When Woodstock Came To Texas

Reprinted with permission of The Dallas Morning News

By Henry Tatum
Published 08-16-1989


Bring up the lights. Pan across the ocean of people. Hit the theme music. "By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong and everywhere a song and a celebration.' Now, fill the screen with that famous logo, the guitar with a bird of peace resting on the frets.

All in all, it's still an incredible show -- even two decades later. The 20th anniversary of Woodstock this week has prompted just about every magazine from Life to Rolling Stone to try to figure out what it was, what it meant, why it happened and how it affected the nation.

All the familiar photographs have been printed again showing the Who; Jimi Hendrix; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Sly and the Family Stone; and others playing to an audience that was larger than the population of Oklahoma City. Rain dripping from the musical instruments, mud covering the huddled crowd, traffic backed up for miles, stoned dancers who neither knew nor cared where they were -- the scenes all come rushing back like a psychedelic dream sequence.

For those of us who were watching from Dallas in August 1969, news coverage of Woodstock shifted gears more rapidly than it has for any event before or since. Grim television journalists treated the first day of the festival as if they had been airlifted to a town demolished by a tornado.

They spoke about the awful weather conditions, the lack of food and medical supplies and the clogged highways that had "trapped' the crowd. The steady drone of gloomy news continued until the reporters actually took time to see what was happening. Wait a minute. These kids are having fun. Everybody is cooperating. Nobody has been killed. Hey, peace and love.

The young and somewhat inexperienced reporting staff at The Dallas Morning News was following the happenings at Max Yasgur's 600-acre farm in upstate New York with considerably more interest than the casual viewer. In just two weeks, we were going to be covering the next "Woodstock' -- the Texas Pop Festival.

By the time we got to Lewisville, we were 100,000 strong and everywhere a song of consternation. Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? But in the closing days of the '60s, this was going to be our last opportunity to capture the thoughts and feelings of a whole generation. The press was ready to pull out all of the stops.

Our arrival at the festival site on the grounds of the old Dallas International Speedway quickly let us know this wasn't going to be like Woodstock. The crowds were orderly. There were enough restrooms and food stands. Private security and volunteers patrolled the area, lessening the opportunity for angry confrontations between long hairs and law officers. The sound system was spectacular. And if anything, the lineup of entertainers was superior to the one at Woodstock.

The reporting team filtered out among the audience and into nearby Lewisville, getting local color. Were residents of the community disturbed that they had been invaded by freaks? No, the only thing that bothered them was that some of the hippies were swimming nude in Lake Lewisville and attracting a crowd of gawkers.

I spent my time with a fellow who identified himself as "Wavy Gravy,' the leader of the Hog Farm commune. Wavy said he was there to help kids come down from bad LSD trips. Dressed in a Day-Glo flight suit and a floppy Gabby Hayes hat, he looked more like a bad LSD trip than someone who would be capable of warding one off. But his actions throughout the first night proved he knew what he was doing.

Entertainment promoter Angus Wynne III, who had gambled just about everything on the Texas Pop Festival, wandered around backstage with a fixed smile of exhaustion on his face. His expression didn't even change when Janis Joplin announced onstage that someone had stolen her harmonica in a stream of four-letter words that would have embarrassed Eddie Murphy.

But his mood turned dark when the headlines in the newspapers the following day focused on drugs at the concert and said little about the entertainers. Angus was convinced that reporters had determined in advance what the stories were going to be and were simply filling in the blanks with quotes.

In retrospect, he probably was right. We were so filled with the mythology that already was forming around Woodstock, it was impossible not to try to re-create that same image for this massive gathering near the banks of Lake Lewisville.

A knife slaying at an outdoor concert in Altamont, Calif., a few months later ended the public's innocent outlook toward these festivals. Woodstock became the definitive statement of a generation and time. But for a fleeting 72 hours that have been forgotten by many, Texas showed how it really should have been done.

Henry Tatum is associate editor of The Dallas Morning News editorial page.

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