Last Saturday, August 14, as Pete Townshend stood in a media tent on the onetime alfalfa field in Bethel, New York, where the 1969 Woodstock Festival was held, he remembered the original event without a trace of dewy-eyed nostalgia: "Everything other than the music, everything other than the actual gathering of people, turned out to be slightly flawed. There was suffering, difficulty and pain." He later added, "I wasn't using acid or smoking pot at the time. That was part of my dislocation from the festival. I suppose I sat there and sneered at everybody, really. I couldn't get into it."
Townshend seemed to be in a better frame of mind at the August 14-16 event billed as A Day in the Garden. Not only did he wrap up Saturday's 10-hour concert (which included Donovan, Lou Reed, and Joni Mitchell) with a banter-filled set of both solo and Who hits (such as "Behind Blue Eyes"), but he seemed truly upbeat about the experience. "The very fact that someone has bought this bit of land and wants there to be music here, it tells you a lot about what really was important about the original occasion," Townshend said, referring to cable-TV mogul Alan Gerry, who bought the 2,000-acre farmland with plans for annual summer concerts and a theme park. "What this is doing is honoring what was meant to happen back then, picking up the pieces."
The 20,000 or so adults and children who dotted the hillside on Saturday retained some pieces of the past. As booming bass notes shook the grass underfoot, scruffy hippies in tie-dye danced and puffed on hash pipes, and local merchants sold their handicrafts. But there was a new contingent too. Surveying the scene from portable lounge chairs, middle-aged concertgoers adjusted their pot bellies and sagging halter tops or hopped up to buy a $4.50 cappuccino from the concession stand. "If you don't have enough money," an emcee anounced between sets, "there's an ATM machine up on the side."
Though there were relatively few veterans of the original Woodstock among the 28,000 or so younger viewers who came to see Dishwalla, Joan Osborne, and Third Eye Blind on Sunday, the older performers on the two preceding days were clearly catering to adults with active musical memories. Donovan sang "Atlantis," "Hurdy Gurdy Man" and other old-time hits; Richie Havens played "Here Comes the Sun" and "Freedom," and had his guitarist recreate the Hendrix version of the "Star Spangled Banner"; and Lou Reed (who didn't perform at the original festival) opened with the classics "Sweet Jane" and "Vicious" before moving onto later compositions. Though Joni Mitchell performed comparatively recent songs, many of them seemed to comment on the social changes since the last Woodstock ("Black Crow" about avarice; "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" about millennial doom).
Called back for an encore, Mitchell admitted, "Well, I can't leave here without playing the theme song." But before performing "Woodstock," which she wrote without actually attending the first festival, she mentioned a few of the changes between now and then. "One of the hippie values I still adhere to is the Rainbow Coalition," she said. "But free love? We know there's no such thing now. Pay later, always."