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ANOTHER VIEW OF WOODSTOCK by Gary Beck

Roy Cafferty’s old friend Simon, who he used to work for at an Off Broadway theater, called him on July 31st, and told him that he could really use his help at the music festival. He had hundreds of techs working away on the festival, but the site coordination was poor and vital tasks were being overlooked. Roy told him that he would be there the next day and got directions to the festival site. He packed some things in his saddle bags and went to bed feeling lighter of heart than he had for weeks.

The morning was still cool as Roy kicked the starter of his motorcycle to life. He headed to the West Side Highway and drove north until he connected to Route 17. Traffic was heading into the city, so Roy made good time. He passed Woodstock, where the festival was originally supposed to take place, but zoning or money problems had forced the producers to switch the site to Bethel. It had been too late to change the name of the festival, so it would be called Woodstock, regardless of where it was located. When he got there, he drove into chaos. Hundreds of workers were milling around, while others sat doing nothing. After getting wrong directions three times, Roy found Simon’s trailer, where he was immersed in schematics with the chief electrician. Roy waited until they were through, then said: “Hey, Simon. What’s happening?” Simon was delighted to see him and hugged him. “I’m glad you’re here. We’ve got a first class fuck-up to straighten out.” “What’s the problem?” “Construction was delayed when we switched sites and we lost two weeks. Now a lot of the tech crew have become hippies. They’re sitting around, smoking dope, and bullshitting, instead of working.”

Roy could see that Simon was frazzled. “What do you want me to do?” “Start with the stage. It’s way behind schedule and we won’t have time to finish it. As we get closer to deadline we’ll decide priorities. Here’s the design plan and the crew roster. I’ll take you to the stage and introduce you to the crew, then I’ll show you where the tools and materials are stored. There are some difficult characters working there, so be cool.” “What else is new?” Simon grinned cheerfully. “I’m not going to worry anymore.” “That’s a good idea. Let’s get started.” “Before we go, Roy, is there anything you need?” “A nightstick to crack some heads?” “There are a lot of union guys, so you can’t get physical.” “Can I fire goof-offs and problem children? The best way to get the crew hopping is to chop a few heads. No pun intended.” “I’ll talk to the producer about it. For now, get along with them and motivate.” “Sure.”

Simon drove Roy around the grounds in his jeep to familiarize him with the layout. It covered a huge area. “How many people are you expecting?” “The producers are talking about 150,000 to 200,000.” “That’s a lot of bodies, Simon. Where will they stay?” “Some will stay at local motels. The rest will camp out in the field.” “What if it rains?” “They’ll go home.” “Did you rent portable toilets?” “Yes.” “Enough for a crowd that size?” “I hope so.” “What about emergency services and security?” “The producer is taking care of that. Listen, Roy, concentrate on the stage and forget the rest. Okay?” “Sure.” “Report to me twice a day on progress, so we can decide what we can leave unfinished.” “Sure.”

Simon introduced Roy to the supervising foremen as the construction coordinator and left them to get acquainted. At first glance they seemed competent, so Roy assumed they would all be concerned that they were behind schedule. “I hope we’ll have time to get to know each other in the next few days, but right now let’s get down to basics. What do you need to finish the job?” A big, burly, blond-haired, fur-faced, happy-looking individual answered: “Two extra weeks.” Roy turned to him. “What’s your name?” “Sam.” “I’m Roy.” Roy offered his hand and Sam took it in a huge paw that enveloped it, without bone crunching. “We don’t have two extra weeks, Sam. Today’s the 1st. The festival starts on the 15th, and construction stops before the music starts. So what do you need?” The foremen really weren’t sure what they needed. In reviewing what they were doing, it turned out that the components of the stage weren’t being worked on in the right order. Roy assigned two crews to erect the support system and two to build the floor. “What about the sides?” Sam asked. “That’s what my crew’s been working on.” “Forget it,” Roy said tersely. “We’ll get to them later.”

Roy checked into a local motel, then plunged into the job. They started early in the morning, only pausing for meal and bathroom breaks, and worked late into the night. Roy had the lumber and tools moved to the work area, so they didn’t have to wait when they needed things. A snivelly character from the producers’ staff showed up and whined about not being able to monitor the power tools, which had been disappearing. Roy wasn’t the least bit sympathetic. “We may lose tools, but we’ll finish the stage.” “But they’re expensive,” Mr. Snivels whined. “So are the tickets to this festival. What do they cost, $18.00?” “Yes.” “Well, there won’t be a festival without the stage.” “I get your point.” Mr. Snivels had been bugging the foremen and they were happy to let Roy deal with him. Roy was getting along well with the foremen, and he was popular with the crews because of his willingness to stop and pitch in if they needed a hand. At the same time, Simon was in a near panic about the lighting and sound systems. When Roy assured him that they’d at least have a plank for the musicians to teeter-totter on, he only pulled hair from one side of his head.

Roy had brought Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment with him, but by the time he got back to the motel late at night, he was so tired that he fell asleep with the book in his hands. Each day became a numbing effort of rising at 5:00 A.M., eating breakfast, driving to the site, then chugging along until late into the night. Although he stopped for meals, they always ended up being gobbled on the run. Someone always needed something just as he took a break. The pace was grueling and the pressure was constant. Roy hadn’t realized how demanding the job would be, and the money wasn’t sufficient for the volume of bullshit he was beginning to take from the frantic producers. If it wasn’t for his loyalty to Simon, he would have walked. But he gritted it out and consoled himself that he could survive for two weeks.

By the end of the week the stage was emerging from the mud and disorder. Then they had their first crisis. They found out they were working from the wrong architectural drawing. Even the potheads freaked. It took a while to calm the general hysteria and revise the construction schedule. By adding structural supports and extending the backstage space, they solved most of the problems. But they lost irreplaceable time, and the urgency to finish the job grew more intense. Fatigue had already set in and accidents started to happen. They were little ones, dropping a tool, or someone whacking himself on the hand with a hammer. But Roy knew that if the crew didn’t get more rest, their level of functioning would decline. That could mean serious injuries, with major disruptions to the work schedule.

Roy discussed the situation with Simon, who had been so involved with lighting and sound problems because the power generators hadn’t arrived that he had left supervision of the stage entirely to Roy. They concluded that it just wouldn’t be possible to finish everything, which they had originally assumed. Now it was time to decide what could be completed. Roy pointed out that the men needed longer breaks and shorter days. Simon almost went into cardiac arrest. “Are you nuts? We just agreed that we’re way behind schedule and you want to give the men time off?” “They’re tired, Simon. And they’re getting careless. That’s a formula for disaster. These guys aren’t pros. They don’t know how to work on automatic pilot.” “What do you suggest?” “Cut their work day from eighteen hours to sixteen hours, give them a full hour for lunch and more coffee breaks.” “You’re not a very good slave driver, Roy. That’ll sound like treason to the producers.” “Be realistic. This way we’ll finish the stage.”

When the revised work schedule was implemented, the producers bitched, moaned, and groaned, but even they admitted that increased production was obvious. The biggest problem had become the sporadic rain, which turned the site into a sea of mud that slowed construction and seeped into everything. Roy got used to the ooze that colored his sneakers dung and stiffened his socks. But some of the crew, especially the hippies, potheads, and freaks, reached their limit and quit. The more experienced union bulls, unwilling to leave a high-paying gig regardless of working conditions, slowed their output to mud tortoise pace. This further aggravated the already jittery producers, who were getting more panicky as the days went by. But the sound and light towers were going up, the parking lot was being laid out, the enormous length of fence for the concert area was spreading across Stalag Woodstock. With one week to go, it began to look like they’d be ready.

Roy’s cousin Tommy phoned him on August 10. It took some time for Roy to reach the phone and Tommy was very agitated. Roy assumed it was because it had been so difficult to make the connection. Tommy had been disconnected several times. Then he had to wait while someone called Roy on a walkie-talkie, so he could drive his jeep to Simon’s trailer to take the call. “What’s happening, Tommy?” “You won’t believe it.” “Try me.” “Sharon Tate was murdered yesterday.” Roy was stunned. “What?” “You heard me. My beautiful Sharon was murdered.” “Holy shit. How did it happen?” “She was stabbed to death. She was pregnant and they stabbed her sixteen times. They also murdered three of her friends and a delivery boy.” “That’s horrible. Do they know who did it?” “Not yet, but they think it was some kind of cult murder. It was a real slaughterhouse, with blood all over the place.”

Roy couldn’t help but wonder at the weird twist of fate. They didn’t go to Hollywood because of a death in the family. Now the woman who Tommy was going to visit was murdered. “I’m glad you weren’t there with her, Tommy.” “Me too, cuz. Can you imagine this? They killed the delivery boy. He was just bringing them pizza. He must have walked in and seen the bodies, so they chopped him.” Roy joked to let off tension. “I guess it’s a rough neighborhood.” “Very funny.” Roy changed the subject. “Anything else new?” “Not really. How are things going there, cuz?” “Hairy. We’ve only got five days left and we won’t be able to finish everything.” “Too bad.” “Listen, Tommy, I’ve got a ticket for you if you want to come to the festival.” “Cool. How do I get there?” “You can take the bus and I’ll pick up. You can stay in my motel room.” “Let’s see what happens. We can talk in a few days.” “Sure.”

Roy went back to work thinking about Sharon Tate. He couldn’t figure out why these things happened. Was it haphazard occurrence? Did something specific trigger someone to an act of brutal destruction? Could it be as simple as being in the wrong place at the wrong time? That was too dreadful to imagine. But was it conceivable? At this point Roy couldn’t rule out any speculation, however farfetched, except the hand of God. Coincidence? Roy just couldn’t understand why it happened.

Despite Roy’s efforts to keep the workday a little shorter, so the men would be more rested and less liable to have accidents, the deadline forced them to forget the clock. Their progress had been constantly interrupted by crews being yanked off the stage to do other jobs. Audio towers to hold the giant speakers in the audience area had to be erected before the hordes arrived. Fences to contain the crowd had to be finished. There was always a valid reason for stopping work on the stage and doing something else, but it made it impossible to complete the stage. Roy had never worked with audio on this scale, so he had no idea whether the systems were sufficient. But he had a lot of questions about the lighting. Simon didn’t want to hear about any more problems. He was already overwhelmed by what he had to accomplish in a few days.

There wasn’t anyone at this point who was looking at all the details, big or small. When Roy mentioned to one of the producers that there weren’t enough lights in the audience area once it got dark, he was told to forget it. The festival was originally planned for an audience of 150,000. When ticket sales passed the 200,000 count, there should have been a big increase in sanitation facilities, food, and water. With three days to go, someone finally realized that they were going to get a lot more than 200,000 people. But nothing further was done to accommodate parking or seating. How were all those people expected to get close enough to hear anything? And what about security? As far as Roy could tell, all they had were some teenage ushers from the Filmore East, the East Village rock club, and members of the Hog Farm, a New Mexico commune. The Hog Farmers were supposed to relate to the hippies and freaks, but they were all stoned out of their minds. There were also supposed to be 350 New York City cops, but their department refused to let them work, probably assuming they would succumb to the temptations of sex and drugs. Roy was certain they were in little danger from rock and roll.

On Monday, with three days left, Roy made a last effort to communicate his concerns about some of the problems not being addressed. He stopped Mr. Snivels, who had been avoiding him, and mentioned that there was no plan to deal with garbage disposal. Mr. S. looked at him like he just escaped from Willowbrook. “With all we’ve got to do, you’re worried about garbage?” “200,000 people produce a lot of trash,” Roy said calmly. “We have other priorities.” He scurried off, relieved to have escaped the clutches of the mad one. Roy shook his head in disgust, thinking about how much money the producers were making and how poorly they had prepared for the huge audience. But there was nothing more he could do, except finish his job to the best of his ability.

Roy met with Simon late Monday afternoon to finalize what had to be completed and what could be left unfinished. Before they got down to specifics about construction, Simon brought up something else. “You’ve got to stop mentioning other problems, Roy. You’re freaking people out.” “I was just trying to be helpful.” “I know that, but they don’t. They think you’re some kind of nut case.” “Great. I guess it’s a waste of time to try to solve important problems.” “In this case, why don’t we stick with our specific responsibilities and let someone else worry about the rest.” Roy was tired of his efforts being rejected. “Sure.” “I’ve been going over the stage specifications and I don’t see how we’re going to finish.” “There’s one way, Simon.” “What’s that?” “We don’t finish the roof.” “What if it rains?” “We can rig tarps.” “That’s a great idea. Do you think it’ll work?” “Sure.”

With the decision made not to build the roof they would gain enough time to complete all basic construction. Roy followed Simon’s directive to let someone else worry about other problems. It was obvious to Roy that no one else was worrying, because there were no indications that the problems were being dealt with. There might have been enough portable toilets for 100,000 people, if half held their peepee. They wouldn’t have enough water for the horde, now rumored to number 300,000 with two days to go, unless they imitated the action of the dromedary. But it wasn’t his problem. All they needed was rain, and the flower children, hippies, freaks, and representatives of the counter-culture could turn their faces to the sky and drink their fill.

Tommy phoned that night with potentially exciting news. “There were some more murders in Los Angeles. The police arrested a guy named Charles Manson and some of his followers.” “What do you mean, followers? Who is he?” “Some kind of crazy cult leader. According to the newspapers he’s a real control freak and he uses drugs, sex, and religious dogma to get his followers, mostly women, to obey him.” “There are a lot of messed-up kids out there who fall for that stuff. They go looking for love and find an exploiter. Are you coming for the first day of the festival?” “I don’t know yet, cuz. I’ll call you tomorrow night and let you know. All right?” “Sure.”

Music lovers began arriving on Wednesday, one day early. They came in colorful vans, brightly painted old school buses, pick-up trucks, Volkswagen Bugs, motorcycles, and daddy’s car. They were either high and happy, or looking for sex and drugs. They knew they were going to get rock and roll. They streamed in by the thousands. The boys wore beards, bell-bottoms, and bandannas. The girls wore peasant skirts and blouses. They were seeking communal feelings in a great outpouring of the spirit of the counter-culture that wanted a non-violent gathering. Hundreds of guitars strummed and portable radios blared rock and roll, until the sympathetic techies hooked up the sound system and played tapes by The Doors over and over, making Roy yearn for the windows. The crew abandoned a lot of work to deal with the early birds, but they were the coolest crowd that Roy had ever seen.

By the end of the day, 40,000 to 50,000 hippies had arrived in a cloud of pot fumes that must have gotten every bird, beast, and bug for twenty miles around stoned out of its beak, muzzle, or antennae. And that was only the beginning. The latest count of ticket sales was 350,000. Roy tried to do the arithmetic in his head of how much money the producers would make at $18 per ticket, but he was too tired to calculate. It was either six million or sixty million, a lot of money whichever it was. Tommy phoned and told Roy that Charles Manson had been released for lack of evidence. At the moment, Roy didn’t care about Manson. “Are you coming to the festival? The roads are getting crowded.” “I don’t know yet, Roy. Can I decide tomorrow?” “Sure. Whenever you like.”

What may have been the biggest traffic jam in history stretched mile after mile into the distance, yet everyone was happy. There were no arguments, cursing, horn-honking, or fighting. Those who carried drugs were stoned, while the rest waited patiently to score and get high. But the pervading spirit was benevolent. Roy looked out at the huge audience, with twice as many lined up to get in, and said a silent prayer that their good will would continue. If they became dissatisfied customers, they could create the biggest stampede since buffalo herds ran amok before the invention of gunpowder. They could trample the stage, the crew, and the musicians under their muddy hooves. Some New York City cops had shown up to bolster security, but they were already stoned or drunk. The only hope of keeping the nomads calm was their own feelings of peace.

The concert finally started and the eager youngsters began to groove with the musicians. Pot had been circulating through the audience and the prevailing feeling was mellow. If there were aisles, the hippies would have been dancing in them. But as more and more people arrived, the press of the crowd moved closer to the stage, filling in the open spaces. So they danced in place, spontaneously. Lots of kids were dropping acid, and the Hog Farmers were already busy talking down the victims of bad trips. Thousands and thousands of vehicles still jammed the road. The occupants turned on, tuned in, and didn’t get upset at the delay, since they weren’t missing any of the big names, who were scheduled for later in the day. And the festival was going to be three days long.

There were lots of small emergencies during the day, and Roy didn’t get to hear much of the music. Late in the gray, damp afternoon, he paused to listen to Joe Cocker. He didn’t really like rock and roll, but he thought it was a wild sound. The audience certainly felt an animal reaction pass through them. If President Nixon floated down to the stage from on high and distributed pot and asked the audience to follow Joe Cocker to Vietnam, the surge of flower children would have overwhelmed the Viet Cong. Some of the cops were making fun of the way Cocker was playing the imaginary guitar, calling him a nut. But Roy didn’t think it was the least bit peculiar. In fact, after some of the horrible singers who tortured the audience’s sensibilities with their mindless leaping around, Joe Cocker’s passionate performance looked pretty good.

Roy got a call on his walkie-talkie that he had a phone call at Simon’s trailer. He went to get his jeep to drive there and it was gone. They had been plagued with thefts for the last two days, which seemed to have sky-rocketed with the arrival of the Hog Farmers. The complaints of missing tools, equipment, supplies, walkie-talkies, even jeeps, multiplied like the loaves and the fishes. Whatever had any value, and wasn’t nailed down, disappeared. Roy hitched a ride to the trailer. Tommy was on the phone. “I’m sorry it took me so long. Somebody stole my jeep. What happened to you? I thought you were coming here today?” “Forget that. I’ve got bad news.” “What? What?” “Your mother’s sick and I think you should get back here right away.”

Roy looked at his watch. It was 4:30. “The ride back to the city shouldn’t take more than three hours, even in the rain. I have some things to finish here, but I should be able to leave by six o’clock at the latest. That’ll give me plenty of time to get there.” “I dig. Get your ass back here.” “Sure.” “Right on, cuz. I’m at your house.”

Roy tracked down Simon, who was desperately trying to get more lighting equipment set up. There were two trailer trucks full of lights parked next to the stage, but they hadn’t been able to get a crew to hook them up. Roy waited impatiently for ten minutes, until Simon gave up the futile effort. “Simon. I have to talk to you.” “Just don’t tell me the stage is sinking. I’ll fall on my power drill.” “The stage is fine. I’ve got a family emergency, my mother is sick, and I have to get back to the city right away.” Simon was surprised. “You’re kidding?” “I wish I was, because I’ll miss the festival. But you don’t have to worry. Everything that I was working on is done. Sam can take my place for the rest of the festival and supervise the strike afterwards.” “Are you certain he can handle it?” “Sure.” “Will your mother be all right?” “I hope so.” “Well, say hello to her for me.” “Sure. I’ve got to go.” Simon hugged him. “You take care, Roy. I’ll call you when I get back to the city.”

Roy persuaded one of the techies to drive him to the motel so he could get his motorcycle. If they didn’t have a jeep, they never would have made it. The roads were still jammed with vehicles, and the drivers were more urgent to get into the festival than earlier in the day. The state troopers and sheriff’s deputies, looking like storm troopers in black slickers, were starting to express their displeasure at the invasion of hippies. They arbitrarily stopped vans and searched for drugs, further slowing the progress of traffic. Only the easy-going attitude of the hippies prevented confrontation and arrests. It took two and a half hours to drive the four miles to the motel, most of it driving on the muddy, treacherous shoulder of the dissolving road as they tried to get past stalled cars. Once Roy got to the motel, it only took a few minutes to pack his things, kick the motorcycle to life, and head for the highway. It took another hour and a half to go seven miles to Route 17, which would take him back to New York City. By the time he got on the highway it was about 9:00 P.M. and it was completely dark.

The rain was coming down harder and the road was slippery. Traffic was light heading away from the festival, but the surface of the road was slick and Roy couldn’t drive fast. The wind was picking up, and occasional gusts caught his bike and almost tipped him over. He had to be very alert, and with the accumulated work fatigue, the extra concentration was draining. By ten o’clock he hadn’t even reached the thruway, and he still had a long way to go. He finally got to the Tappan Zee Bridge, took it across the Hudson River, and headed south to the West Side Highway. When he parked his bike in front of his house it was almost 11:30 P.M., and Woodstock was only a memory.

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AUTHOR BIO:

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director, and as an art dealer when he couldn’t make a living in theater. He has eleven published chapbooks and three more accepted for publication.

His poetry collections include: Days of Destruction (Skive Press); Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press); Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways, Displays, Perceptions (Winter Goose Publishing). Fault Lines, Tremors, Perturbations, Rude Awakenings and The Remission of Order will be published by Winter Goose Publishing; Conditioned Response (Nazar Look); Resonance (Dreaming Big Publications).

His novels include: Extreme Change (Cogwheel Press), Flawed Connections (Black Rose Writing) and Call to Valor (Gnome on Pigs Productions). Acts of Defiance will be published by Dreaming Big Publications, Sudden Conflicts by Lillicat Publishers and State of Rage by Rainy Day Reads Publishing.

His short story collection, A Glimpse of Youth was published by Sweatshoppe Publications. Now I Accuse and other stories will be published by Winter Goose Publishing.

His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.

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WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Another View of Woodstock”

In keeping with our philosophy of seeking to publish stories that are both well-written and different, this one certain qualifies on both counts. The down-to-earth characters provide an excellent backdrop for this behind-the-scenes story of Woodstock that rings true. Author Gary Beck doesn’t say whether it’s total fiction or whether he had some insights into the real story.

We recently read that if you remember Woodstock, then you weren’t there. We can say that this was not the case for Roy Cafferty. We can well imagine that many years later, Roy would recall his involvement in an event that at the time was just another job and that he never got to attend.