Suddenly 15 Again, 40 Years After Woodstock

Category: Families & Generations

I just attended the Outside Land Music Festival, in San Francisco, with my teen son and two of his female friends.  It proved to be a rare opportunity to relive my youth, experience those feelings of excitement only a 15-year-old can feel, and vicariously share it all through their eyes and the excitement they radiated the entire time.

The line-up was extraordinary and included Incubus, Black-Eyed Peas, Pearl Jam, the Dave Matthews Band, and Tom Jones, the current retro star of this generation.  And, the Welsh hipster didn’t disappoint as, at 69, he put on a show that rivaled any of the younger headliners.  The crowd of kids knew every word of every one of his songs.

There was an omnipresent smell, described aptly by Dave Matthews as “Eau du Reefer,” which quickly brought me back to 1969.  Between that and the sloshing beer, it was quite a job to keep an eye on my three charges for the two days we went to the festival.

For the four of us, the Dave Matthews Band was the highlight.  I sucked in my fears, as a middle-aged over-the-hill dad, and worked my way through the throngs and stood, 30 feet from the stage, for the entire 2 1/2-hour show with my son and his friends, dancing, screaming, and digging every amazing minute of it.

Only by resurrecting the phrase “I dug it” can I convey how deeply the Festival thrilled me.  First, the experience took me back 40 years.  In 1969, I too was fifteen.  I missed out on Woodstock solely in the sense that I did not spend that August weekend in rural New York with Richie Havens, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, and the rest.  I lived Woodstock in other ways as I ditched college classes to take road trips to the hippie enclaves of San Francisco. Thankfully, I only minimally indulged in the drug aspect of it.  But, sex and Rock ‘N’ Roll was there for anyone breathing.  And, I was breathing.

To be explicitly clear, nothing untoward happened on this recent trip for me and the kids except joining throngs of people enjoying the sunshine, and loud rock ‘n’ roll.  No mud, acid, naked bodies, or any of the hallmarks of Woodstock or my relatively innocent trips to San Francisco when I was older and in college.

That brings me to the second reason I dug the Festival. I enjoyed seeing my son and his best friends dig it. Being fifteen in the days of Woodstock meant frequently and joyfully crowding together with your friends to celebrate, with music, the discovery that growing up was in the immediate future, and meant new freedom, new opportunities and new kinds of power.  Maybe being fifteen has always meant that.  At this Festival, I watched my son experience it, and I was terribly happy for him.

Finally, I dug it because I discovered that my son treats women very well.  Made me feel old and made me feel proud at the same time as he looked after his two friends the way a man should protect the women in his life.  With thousands of people milling about and their desire to brave the crush of the crowd to get up close, it was a challenge for him that he fully met and conquered.

The ironies and comparisons were further heightened when I saw “Taking Woodstock” shortly after we returned.  That film so wonderfully captured the look and feel of the period that I almost smelled the dope in the air, while listening to the music that seems as contemporary today as it was 40 years ago.  It was just a terrific evocation of the times, the sixties, maybe better than any other film about that period.

As I reflect on my own feelings at 15, and edited and reviewed the photos I took on this trip and our own Woodstock-type experience, I knew my son and friends had an incomparable experience.  And, so did I.  There’s no doubt, even if I’m just a guy.

Check out the Outside Lands photo gallery to see the images that go with this story…it’s on the right side of each web-page in red, where all the other photo galleries are…enjoy!