You've seen the photo. A young couple wrapped in a blanket stands in a muddy field amid a mass of hippies. Both identities are obscured. She's wearing large sunglasses. He's turned away from the camera. But the fortuitous snapshot swept the pair into Woodstock mythology.
As lovestruck Nick Ercoline and Bobbi Kelly snuggled against the Sunday morning chill on day 3 of the 1969 music festival, they were unaware that Life photographer Burk Uzzle had captured the moment. And they didn't see that defining image until everyone else did, when it appeared on the cover of the 1970 three-album Woodstock soundtrack.
In May 1970, Nick and Bobbi went to the apartment of Jim “Corky” Corcoran, a friend who had joined them nine months earlier on their trek to Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, New York.
"Corky was a two-legged music bible,” Nick says. “He had to be one of the first to buy the album when it came out, and we all got together, six or eight of us, to hear it. We were passing the jacket around when someone pointed out the staff with the orange and yellow butterfly. That belonged to Herbie, a guy from Huntington Beach, California. He was lost and having a bad trip, and we hooked arms with him until he was clear-headed. Then we saw the blanket. Oh my lord, that's us!"
At that moment, Bobbi says, “I realized I should tell my mother I had gone to Woodstock."
Nick and Bobbi were 20 and had been dating for three months when they went to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. As boomers are toasting the festival's golden anniversary, the couple is also celebrating its 50th year of peace and love.
They were wed in 1971 and live in Pine Bush, N.Y., less than an hour from the festival site, where roughly half a million young people swarmed to see Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Santana and dozens more Aug. 15-18, 1969. It's now home to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which is staging an anniversary blowout with headliners Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, Arlo Guthrie, Carlos Santana and John Fogerty. The Ercolines will attend as the event's Woodstock ambassadors.
"I feel fortunate that we're part of such an historic event,” Bobbi says. “The farther we get away from Woodstock, the more we realize how significant it was and what a big impact it had. It's part of who we are."
In the summer of 1969, Nick was between college semesters in Middletown, N.Y., working days in construction and nights as a bartender at Dino's Bar and Grill, “a great place to meet girls."
He met Bobbi there, and the two became inseparable.
When local media began buzzing about Woodstock traffic jams on Friday, Aug. 15, the first day of the festival, Nick, Bobbi, Corky (a Vietnam vet and ex-Marine who hoped he'd land a security job at the festival) and pals Cathy Wells and Mike Duco impulsively decided to head to Bethel, roughly 40 miles northwest. They left early Saturday morning.
"We heard on the news that thruway 17 was closed down,” Nick recalls. “They said, ‘If you're planning to come, don't.’ So what does any 20-year-old do? We went for it. Corky borrowed his mother's 1965 Chevy Impala station wagon, white with red interior. It was a land yacht."
They encountered state police and roadblocks, but as locals experienced with the back roads, they forged on, following the Delaware River and driving around barricades, across backyards, through private roads until they were forced to abandon the car five miles from the festival.
"We hit another state trooper and couldn't get around that,” Nick says. “On the hood of the police car there was a young man wearing moccasins and smoking a joint. Back then, that could get you five years in prison. I thought, What the heck is going on?"
Between walking and hitchhiking, they easily reached Yasgur's field.
"We found the blanket on the way and picked it up,” Bobbi says. “We had not come prepared. We didn't have tickets. We just took the challenge, and we didn't know what to expect. There were thousands of people walking miles and miles, carrying sleeping bags and instruments, and lots of stuff got discarded. When we got on that hill, we couldn't see the stage but we had amazing sound."
Nick says he was especially impressed by Janis Joplin and Sly & the Family Stone, but Bobbi insists the music took a back seat to the audience.
"It wasn't about the artists,” she says. “What I remember the most was the people, the sea of humanity and the commotion all around us. It assaulted your senses and it was so darn exciting. We had never experienced anything like this."
The group did not think to bring meals, and festival concessions had sold out Friday night.
"I don't remember too much about food, except that we didn't go hungry,” says Bobbi, who adds that relief came with donations from townspeople. “I can remember a crate of bananas being passed overhead. The same with loaves of bread. Whatever folks had they just shared."
They shrugged off the muggy heat and downpours.
“At my age now, it would be awful, but when you're 20 and falling in love, it's not an issue,” Bobbi says. “We stood on our patch of ground. I don't think we realized what was really going on until afterward when you started hearing the news reports. There were no phones, no texting. We had no idea how many people were there."
With jobs on the line, they returned home late Sunday night. By the time the soundtrack surfaced months later, “Woodstock was old news,” Bobbi says. “It had left a bad taste in Sullivan County, because there was so much mess and cleanup. Not many people talked about it. But we were so excited and told all our friends about the album cover."
Do they represent the Woodstock generation?
"We were just regular kids in small-town USA,” Nick says. “We had similar ideals of our generation, and the war was a big deal. But we didn't see the racial strife that other people saw. Growing up in a small town, we just got along with everybody."
Nick was a union carpenter and worked for the Office of Community Development in New York's Orange County before retiring five years ago. Bobbi was a registered nurse at Pine Bush Elementary and retired eight years ago. They have two sons, Matthew and Luke, and four grandchildren under 8.
"We aren't Woodstock hippies,” Bobbi says. “We are Grammy and Poppa."
The Ercolines turned 70 this year and will celebrate their 48th wedding anniversary on Aug. 27. The key to their lasting fairy-book romance?
"Don't stay mad,” Bobbi says. “People don't grow at the same rate. You have to be willing to let the other catch up or vice versa. It's never 50-50."
Nick gushes, “My life goal is to dance with my youngest granddaughter at her wedding and have my wife with me."
A large, autographed copy of Burk Uzzle's famous photograph, identical to one in the Smithsonian Institution, hangs in the Ercolines’ kitchen.
"I look at it every single day,” Bobbi says. “It's a wonderful memory of young love and it encapsulates the way we are to this day."
And that immortalized blanket? Nick laughs.
"For the first 20 years, Woodstock was not a big deal in our area,” he says.
"Then people got nostalgic and it became more significant. I didn't think the blanket was that important. We took it to the beach, to picnics, and it started to wear thin. I used to drive a VW Beetle 60 miles to work, and in the middle of winter it got cold, so I used that blanket in the trunk of the bug to block the wind. It finally got destroyed."
In later years, collectors seeking the blanket offered up to $30,000.
"We would have been happy to donate it,” Nick says. “But it was long gone."