Throwback Thursday, Woodstock Edition: Rumors of the Big One

Rumors. Sometimes that’s all you have to go on. Especially way back in the Stone Age sixties. No cell phones, no internet. No cable with five thousand meaningless channels. No YouTube, no Facebook. Just black and white television with three crappy stations. Or the radio, spitting static back at you like an angry cat. Still, I heard some good music. And you had the news, if you wanted to hear about Vietnam, but you could never stay ahead of the curve. Whatever shit was out there usually hit you in the face before you could react in time. If you were smart, you bought the rumors and sold on the facts—when the facts came out, it was already too late to get in on whatever big score you wanted to make.

I’d heard about a concert coming up. Rumors were rampant that this was going to be the mother of all concerts. I didn’t want to miss it—it’d be the big one. An earthquake of music and fun so seismic it’d blow the world away. Some of the bands supposedly signed were ones I loved, and longed to see: The Who, Ten Years After, Joe Cocker, Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Janis…and a whole lot more. Rumors of the Beatles and the Stones, Dylan. A once-in-a-lifetime experience. I had to act fast.

I planned to buy tickets the day they went on sale. But I had little money to afford such a luxury, and if I did, I’d have to send away for them with a check or a money order and wait until Nixon’s jowls shriveled up. Nothing was certain. In a month or two, they might write back and say, sorry, we’re sold out. Or your bank could reject the check due to insufficient funds. What made it even more of a dilemma—if I managed to get tickets—was that this mega concert was located all the way to hell and back, two thousand and some odd miles east in the boonies of New York State, out on a dairy farm owned by a man named Max Yasgur.

I worked as a stock boy at Cherry Creek Liquor Store in a high-rent district of Denver. Sven and another one of our friends, Pink Bear, were all co-workers. On weekends and after school you’d find us in the bowels of the store, surrounded by cases and cases stacked to the ceiling of fancy wine and every liquor known to mankind. When an order was called down from the sales floor above, we’d fill it, then send it up on the dumbwaiter.

I mistakenly believed I could save money for this rumored concert. Hell, I was gainfully employed. Trouble was, I hardly ever took home a decent paycheck. Cherry Creek Liquor Store was known as the place to buy fine wine, and we, being who we were, naturally got into the fermented grape juice. Not the Gallo gallon jugs that I actually preferred and could afford, but the good French stuff—Bordeaux and Burgundy, Cotes du Rhone, Bandol. So when payday rolled around every two weeks, instead of banking the money we made, we bought bottles of expensive French, Italian and Spanish wines which we got at wholesale—the perks of being a Cherry Creek employee. We stored our darlings in a crawlspace underneath our rental house. A real wine cellar fit for budding wine rats like us. You’d have to open a trapdoor and slither down into the dirt, flashlight in hand, pick out a bottle or two of wine in the Stygian dark, then slither back up again and change your shirt. We knew not to touch the good stuff. That, we had to age. All our money was tied up in good wines. Wine certainly wasn’t going to pay for our trip. Or was it?

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After much consternation and hair pulling, we decided to have a wine sale to make the money to get us to Woodstock and back again. We displayed our wares on our large dining room table, with extra cases below, out on the front lawn of our house. It was a bright, warm, sunny Sunday. We settled down at the table and waited for the droves of people we believed would soon be flocking to buy good, expensive French wine. We could have banked a grand, maybe more—if only we had waited. As the afternoon wore on and no one showed, we took off our shirts. Sven brought out some beer, and in no time we had finished it off. Pink Bear lit up a couple of joints and we passed those around, too. Panama Red. Life was good, and getting better. Then we ran out of beer and pot. Winter days like these didn’t grow on trees. It must have been in the high seventies, the temperature rising, and it was still early March. No one had any money to go on a beer run, and Haggis Altoona was out of town. The bottles arrayed on the table beckoned us to come forth for a tasting. I told myself and the others to wait. If you build it, they will come. If you drink it, they won’t.

Pink Bear couldn’t stand it any longer. He grabbed a bottle and uncorked it. A 1961 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classic. Easily the most expensive bottle on the table. My heart fell and soared at the same time. This was a wine I was itching to try, but one I wanted to save and open the day I got married—if I could ever get a girlfriend. The concert, if it happened, was months and thousands of away. I told myself I could always buy more wine and sell it. There’d be enough time. It probably wasn’t true, anyway. A festival like that could only be a pipedream. What was I thinking? Be here now.

After the Saint Emilion was downed, we opened others. Bandol, Saint Julian, an Italian Barolo drank in rapid succession. Friends stopped by and joined us, guzzling our fine vino. We didn’t have enough wine glasses to go around, so we starting drinking out of plastic cups. My senses became so dulled, I could have been drinking Almaden Rosé instead of Bordeaux. Annie Green Springs instead of Cotes du Rhone. Ripple instead of Barolo. Between quaffs we’d smoke the joints our friends had brought. Hell, it was the least they could do. The sun was high and we were high and everything felt high.

At five, when the sun went down, our French wine cellar looked like Vandals of the Void had descended upon us with axes and spears. Empty bottles lay strewn far and wide across the lawn. Crushed cases scattered in the wind. Friends passed out in the bushes. By now the rowdy party had reached a crescendo. The cheap stuff came out, the Gallo, and we ramped up the vibe again. Wine and marijuana—a perfect pairing, if ever there was one. At two in the morning, the cops paid us a visit and told us to cease and desist, immediately, or they’d arrest the lot of us. With my tail between my legs I sloughed off to bed.

A week later, the concert was announced. The name of the event: Woodstock. It was already sold out. I vowed to somehow get there, even if I had to hitchhike, walk, run or fly like a dodo bird. I couldn’t see it yet, but there had to be a way. Rumors, who needs them. I was desperate and ready to buy on the news.

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