Never tell 20-year-olds they can’t do something. They probably will do it anyway.
That first night of the Woodstock Festival in August 1969, radio and TV stations bombarded everybody with warnings to stay away because of massive traffic jams. “Basically they said, ‘Don’t come. You can’t get there.’ We were 20. We had to go,” recalls Bobbi Ercoline of Pine Bush, N.Y.
The next morning Bobbi, her boyfriend, Nick, and friends Cathy, Mike and Corky “borrowed” Corky’s mom’s station wagon. Winding their way along back roads, they made it to within three miles of the Bethel, N.Y., concert site. By doing so, they became part of history. Not for being one of the hundreds of thousands who rocked out to the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Sly & the Family Stone, and the Who, but for becoming a symbol of their generation.
You see, Nick and Bobbi are the couple in a famous Woodstock photo: the young lovers wrapped in a mud-splattered quilt standing among a sea of bodies. The photo that ended up on the Woodstock album and movie poster. That photo. That couple.
Unlike so many of their era who fell in—and then out of—love, Nick and Bobbi, now both 60, married in 1971 and are still happily together. They live less than an hour from Bethel. Gone are Bobbi’s long locks and Nick’s curly mop. She’s a school nurse. He works for the Orange County Office of Community Development. They have two grown sons.
With Woodstock’s 40th anniversary, the pair is again reflecting on that weekend. “Cars were abandoned on surrounding rural dirt roads. When we couldn’t get any closer, we parked and walked in,” says Bobbi. Shoes, car parts, coolers were strewn on the roadside. And yes, there was one pink and paisley quilt that they rescued. “It was like Coney Island on the Fourth of July with hundreds of people streaming in. The longer we walked, the more we realized something big was ahead, but unsure of what it was.”
After hiking for hours (Nick now admits moccasins were not the best choice of footwear), the group planted itself on an empty patch of hillside, too far to even see the stage but close enough to hear the music. There was a constant buzz of human voices—singing, crying, shouting, laughing. The smell of heavy, moist air and marijuana draped the crowd. “To me the music was secondary. It was all about people watching,” Nick says.
Small “villages” formed with people sharing what they had. “A crate of bananas would be passed overhead. You took one out and passed the crate along,” Bobbi says. “It was spontaneous. It was peaceful. That makes for the best party.”
The friends adopted a lost soul. “Do you see that red-and-orange butterfly on the left side of the photo?” asks Bobbi. “A guy wearing only cut-off jeans and sandals was wandering around with that butterfly clutched in his hand. He was on a bad trip, freaking out and yelling repeatedly, ‘I’m Herbie from Huntington Beach and I’ve lost my friends.’ We hooked arms with him and told him we’d be his family.” Neither Nick nor Bobbi recall what happened to Herbie. “He was just gone,” Bobbi says. “I always hope that one day we’ll hear from him.”
Late Saturday night Nick and Mike set off to see the actual stage. Looping through the woods until they were too tired to walk anymore, they found a place where the stage came into view. “It was a wheat field of heads under an orange glow moving to the music,” remembers Nick. “I knew if we went into the crowd we’d never get out.”
Sunday morning the fivesome headed home, never telling their parents about the experience until a year later when the Woodstock album was released and they spotted the photo of Nick and Bobbi. Unaware of being photographed, the couple found the picture “groovy” at the time, but note it took decades before realizing its significance.
To Bobbi, the photo represents the “Woodstock nation” and has given her and Nick a wonderful experience to share. “Our world is sad and scary right now. Sure, 1969 was a year of turmoil—women’s lib, civil rights, Vietnam. But it was also a safer time, the summer of peace and love.” Nick feels privileged the photo represents his generation, “to see kids caught up in a moment, our moment.” Still he admits, “To us the concert felt like another date.”
And the famous quilt? They kept it for years stashed in the trunk of their VW Bug, hauling it out for picnics and trips to the beach, until it too, just vanished.
The Ercolines will attend the 40th anniversary Woodstock concert at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which sits on the site of the 1969 festival, on Aug. 15—with better seats. “No longer sitting on the grass,” announces Bobbi. Adds Nick, “This time we’ll see the stage.”
Laura Daily is a Denver-based writer.