win. They had beaten the odds and the claims of disaster with impressive shows of solidarity and brotherhood. They had survived the food and water shortages, the traffic, and even the mud, but victory over the inclement weather had thus far eluded them.
"No rain! No rain! No rain! No rain! No rain!"
But it was not to be. The rain came down in buckets. The crowd stubbornly kept chanting and raised their fists to the sky, but it did no good. The failure to stop the rain with the last, powerful, total, communal commitment of the festival revealed that the magic of the weekend was not absolute. The energy built up over the three days was not enough to wrest control over nature, even if many in the audience actually believed it could be accomplished.