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Sep. 21, 2019 | Saturday
Editorials and Opinions
Opinion: Woodstock: How I missed the greatest musical event in history
A youthful Ross Robinson, left, and his summer of ‘69 buddy Mike Aillet at the beach in Cape Cod. (Supplied)

In early June 1969, cool young people started talking about an upcoming weekend of peace, love and rock ‘n’ roll, with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Arlo Guthrie and other bands. Tickets were cheap and about 25,000 were expected to show up at a farm to “share the love.”

I guess I wasn’t cool. Working on Cape Cod, partying with new friends from around the States, who needed to travel anywhere?

In late May, I had borrowed my mother’s Dodge Dart and driven about 10 hours from St. Catharines to Dennisport on the Cape. My summer job as afternoon/evening manager of a casual and very busy restaurant was perfect, and great experience for a freshman at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. I was livin’ the dream, eh? We were serving about 1,200 meals on a good day, for fair prices to hungry tourists.

That summer, I learned the hard way that everyone has their own terms of reference and that “context” is important before making a decision. Life lessons, never to be forgotten.

The owner, a Cornell alum, owned a large house he rented to his management team each summer. This time, one Canadian and five Texans. Four of them had recently returned from Vietnam. They didn’t talk much about their time there. Mike Aillet, a helicopter sniper became my pal, and we spent most of our free time discovering the sand dunes and pubs of Cape Cod. He thought differently than I did about things. He had seen horror in ‘Nam.

We worked hard at the Pancake Man, suntanned hard on the beaches and partied hard wherever there was action.

In early August, the six of us spent a night in the Cape Cod slammer, after the local cops had taken us in after coming to our house for the third time in four weeks. Too much music, too late for some neighbours. We were each allowed one call from the pay phone: 25 cents. Aillet phoned for two pepperoni and mushroom pizzas, later delivered to our cell by a laughing cop who was stuffing a slice or two into his mouth.

I used my call to contact Judge Begora back in St. Catharines. I kinda’ knew his son Dennis. At 4:30 a.m., the judge wasn’t amused, but assured me it was just a misdemeanour, not a felony. “Obey the police, be respectful in court, pay the small fine and be quiet. And, take a few pictures of the six of you cuffed and in the paddy wagon. You won’t have a record.” That’s what we did.

A week later, our general manager Eric told us he had modified our work schedules, to give all of us three days off to “drive three or four hours to the concert near Woodstock.” Great excitement from the Texans and a half-dozen waitresses.

Didn’t rattle my chain a bit. “Eric, I’m not really into rock music, and, eight weeks ago I drove 10 hours from near there to get here to the Cape. I’m not up for 20 hours in a car, for a long weekend with a bunch of music.”

They left on Thursday. I stayed and covered some of their shifts at the Pancake Man. The television coverage was exploding.

Woodstock was big and making headlines, and even more people were deciding to go. Because the promoters couldn’t handle ticket-taking, it became a free concert.

It was a chaotic weekend that defined a generation. Jimi Hendrix was the highest paid performer, at $18,000. Joan Baez and Jefferson Airplane got $7,500 each. There were no toilets, very little food, lots of rain, lots of mud mixed with lots of excrement, and lots of peace and love. Fun, eh?

Over 400,000 people loved it. I was happily back on Cape Cod, working and sunning and funning. Not really paying attention to the amazing concert 10 hours away.

My roomies and the waitresses arrived home late Sunday night, after fighting traffic and inhaling funny smoke. They had all felt the love, exchanged peace signs, shared food, changed the world, and were disgustedly filthy from the mud.

”Yeah, Ross, it was a long six-hour drive back.”

“Guys, it was at least 11 hours each way.”

Eric got his road map out.

I finally said, “Oh, I thought it was in Woodstock, Ont., about an hour from St. Catharines.”

Lessons learned:

Each of us has our own terms of reference.

Seek context. As much context as possible, before making a decision.

Woodstock was voted the greatest musical event in history.

Still darn! I missed it.

Twenty years ago, I heard that my summer of ’69 buddy Mike Aillet had re-upped, and gone back to Vietnam. He was killed in a chopper crash.

We are so fortunate to live in Canada … in 2019.

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