50TH ANNIVERSARY THIS WEEK
Stuck In Traffic, Mayor Herzig Didn’t Make It
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
“Meg called me one day and asked if I wanted to go to this concert,” said Cooperstown Village Attorney Martin Tillapaugh.
That concert? The famous Woodstock festival, held Aug. 15-18, 1969, on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel Woods, 50 years ago this week.
“Woodstock was one of the most important cultural and music moments in history,” said Greg Harris, president of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. “It was the pivotal time when young people were questioning their place in the world, and they came together with others feeling the same way in this massive gathering.”
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s “Woodstock at 50” exhibit opened earlier this summer, featuring never-before-seen color film footage, photos and artifacts from the “Summer of Love.”
“We have 16 mm footage that Hamilton Biggar shot behind the scenes,” said Harris, who received his master’s from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies, then worked at the Baseball Hall for a period.
Also on display is John Sebastian’s suit, photos by Jim Marshall and Jimmy Hendrix’s guitar strap from when he played “The Star Spangled Banner” – the guitar is on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll” exhibit, on through Oct. 1. The exhibit was co-curated by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“We have people come through our pop-up booth and tell us their stories of being there,” he said. “It had a massive impact on so many peoples’ lives.”
From Cooperstown, Meg and Martin – now married – drove down to with their friend Scottie Robinson, abandoning his dad’s car four miles from the venue to walk to the concert.
“We got there on the second day, and even though we had money for tickets, the fence was already knocked over, so we just walked right in,” he said.
Among the legendary acts they saw were Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Grateful Dead, John Sebastian, Santana, Canned Heat, Sly and the Family Stone and Janis Joplin.
“Janis just had such a massive energy,” he said. “You just lay there in the field, soaking it all in.”
Meg had brought food, but they soon found themselves feeding more than just the three of them. “If you took out an orange, people just swarmed you, asking if they could have a piece,” he said. “They hadn’t eaten in two days! So you might get one bite.”
They left Sunday morning, and a week later discovered they were pictured in the centerfold of Time Magazine’s reportage of the festival. “We’re in the lower left,” he said. “It’s clearly us.”
Jim Howarth, a vice president at Delaware Otsego, the late Walter Rich’s railroad and a SUNY Oneonta student at the time of Woodstock, was also there. “I saw it on the news, and a friend and I just looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s go.’”
Their motorcycles allowed them to go where cars couldn’t – and also get out. “The next morning, I ran into a reporter who offered me $25 to drive him out so he could file his story,” he said. “He took my picture and I drove him to the nearest town, and then the next day, I was on the front cover of the Washington Star!”
But others, like Oneonta’s Mayor Gary Herzig, weren’t so lucky.
“My friend and I bought four tickets, for us and for our girlfriends,” he said. “I think they were $14.95, but that was a lot of money then.”
They drove up after work on Friday in Herzig’s 1963 Oldsmobile F85, but when they hit the Monticello exit off 17, traffic had come to a complete stop.
“The road was completely shut down,” he said. “It was pouring rain and our radiator was overheating. The only thing we could do was set up the tent and camp on the side of the road.”
There were “thousands” of others doing the same thing, Herzig said. “It was a festival away from the festival,” he joked.
In the morning, the rumor mill began to spread that the concert had been cancelled. Others said it was only 10 miles up the road, but no one had any real clear answer, and Herzig and his friends made the decision to give up and head home. “It’s a decision I’ve regretted for the last 50 years,” he said.
And though the 50th anniversary concert fell through, Harris said that other festivals, including Glastonbury, Bonnaroo and Coachella are keeping the scene alive. “We can connect digitally, but to hear music live and feel the sun with others, there’s a power in that,” he said.
Earlier this summer, the Tillapaughs returned to the site on a tour with the Fenimore Art Museum. “It was fun to walk down the hill and try to remember where we were,” he said.