Photo Credit: Elliott Landy
The last-minute fixes were still going on all around me. More than 50,000 people already wandered onto the grounds days a couple of days ago, before I was even fully built. They got to watch the final touches. Even underneath me, I was wrapped tight so the audience couldn’t see and work was going on it as it would be throughout the event. It was a very close call to finish me on time, but when faced with the decision to either finish the stage or wrap up security around the site, they worked on me. And now, I was just about ready. The brilliant design called for me to have five set ups and a revolving floor as the next act would come on. That would have been terrific in that the time saved would have given the festival down time at the end of each night. Well, we all know the rain took care of that! It didn’t take long until people escaping the rain stood on the rolling casters on the back of the stage and they collapsed. The sensible changing that would have taken place on me became a brutal manual labor battle each time an act finished, the guys had to move the amps and other equipment by hand for every new band!
But we wouldn’t know that till tomorrow. For Friday afternoon, with people streaming onto the site from everywhere, I was impatient for things to get going. Sweetwater, the Jefferson Airplane-like psychedelic band, fronted by Nansi Nevins, was going to open the entire weekend. I couldn’t wait for them to be announced, walk out over me and begin this festival!
They hadn’t arrived yet and they wouldn’t get there in time. They were stopped by the police, along with tens of thousands of others, on the New York State Thruway.
When someone goes down, someone else has to step up and here was Richie Havens. He moved across the very identifiable paint marks on me, with the afternoon sun still shining in his eyes and people pouring into the festival from everywhere. Scheduled to go fifth that night, his trio took the stage right about five and just kept going!
He had done his 10 song-set, came back for some encores, including “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Hey Jude,” and had basically run out of songs to play. He ended his set with a variation on the old tune “Motherless Child” and called it “Freedom.” It not only held the crowd because of his intensity, but it gave the other performers a little more time to get there. It is remarkable that a song that didn’t even exist before he walked out would become his calling card and would catapult him to fame! I wasn’t the only iconic stage he would walk on that summer. Two weeks later he would be at the famous Isle of Wight Festival in England. But as the helicopters began to drop off performers into the night, each could thank Richie Havens for “holding the fort” as they got there.
After the invocation by Swami Satchidananda, Sweetwater finally was the first band to walk across me. Then, one by one, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie and Joan Baez took the stage. It started to pour during Shankar’s set. When The Incredible String Band refused to play in the rain that night, a rather frightened 22-year-old named Melanie came out to play instead. Feeling quite intimidated at first, her signature voice and her touching lyrics won 500,000 people over that night!
Day One finally wrapped at around 2 in the morning!
I made it through that one! The rest should be easy, I told myself.