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Memories of Woodstock

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by Tom Chillemi

Scott Kauffman of Topping and his friend John Rogers of Southbury, Conn., went back to Woodstock on August 14, 2009—40 years after the historic music festival that was the final chapter of the rowdy 1960s.

In 1969, Kauffman was 19 and starting his sophomore year at Tulane. Rogers was 20 and ready to head back for his junior year at Kent State (the year of the shootings).

The “Woodstock Music and Art Fair” had been advertised on the radio during the summer of 1969. There was a list of 32 bands, some of which could have been a headline act for their own concert.

For Kauffman and Rogers, who had been listening to the radio while painting houses in Connecticut, it seemed like a good time—drive up, buy tickets, there will be plenty of food.

They were totally unprepared—no food, no water, no tickets.

On the night of Friday, August 15, 1969, after the first day of Woodstock, they were stuck in an epic traffic jam miles away.

A ticket hawker sold Kauffman two tickets for $16 (a one-day ticket was $7). The scalper told them he’d had enough. “I doubt that,” said Kauffman. “He knew it was a free concert and wanted some money. We were scammed. He’s got no tickets and I have the memorabilia.”

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The two tickets Kauffman and Rogers didn’t need are now collector items.

They were in Rogers’ Karman Ghia sports car and they decided to take a side road to try to get closer to Woodstock. They ended up in a wooded area. Rogers slept in the car and Kauffman stretched across the trunk with a poncho draped over the lid.

About 4 a.m. they flagged down a garbage truck to ask directions. The driver got them to within 3 miles of the festival and they walked the rest of the way.

This past Saturday Kauffman and Rogers saw the same tree which, in 1969, was covered with notes from people trying to hook up with their friends. Cell phones were still 20 years away.

At the historic festival they heard the metal band “Mountain,” John Sebastian, and a new band named “Santana.” Carlos Santana is still making music and collecting Grammys today.

Kauffman and Rogers left the festival after a full day of music on Saturday, August 16, 1969. “It was enough to have been there. Nobody had any idea it would be that big,” said Kauffman.
What about the “peace and love”?

“Well, everybody got along,” Kauffman said. “I was overwhelmed by the whole thing. There were so many people. It was a ‘happening’ and I was in the right place at the right time. It was a great experience. It probably could not happen again.”

Kauffman said the return journey this past weekend left him with a feeling that life is finite.

“When you’re 19, you have the world of possibilities in front of you and you think you’re immortal,” said Kauffman. “Now, I’m 59 and thinking, ‘Am I going to make it to the 50th anniversary?’ There is a real finiteness to everything now that I wasn’t aware of when I was 19 years old. Everything went by so quickly.”

posted 08.19.2009

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