Dance to the Music by
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(153 Stories)

Prompted By Woodstock

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I heard about Woodstock after it happened. It took place during the last weekend of my last summer at the National Music Camp. I was in the northern woods of Michigan with almost no access to the outside world. I was busy performing the final concert of Operetta: we sang songs of Irving Berlin and I won my third and last Operetta Chorus Award. Dude Stephenson and “Father” Ken Jewell sang “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody”. We campers (who adored both men) were entranced.

With several others, I sang “There’s No Business Like Show Business”. None of us had Ethel Merman’s monumental voice, but we sure had fun singing it. One of my best friends sang “How Deep is the Ocean”. The songs were gorgeous. My dad took photos from the bleachers.

Singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business”

The last night of camp Les Preludes is always performed. Other music is also part of that last World Youth Symphony concert, but the concert ends with the performance of Liszt’s tone poem, with massed orchestras, choirs and dancers all performing at the very end. We, in choir, hum the last few measures, which culminates in a high C. Mel Larimer, who had been my choir director since Intermediate Division, five summers at that point, always called it “murder on the high C” (get the joke?).  It didn’t matter if we sopranos could hit the note because by that point, everyone was sobbing. It was the custom. The program explained that the last concert of the season ended with something that translated to “the beginning” as we were going back to our homes, beginning our lives renewed with our artistic commitment. Lovely sentiment.

I heard about this big, boisterous, music festival in a different part of the country (at this point in my life, I had never been on an airplane) when I returned to high school in the fall. A few people at school talked about it. I knew the music of most of the musicians who performed there. Despite all my mother’s objections, I loved pop and rock music and listened to it on the radio in my bedroom when my door was closed. I particularly liked the folkies, but loved to dance to the other music; I LOVE to dance. So, as I thought about this prompt, I looked through my albums (yes, I still have albums). I have five Judy Collins albums. She and Joan Baez were the queens, as far as I was concerned.

Joni Mitchell was a gifted singer-songwriter. She turned down the offer to perform at Woodstock and wrote the definitive song while watching the TV coverage, realizing what a mistake she had made. Bob Dylan actually lived in Woodstock, but had contracted long ago to perform far away, so missed this life-altering event.

I learned about Woodstock mostly from Joni’s song and the movie documentary.

I knew and loved most of the musicians, but only bought some of the albums. Crosby, Stills, Nash (and even Young for the second album; by the way, everyone should see the David Crosby documentary available right now).  I like the first album better. 

But what an amazing collection of musicians played over three unruly days! Though some died young, they came to define the sound of my generation.

Years later, when my future husband came into my life, I learned that his then-15 year old brother attended Woodstock. My husband still shakes his head in disbelief. “What were my parents thinking?” Gerry was the proverbial rolling stone, always a step ahead in his musical taste and apt to disobey. So off he went. He came home to Newton, MA in one piece with probably lots of stories. I never heard him speak of his experience.

I look at the documentary and am amazed at what transpired that weekend. It was a defining moment for the counter-culture movement and our generation. As a very straight 16 year old, I would not have wanted to be there, historic though it was, but I do love all the music. And seeing all those performers in their prime must have been EPIC!

 

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Tags: Interlochen, popular music, last weekend, folk rock

Comments

  1. What a great version of Woodstock-to-go. You missed the ambience but enjoyed the menu in the surroundings of your own life. Sounds as if you had a great time doing what you were doing! Oh, in terms of regrets, I knew a few folks who went. Most of them ended up working 24/7, trying to get food and water to the concert site and tending to the myriad cuts, broken bones, and bum trips in and around the field hospital tent(s?). I didn’t make it. I was in San Francisco doing shows in the parks and preparing for a tour. That was plenty exciting in [its] own write, to borrow from a famous bard of the times, John Lennon.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, Charlie, camp was very special to me. I made friends of a lifetime (I emailed this story to one this morning; she thanked me for the memories), I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, but still got to enjoy the music from Woodstock, so win-win. John Lennon said many things well.

  2. Marian says:

    Betsy, as you’ll see from my story, I too was taken with Joni Mitchell’s song. Because I lived in New Jersey, the festival was in driving distance, so it was especially frustrating not to be able to go. Your contrast between the Woodstock music and the show tunes show the inflection point of the generations.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Interesting point about show tunes and Woodstock music, Marian. I didn’t have to choose between, but I agree, it was an inflection point between the generations. The older did not understand the long hair or clothing of the younger and we claimed the music for our own. Thank you for pointing this out.

  3. Suzy says:

    Your picture in knickers and high socks singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business” really took me back to my Interlochen days. I remember when I was there having no idea what was going on in the outside world, so I’m not surprised you didn’t know about Woodstock. Thanks for posting those handwritten lyrics to Joni’s song, that was a nice touch. Ironic that she wrote the definitive song when she wasn’t even there!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Interlochen nostalgia, even if you didn’t like your camp experience! Believe me, it got better as you got older and had more independence.

      I’m glad you liked the lyrics. Since they were the part of how I learned about Woodstock, I thought I’d include them. I can clearly hear Joni’s voice in my head, but it’s nice to have the lyrics in front of me to follow along, so I thought others would appreciate them too.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Really enjoyed your story of Woodstock from afar, Betsy. It was a particular reminder of the spectrum of music we were — happily –exposed to at the time. It was not simply the hard rock/blues of Hendricks, etc., but also the folks songs of Joni Mitchell, Arlo and, in many ways, CS &N, too. That photo of Joni’s lyrics is amazing. And let us not forget that musicals were part of our heritage too. (FYI, “1776” won the Tony for best musical in 1969. An, in terms of the twain meeting, it is worth remembering that “Hair” debuted in 1967.)

    Also, thanks for so well speaking what I think a lot of us feel about Woodstock — I wouldn’t have liked to be there but, man, what music!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      It is true, John. A friend pointed out (and I have often thought) how remarkable that in my neck of the woods, the Beatles and Motown were equally as popular. We liked a wide variety of music and for me, Broadway and rock co-existed.

      I finally watched the PBS America Experience about Woodstock; I am more convinced than ever that I would not have wanted to be there!

      • John Shutkin says:

        Couldn’t agree more. I spent the weekend, having just finished my summer job, mainly basking in the sun on a beac towel at home listening to my transistor radio — equal parts Top 40 music, news about Woodstock and following the Mets’ “amazing” season. And a bit of tennis so as not to be entirely slothful. No regrets.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Betsy, I share your love of show music as well as the music of Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez , and Judy Collins. Crosby, Stills, Nash (and sometimes Young) were awesome and I still dance to that music, at least in my mind. You would probably enjoy the documentary Echo in the Canyon, produced and narrated by Jakob Dylan (Bob’s son). It’s a tribute to the California sound back then, some excellent dancing music: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-echo-in-laurel-canyon-documentary-20190525-story.html

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I saw Echo in the Canyon at the Santa Barbara Film Festival (the David Crosby documentary showed there as well, with Crosby doing a Q&A, but we missed it then, as it conflicted with the Super Bowl…being from New England now, we had to watch the Patriots win #6; we did get to see it this summer).

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