Matt Salacuse and Jim Wright
Aug. 15, 1969, dawned in Bethel, New York, with mostly fair weather in the forecast. Meteorologists weren't the only ones caught off guard by all that would come later, as Woodstock — and those fabled rains — left a nation drenched in new ideas about love, peace and the power of music. One family shares its story from that watershed weekend.
Cindy Matthews, 69, Woodstock attendee
My parents didn't want me to go. They forbade me to go. I was 19 and still living at home, in Clifton, N.J. My parents were what you'd call square. They said, “There're too many young people going. You'll get hurt — or worse.” But I just said, “You know what? I'm going.” And I did. I went with girlfriends from high school. We all piled into my 1968 Opel, and off we went.
Dorothy Setticase, 95, Cindy's mom
It was horrible. Number one, she was a young kid. In my generation you pretty much stayed around the house until you were married. But here she was, with a bunch of girls, getting into this car and going off to some kind of rock concert. I had no idea what Woodstock was. I definitely wasn't into that kind of music. I'm someone who loves the big-band era of the 1940s and crooners like Frank Sinatra from the 1950s. I could care less about rock ‘n’ roll. But, OK, you had to be lenient sometimes. You had to let go. Cindy was with friends. It wasn't like she was traveling alone. So I thought, OK, they probably won't get into too much trouble.
Courtesy of Wil 'Chick' Corcoran and Cindy Matthews
The first sign of trouble was about 10 minutes from my house, which is usually less than two hours from the site of Woodstock. There was a huge traffic jam. You could tell that almost everyone was heading to the same place. It was hippie gridlock. There was a ‘46 Chevy in front of me. I remember that detail because it became a pretty important moment in my life. This guy gets out of the car — long hair, friendly — and says to us, “Uh, you girls going to Woodstock?” We go, “Yeah, we're going!” So he says, “Well, follow me. I know a shortcut.”
Wil “Chick” Corcoran, 72, Woodstock attendee
I'd just finished an 18-month tour in Vietnam, with a chopper squadron in an amphibious brigade, and I didn't know where my head was. Just confused, you know? I enlisted and was proud to serve, but my high morale was crushed when we got stateside. We mustered out in Seattle, and people spit on us and yelled out, “Hey, we got some baby killers here!” I hightailed it out of there and couldn't grow my hair fast enough. Over the next few months, I camped out deep in the sequoias of Northern California and made music down in L.A. One day my father said he needed help moving from Florida to New Jersey, so I crossed the country in my ‘46 Chevy, and that journey brought me to Woodstock. On the way to the concert, my buddies and I saw some guy with his thumb out, a local, who told us he knew a back route around all the cars. He said, “Why don't you ask those three girls behind you to come with us?” That's when I headed over and met, well, my future ex-wife.
We got there right after Richie Havens had started playing. I actually had a ticket, but it didn't matter. The chain-link fences had already been torn down. The organizers stupidly thought they could contain 50,000 people, but now there were hundreds of thousands. Chick and I were getting along really well, so we found a place to sit up on a hill together, pretty far from the stage. We were completely unprepared. I mean, I brought a sleeping bag with me, which I bummed off my cousin, but no food, no water, no change of clothes, no nothing. I'd never done anything like this before. I was freewheeling it. Then it started to rain.
The mud was really something. People were slipping and sliding down the hill, and you'd go grab someone and pick them up out of the muck. We didn't have any covering. I'd put my coat over Cindy to keep her dry. It was a mess, but it was also beautiful in its own way.
Henry Diltz/Corbis via Getty Images and Barry Z Levine/Getty Images
I'll never forget the port-a-potties. The smell! Some guy said, “Just put a cigarette in your mouth and keep smokin.’ “ Honestly, I didn't care. First of all, the music was better than you can possibly imagine. I've always been into music, and the best act I ever saw, to this day, was Santana playing “Soul Sacrifice.” They were so tight, even though the drummer was around 17 and they were all so out of it. Oh, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — those sweet, sweet harmonies in the middle of the night. And, of course, the Monday-morning wake-up call by Jimi Hendrix playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” To top it off, I had fallen instantly in love with this guy I'd just met. I'm not that kind of person, but I guess I got caught up in the everybody-get-together vibe. We were young and free and just loved the feeling of it all.
I didn't tell anybody I'd been in Vietnam, not even Cindy. I knew people there wouldn't have reacted well if they'd heard I'd been in a war everybody was protesting. But there were two cathartic moments for me at Woodstock. The first was seeing Country Joe [McDonald] with some military garb on. And, later, seeing Jimi Hendrix, who I knew had also served in the Army. You might think those would be small things, but in some twisted way I finally felt accepted as normal, as opposed to feeling like I was the enemy within. The whole weekend was a happy time for me. Getting Cindy home — that was another story.
Somewhere along the way, I lost my girlfriends. Worse than that, I lost my car! Chick had to drive me back to New Jersey. I was in really bad shape. The whole time, I barely ate anything. I remember having some brown rice we got from the Hog Farm commune people, who were giving out free food. But there wasn't much water. I was completely dehydrated, and I couldn't walk. I didn't bother calling my parents or anything like that. How could you, in those days? Needless to say, when we came in the door, my mother really let me have it.
Oh, it was the worst weekend of my life. Worst thing that ever happened. I was worried sick, waiting for Cindy. Then she practically had to be carried in by this young man she'd hooked up with, not even knowing who he was, really. I thought, sure as heck, she was doped up or something like that, so I rushed her over to the doctor's. He said, “No, no, no. She's just exhausted. Let the girl sleep.” In the meantime, I told that boyfriend of hers, “You'd better get back up there and find that car.”
Chick sent a friend the next day, and they did locate my Opel. Turns out, it had been completely covered with flowers — every square inch of it! In the days afterward, we knew Woodstock was an event that changed everything. It was a moment when you really heard the voice of a new generation. I'd say it was our chance to express our values in a way that stood apart from the 1950s types before us. Personally, Woodstock sent me in a new direction. The concert was in August, and by September, Chick and I had moved in together — next town over, crappy apartment, 60 bucks a month. We never had a legal marriage, but I ended up sticking with him for the next six years, and he's the father of my oldest daughter, Leah.
Courtesy of Wil 'Chick' Corcoran and Cindy Matthews
You could say we keep the Woodstock spirit alive at home. On any given day, you'll see our kids and me playing instruments, and lately Sawyer has begun recording mandolin tutorial videos he intends to post on YouTube. He's a remarkable young musician, with a passion and skill that are unusual for his age. He also has three music students of his own. We have a family band, called Not Your Average Family Band, and we get asked to play all sorts of gigs around town — from fundraisers and community events to a recent TEDx event. And we've got quite a few trophies from winning talent shows. This summer, Sawyer's playing the mandolin in front of a few thousand people at a music festival. So the tradition continues.
I live in Florida now. I'm on marriage number four and have three daughters and a total of six grandchildren, who are the joys of my life. I've had all sorts of jobs. I owned a fabric store in Colorado. I worked as a grocery buyer for Whole Foods in New Jersey and left that to manage a natural-foods store. Two years ago, in Florida, I started volunteering for the local food pantry. That turned into a paid position in client services, where I help homeless people and low-income families get the resources they need. It is by far the most rewarding job I've ever had. I feel like I'm making a difference in people's lives just by listening to them.
Woodstock continues to be a source of fun. A few years ago, I went to a hokey Woodstock-themed event sponsored by the local radio station. I'd won tickets. People were dressed up as hippies, which I find ridiculous and almost insulting, like on Halloween. I want to strangle them. They'll put on bell-bottoms and a long wig and those little round glasses and think it's a cute character. We weren't characters. We really believed that love could change the world! That kindness matters! That war and violence are not the answer! That we need to be good to the Earth! Those concepts are too often overlooked today, and it pains me.