Less than a month after the first Americans landed on the moon, more than 400,000 people gathered at New York State dairy farm.
Both events that occurred a half-century ago left quite an impact on global culture.
On Friday, the latter event — Woodstock — was recalled by a modest gathering at the Twin Beach Library. The presentation, “Memories of Woodstock and ‘60s Music,” featured two speakers. North Beach resident Trudy Morgal, who rode the famous Light bus from Baltimore to Bethel, N.Y., shared her accounts of how she got to Woodstock, what happened there and the long postscript kept alive by documentarians, photographs and even by a very expensive toy. The other presenter was former Chesapeake Beach resident and author Mark R. Millikin, who has written a book on his recollections of the impact 1960s music had on youth growing up in Maryland.
Twin Beach Library Branch Manager Joanie Kilmon noted the amazing time distance between Woodstock and today. Holding up a copy of the latest issue of AARP Magazine, Kilmon pointed out that Carlos Santana is on the cover. The quintessential Woodstock survivor, Santana continues to perform live and record music.
Morgal, who was in her early 20s in 1969, was the lead vocalist for a band called Light. The group was the house band at a Baltimore club called Mardi Gras. When the group caught wind of the huge music festival planned in New York featuring many of the rock acts whose music they covered, they decided to go. The announced artists — including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin — “were already famous,” said Morgal. “That’s why we went.”
The band members traveled to the festival in a 1963 Volkswagen bus with an eclectic exterior designed and painted by Dr. Bob Hieronimus.
Despite almost being turned away by police, the bus made it onto the festival grounds. Historical accounts of the Woodstock phenomenon state that the event organizers anticipated a crowd of about 200,000. The long-standing final estimate is double that number. “It grew, and it grew,” said Morgal, who noted the three-day event was challenged by rain and heat. “It got hot and muddy. People were always coming and going.”
One moment Morgal remembers was the arrival of Janis Joplin. “We saw her coming in hanging out of a helicopter,” she recalled. One split-second she doesn’t remember, however, has given those who weren’t there or are part of the generations following Woodstock a visual of the event’s very essence. A photographer for Associated Press took a picture of Morgal and Light’s band leader sitting atop the bus. The image has appeared in several Woodstock retrospectives — books, magazines and film documentaries.
Morgal also brought to the presentation arguably the coolest show and tell item ever.
A Chinese toy company made a replica of the Light bus. According to Morgal, the bus cost $300, and only 3,000 of them were made. Of that, only 1,000 were sold in the United States. The toy bus was rolled out a decade ago to commemorate Woodstock’s 40th anniversary.
In answer to a question from the audience about whether she gets any royalties, Morgal replied, “No. Just oohs and aahs.”
During his presentation, Millikin gave an overview of his new book, “The Joy and Heartache of Our 1960s Music.”
Growing up in Baltimore County, Millikin experienced the days when FM radio was just starting to assert its domination over the standard AM. “We had a lot of genres in the 1960s that we didn’t have in the 1950s,” said Millikin.
Those genres included rockabilly, the sounds of the mid-1960s British Invasion, Memphis soul and Motown. Teenagers rallied around and danced to music covers performed by live bands at youth dances.
Millikin explained that much of the “heartache” came from the untimely deaths of so many music icons, like Hendrix and Joplin. He told The Calvert Recorder, that, in his opinion, the most regrettable passing was the death of soul singer Otis Redding in late 1967.
Redding’s touring plane crashed into Lake Manona just months after he gave an energetic performance at the Monterey Pop Festival and just days after he recorded “Dock of the Bay.” That song became Redding’s biggest hit. “He was just coming into his own,” Millikin lamented.
The author also gave the audience a reason to participate, quizzing them with a Name that Tune game and inviting them to “Twist Again” with a Chubby Checker recording.
Millikin, who now resides in North Carolina, also signed copies of “The Joy and Heartache of Our 1960s Music” following the event.