Pete Seeger & the Elephant at Woodstock ( part a )

Somewhere, there is a numerologist who had connected to the poetry of numbers and concluded that the 40 th anniversary of Woodstock and the 90 th birthday of Pete Seeger is of statistically coincidental relevence and that the two added together, form the number 13. Thirteen, symbolizing Karmic debt which requires a concentrated and disciplined effort to overcome recurring, and often chronic and burdensome obstacles.In particular, 13 represents ”all or nothing” through transformation pertaining to regeneration or regeneration. Symbolic death and rebirth is strongly associated to thirteen. Even the great psychics and reclusive mystics of thirteen century Europe could not have forseen the impact both would have while playing with their gematria.chaucer3

Its fortunate that ”The Road to Woodstock” by Michael Lang has been published, perhaps as Shakespeare might have said, better to have been written than not written at all. However, it remains very much an ”I’, endeavour with its companion the ”Ego” thumbing a ride to upstate New York, acting as valet to the presumptious subtitle ” from the man behind the legendary festival”. Like the film Rashomon by Kurosawa, the reader is to be confronted with a bewildering array of truths told from diverse angles showing different sides of the same individual. Vibrating camera angles of the handheld artisan variety. Yet the reader is not entirely equipped to verify the veracity of the assertions. 

In this respect, the Lang’s book is more a table setter, at least doing some descriptive justice as to the actual actors there at that time but without doing much delving into their characters; raising issues, but not wringing their importance out to the last drop. One aspect that is sorely wanting is the important role played by women in realizing the project. To Lang’s credit we are at least presented with a portrayal of women organizers and support staff who were probably underpaid and unheralded but without which the festival would have been much less, perhaps twigstock.seeger1

The elephant in the room, however is Artie Kornfeld whose presence and breadth lends credence that Lang’s book is an attempt to make the room bigger, more of a warehouse, a Woodstock factory outlet which ultimately dilutes a content which is intricate, detailed and immensly rich in history and contexts to which a deeper and more profound recounting would be appreciated. No Kornfeld No Woodstock. We have a Road to Woodstock , which began long before as a footpath cut through the brush and there is a road after Woodstock, their legacy to a younger generation badly in need of points of reference, and a reliable compass, to be deemed worthy inheritors; as Woodstock is about those who follow as much as those who were there; not a woodstock generation in isolation , but one connected to positive social changes; a realization of the famous ”thinking outside the box”.

Manuscript, John Lydgate

Manuscript, John Lydgate



Where did this tale begin. A first step, tentative, then with consitent regularity, could be surmised to arise from Geoffrey Chaucer’s ”Canterbury Tales” . Chaucer ( 1342-1400 ) identified the theme of pilgrimage composed of characters from differing social standings and arranged their narratives within a framework which would expand on multiple rhetorical forms and linguistic styles within a diversity of narratives and compositional styles. This format of companionship and voyage would see the established structure collapsed and folding into a platform of free and open exchange between his characters.

-caption alignright" style="width: 496px">John William Waterhouse,A Tale From The Decameron

John William Waterhouse,A Tale From The Decameron



”Chaucer lived through a time of incredible tension in the English social sphere. The Black Death, which ravaged England during Chaucer’s childhood and remained widespread afterward, wiped out an estimated thirty to fifty percent of the population. Consequently, the labor force gained increased leverage and was able to bargain for better wages, which led to resentment from the nobles and propertied classes. These classes received another blow in 1381, when the peasantry, helped by the artisan class, revolted against them. The merchants were also wielding increasing power over the legal establishment, as the Hundred Years War created profit for England and, consequently, appetite for luxury was growing. The merchants capitalized on the demand for luxury goods, and when Chaucer was growing up, London was pretty much run by a merchant oligarchy, which attempted to control both the aristocracy and the lesser artisan classes.”

Another beginning may have been with Artie Kornfeld’s mother, Shirley. The historical impact of Shirley Kornfeld is not to be underestimated. Kornfeld’s forthcoming book,“Spirit of the Woodstock Nation”  pays honorable tribute to Shirley Kornfeld, who played a major role in the Civil Rights movement. She is the creator of the freedom rides and telethons for The Congress of Racial Equality. Contained within the book is a letter from the president of C.O.R.E. stating that without Shirley Kornfeld, the integration of American schools would have been pushed back 30 years.

The issues of race, consumerism and militarism are interconnected and crystalized an articulation of what Kornfeld would justly term ”the Woodstock spirit” which would outlive three days and continues to elicit reflection as an artistic, cultural and now viral study which requires a stripping away of Woodstock as ”phenomenon” or what Guy Debord would refer to as ”Spectacle” or more vulgarly as a ”culture industry”.

”Woodstock started for me when we moved to North Carolina, and I saw the hatred,” says Kornfeld, who recalls giving his bus seat to an African-American woman who, by law, should have gone to the back, and having the police called on both of them. It was an experience “that enraged me,” said Kornfeld. Or, perhaps that road to Woodstock was helped by Kornfeld’s wife Linda who suggestion of a rural, rustic and pastoral setting cinched the event: ” The two ( Lang and Kornfeld ) dreamed up a concert involving the giants of the day, like The Who and the Beatles, perhaps at a Broadway theater, but Kornfeld’s wife, Linda, suggested they do it on a farm.”

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