August 15 marked 50 years since Woodstock, when an estimated 400,000 young people flocked to the fields of a dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y. Most had no idea they were making history by watching their favorite bands hit the stage at the music festival.
Those teens and 20-somethings are now in their 60s and 70s. They have children and grandchildren who have asked them to share their memories of the event, which was conceived as “three days of peace and music,” for class history projects.
Two of those festival-goers were Marla Luckhardt, who lived in Island Park at the time, and Bernie Hirschhorn, who moved to Oceanside from Brooklyn 27 years ago.
“We didn’t really realize how historical it would become,” Luckhardt said. “We just knew that Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and anybody who was anybody in those days would be there.”
Luckhardt, 18, had just graduated from Oceanside High School. She asked her mother if she could attend the outdoor concert in the Catskills. The response was “Absolutely not,” Luckhardt recalled.
Nonetheless, Luckhardt stayed at a friend’s house in Oceanside, and they decided to take off one afternoon, a few days before the craziness began.
“We got there, and we had no idea where we were — it was pitch black,” she said. “So we took out our sleeping bags and said, ‘We’ll deal with this tomorrow.’”
When she and her friends woke up, they realized they’d slept in a cemetery. They left their car and walked toward the large stage and a sea of people. As it turned out — for Luckhardt and many thousands of others — “We didn’t come very prepared,” as she put it.
The multitude included Hirschhorn, who was 23 at the time and got a ride with friends to Bethel. Once they arrived, Hirschhorn split up with them for what he thought would be a minute. He never found them again at the festival, and he spent the next two days with nothing but the clothes on his back, a towel and the support of the people around him.
“Once people got lost in that crowd, it was impossible to find them again,” he said. “It was such a crushing mass of humanity, and once you gave up your spot, you couldn’t find your way back. Almost everybody just stuck where they were.”
But he wasn’t alone. At Woodstock, people shared everything. “It was a very communal attitude,” Hirschhorn said. “If someone was thirsty, someone said, ‘I have water here!’”
“It was surreal . . . unusually unique,” Luckhardt added. “People shared food, stories, blankets, whatever they had. No fights.”
Luckhardt said she received food from the Hog Farm, which dropped food down from helicopters, and waited on long lines for porta-potties and telephone booths. She laughed, remembering that her mother had asked a friend to fly a helicopter over to see if she was OK. (He declined.)
The weekend brought a mix of sweltering heat and pouring rain. The music made it all worth it, though, Luckhardt and Hirschhorn agreed.
Luckhardt especially remembered the first performer, Richie Havens, whom she met years later at a concert in Berkeley, Calif., and Jimi Hendrix. Hirschhorn said he fondly recalls performances by Ravi Shankar, whom he was most excited to see, and Arlo Guthrie.
Otherwise, he can’t recollect which artists he saw, since he left after two days due to the “physically brutal conditions.” He hitched a ride to a subway station in the Bronx, where he caught a train back to Brooklyn. He was happy to be home and to use a clean bathroom, but still glad he had experienced Woodstock.
“It was very much a part of my life experience in that time, coming of age in the ’60s,” Hirschhorn said, noting that he was an activist against the Vietnam War. He now has two children in their early 30s, Andrei and Cybele, both graduates of Oceanside High.
Not long after his adventure at Woodstock, Luckhardt moved into an apartment with friends in Oceanside. She now lives in northern California, and writes a column for a local paper. One of her latest was “My memories of Woodstock,” in which she wrote, “The respect, love and human kindness is a memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”