From Woodstock to Wall Street
Real Money, Aug 18, 2014 | 9:00 AM EDT
- What a long, strange trip it has been.
Well I came across a child of God, he was walking along the road
And I asked him tell where are you going, this he told me:
Well, I’m going down to Yasgur’s farm, going to join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land, set my soul free.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.
— Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock” (this performance will give you chills)
Forty-five years ago this morning I and about 400,000-500,000 others (which included my pals Dennis Gartman and Larry Kudlow!) were at the last day of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York. The weekend was serendipitous and unexpected. At its peak Woodstock was the third most populated town in New York state.
The previous week I had quit a job at Camp Chipinaw on Swan Lake to attend the festival with my girlfriend Toby.
We spent five days on a blanket fairly close to the stage. We bathed in the nearby lake and survived on sunflower seeds, some fruit, stale rolls, bottled water and plenty of marijuana.
“This is the second time we’ve ever played in front of people, man. We’re scared xxxxless.”
— Stephen Stills at Woodstock
At around 4:00 a.m. Crosby, Stills & Nash had just completed singing “Marrakesh Express” and were in the middle of their set. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were so unknown that they had to introduce themselves at the beginning of their Woodstock appearance. Woodstock was only the group’s second live performance — the first live appearance was two days before Woodstock began at a Chicago gig with Joni Mitchell. (Joni Mitchell missed Woodstock, watched the accounts on television and instead appeared on “The Dick Cavett Show” during the weekend.)
The air was filled with the stench of cannabis and cheap wine.
There was no sleeping throughout Sunday night as we were serenaded by an extraordinary nonstop barrage of musicians that continued through Monday morning.
- Joe Cocker started Sunday afternoon’s music with a little help from his friends in The Grease Band.
- After Cocker concluded a two-hour thunderstorm disrupted the concert, and at about 7:00 p.m. Country Joe and the Fish ripped it up and finished with a seminal song that captured the gestalt and became something of a national anthem of the 1960s, “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag.”
- Alvin Lee and Ten Years After gave us their spoonful and ended with their classic “I’m Coming Home.”
- The house band and local Woodstock residents, The Band pulled into Nazareth at about 10:00 p.m.
- At midnight Edgar and Johnny Winter told the truth and finished with “Johnny B. Goode.”
- The early morning began at about 1:00 a.m. with Blood, Sweat & Tears spinning their wheels.
- Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young began their acoustic set at 3:00 a.m.
- The Paul Butterfield Blues Band delivered a morning sunrise.
- Sha Na Na, who were paid only about $350 for their gig (the briefest of the concert), were at the hop and ended the morning music by 8:00 a.m. with “Get a Job.”
- The final act (and the longest set) was Jimi Hendrix at 9:00 a.m. He was paid the most of any performer ($32,000). His “Star Spangled Banner” was widely considered among the best performances of the festival. “Hey Joe” ended the concert.
“But when I played Woodstock, I’ll never forget that moment looking out over the hundreds of thousands of people, the sea of humanity, seeing all those people united in such a unique way. It just touched me in a way that I’ll never forget.”
— Edgar Winter
The party was still going on, and the traffic congestion was so terrible that many, including myself, stayed on for another two or three days.
Years later I played squash at the Princeton Club in New York City with Joel Rosenman, and weeks later learned from him that he, along with Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld and John Roberts, was one of the founders of the Woodstock Festival. Blackstone’s Byron Wien is good friends with Joel, and he put us back in touch with each other last spring after reading “My Pilgrimage to Warren Buffett’s Omaha,” which mentioned that after having gone to the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, I found myself in a unique sort of symmetry 44 years later attending the “Woodstock of capitalism” — small world.
All weekend I was in wonderment about the changes in my life over the past four and a half decades.
- On Saturday, Aug. 16, 1969, Wavy Gravy warned me and the rest of the Woodstock crowd not to take the brown acid.
- On Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, my golf partner, the legendary Wall Streeter Peter Cohen, warned me not to swing my golf club too hard on the fifth hole at Noyac Golf Club in Sag Harbor, New York.
The memories of Woodstock linger on and conjured up a nostalgic feeling throughout the past weekend for me. At times, when viewing the YouTube videos of those original Woodstock performances I got goosebumps and, quite honestly, teary-eyed.
It was an age gone by. There were no cell phones 45 years ago and no selfies. Nor was any merchandise sold at Woodstock. A three-day pass cost $18 in advance, $24 at the gate. But by the second day there were no gates, as the concert was free.
To me Woodstock was both a demonstration of peaceful protest and a global musical celebration — considering that nearly 12% of the world is at war today, these are two things we need more of these days.
Over the years Woodstock has been romanticized, glorified and has become a final page in our collective memory of a different era, an age of innocence.
In a sense it was the last waltz of the decade of the sixties.
While I had already cultivated a great interest in the stock market for three or four years, I was still a year and a half away from getting my MBA at Wharton when I left Woodstock and Yasgur’s farm.
To be sure the capital markets have changed materially over the past 45 years. The DJIA stood at 825 back in 1969 vs. 16,660 today. The yield on the 10-year U.S. note was 6.70% vs. 2.35% this morning.
And 1969 was a momentous year.
- The first automatic teller machine in the U.S. was installed in my home town of Rockville Centre, New York.
- Wendy’s Hamburgers opened.
- Ralph Nader set up a consumer organization known as Nader’s Raiders (and I became one in 1971!).
- The Supreme Court ordered an end to all school desegregation “at once.”
- “Sesame Street” premiered on PBS.
- The Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” topped the Billboard music charts throughout much of the year.
- Oliver! won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
- The Beatles released and Abbey Road.
- The Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction was awarded to Norman Mailer for The Armies of the Night.
- The Who released the rock opera Tommy.
- “The Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Hour” ended and so did the show Cabaret (after 1,166 performances).
- “Hee Haw” premiered on CBS, and Oh! Calcutta! opened on Broadway.
- The Rolling Stones released “Honky Tonk Women.“
- Rod Stewart joined Small Faces.
- Hello Dolly with Barbra Streisand opened.
- The New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl, and Joe Namath was named MVP.
- Mario Andretti won the Indianapolis 500.
- Mickey Mantle’s No. 7 jersey was retired by the New York Yankees.
- Joe Frazier knocked out Jerry Quarry for the heavyweight championship of the world.
- Muhammad Ali was convicted for refusing induction in U.S. Army on appeal.
- Rod Laver won the second U.S. Open in tennis and completed his second grand slam.
- Hundred-to-one shot New York Mets beat the Baltimore Orioles to win the sixty-sixth World Series in five games.
- The New York Times reported that Curt Flood planned to sue baseball and challenge the reserve clause.
- Kansas City outfielder Lou Piniella was voted AL Rookie of Year.
- Richard Nixon was inaugurated as President (and proclaimed he would end the Vietnam War by 1970), and Golda Meir became the first female Prime Minister of Israel.
- Warren Burger was confirmed as Chief Justice on the Supreme Court.
- Edward Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving scene of an accident a week after the Chappaquiddick car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne.
- The U.S. Army announced the investigation of William Calley for the alleged massacre of civilians at the Vietnamese village of My Lai.
- The U.S. Army conducted its first draft lottery since World War II.
- Apollo 9 was launched (and came safely back to Earth), and the Boeing 747 made its first commercial flight.
- The Manson Family committed the Tate-LaBianca murders.
- Tiny Tim and Miss Vicky got engaged.
- Jerry Lewis conducted only his fourth Muscular Dystrophy telethon.
From Woodstock to Wall Street: What a long, strange trip it has been.