Normally, I celebrate my birthday by going out to dinner with a friend or two. This year I celebrated a little early with 15,000 strangers. My birthday is August 19th, but on Saturday the 17th Lancaster hosted a free musical tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Woodstock Festival, and I decided to treat it as a birthday party.
The party was at Long’s Park, just a short 10-minute bus ride from my house. I’ve been there before, and I know that it is lawn seating. People bring blankets or those folding chairs that fit in a bag. I have a bad hip and I know that if I got down on the lawn, I might not be able to get up without help. So, to prepare for the event, I went and bought a folding chair. I also went to Subway and got a foot-long steak and cheese sandwich. They have a no alcohol policy at Long’s Park, so I made a half gallon of iced tea, which I stored in the freezer for a few hours, so it would stay ice cold all night. Then I went to the liquor store and bought some peach brandy in those little bottles you get on airplanes. I had no intention of going alcohol free at my birthday party, no matter what the park rules said. I have my own rules.
The concert started at 7:30, but I got there early to enjoy the sandwich and a “Lancaster Iced Tea.” The first thing I noticed was that there were a bunch of food trucks there, and most of them had cheese steaks, so next time I don’t have to bring food, just bring a chair and the contraband liquid refreshment. The spiked iced tea was perfect, by the way. I knew it would be. I experimented all week with different liquors and the peach brandy turned out to be my favorite mixer. (Vanilla brandy came in second.)
It was interesting watching the concertgoers arrive. It had to be the oldest crowd ever to attend a rock concert. Almost everyone had found a tie-dyed shirt somewhere in their closet for the occasion. Ladies had flowers in their hair and peace symbols and flowers painted on their faces. At the original Woodstock, Arlo Guthrie looked out at the crowd and made a comment, “Lotta freaks!” These people didn’t look freaky, at all, though. Lancaster has a half-dozen colleges and a dozen tattoo parlors. The average person on the street here looks 10 times freakier than anybody who was at the concert. The concert audience just looked like very normal people going to a 60’s costume party at the senior center.
By the time the concert began, I was well-fed and working on my third Lancaster Iced Tea. I only had one problem. This was the first time I used the new folding chair I just bought. It turned out to be very low to the ground. I still might need help getting out of it, especially if the peach brandy iced teas kept going down so smoothly.
Twenty-five musicians gathered from various local bands quickly shuffled in and out in different combinations to recreated non-stop sets of the Woodstock songs played by Sly & the Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Santana, Country Joe and the Fish, The Band, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and it ended with the Joe Cocker version of I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends. Then, they all came out on stage for the encore, Woodstock, a song written after the event to commemorate the festival.
I wasn’t surprised that the entire audience seemed to know all the words to the 50-year-old songs, but I was amazed at how incredibly well the musicians played these songs that were hits long before most of them were even born. They all sounded surprisingly like the original artists. When the producer’s wife, Patty Grabowski, came out to perform, I figured it was just a favor to his wife, and I wasn’t expecting much from her. Then, she nailed the Grace Slick songs White Rabbit and Somebody to Love. Later in the show, her daughter brought Janis Joplin back to life with outstanding renditions of Me and Bobby Magee and Piece of My Heart.
During the night they also recreated some of the stage announcements from the original Woodstock. They made a “public service announcement” to stay away from the brown acid, and that got a laugh from the crowd. The one that got the biggest laugh, though, was when the producer came out to solemnly inform the crowd that, “From now on, it’s a free concert.” Later, they acknowledged that because there were a handful of young people in the audience, they didn’t do the infamous “Gimme and F…” cheer before they performed the Country Joe & the Fish song, Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die, Rag. Also, the since the weather was beautiful, so there was no crowd chant of “NO RAIN…NO RAIN.”
Then came the moment of truth for me as the concert ended. I pushed on the arms of the chair and to my great surprise, I sprung to my feet with no problem. I guess the lubrication helped. Maybe I’ve found a new arthritis remedy. I better go get some more peach brandy before they make it a prescription drug.
Thank you, Lancaster, for a great birthday party.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,