Pubdate: Sat, 15 Aug 2009
Source: Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA)
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Newspaper group
Author: Josh Grossberg


It's been 40 years since a half-million golden children of God trekked
to Max Yasgur's soggy farm in upstate New York.

Forty years since they painted flowers on their faces, avoided the
brown acid and danced in the mud to the likes of Janis and Jimi and
Richie and Ravi.

They're in their 60s now, those aging hippies who swarmed the remote
swath of open space in Bethel, New York, but for many of the South Bay
residents who were at what was officially known as the Woodstock Music
& Art Fair 40 years ago this weekend, the glow of those magical three
days still lingers.

"Looking back," said Moe Gelbart, a Rolling Hills Estates
psychologist, "I'm so happy I went."

Gelbart and his lifelong friend Stan Katzer drove to the event from
their East Coast homes in Gelbart's new Chevrolet Camaro. In a move
that Gelbart shakes his head about now, the pair abandoned the car
several miles from the festival because the huge influx of cars
overwhelmed the area's roads.

"I wouldn't do it today or let my kids do it," he said. "But
everything was stopped on the throughway. We just stopped the car and

An act of foolishness perhaps, but Gelbart said an air of innocence
was one of the things that made the event so special.

"Everybody got along," he said. "They were singing and dancing. It was
all spontaneous. There was a sense that people can get along. We
didn't live in the time of guns and violence and gangs. People flashed
peace signs and went their own way."

Gelbart and Katzer, a Palos Verdes Estates resident who works in the
entertainment industry, had just returned from a trip to Europe, where
they had seen another famous '60s event: the Rolling Stones performing
in Hyde Park.

"It still to this day fascinates me how well-behaved everybody was,"
he said about Woodstock. "There was a lot, what should I say, there
was the smell of marijuana. But everybody was peaceful - not one
fight, not one argument."

Sure, the weekend of peace and music and sticking it to The Man
morphed into a lifetime of jobs, mortgages, families and becoming The
Man. But 40 years ago, they wore their hair long and their jackets

"I had thick curly hair and a Fu Manchu mustache," Katzer said. "We
slept in fields."

The duo were perhaps a little more square than some of the other
freaks and flower children. Drugs were something they both avoided.
Gelbart's clinic does a lot of work with people who suffer from drug
dependencies. And he's seen the darker side of his generation's
excesses: He's lost a few friends to drug use.

"It was a crazy time," Gelbart said. "I personally wasn't involved
with the craziness of it. People were walking around with handfuls of
LSD. I did not partake in that. I was a middle-of-the-road hippie."

They may not have realized it at the time, but they were taking part
in what would become a turning point in American music and youth cultures.

"We didn't know it was that big a deal," Gelbart said. "It was a

Sure it was a blast. For people who were there, it was something much

"It's not just Woodstock the concert," said the 61-year-old Gelbart.
"It was the capping of years of greatness and idealism. It was the
celebration of years of work and capped by the most incredible music
of that time."

Coming at the end of the turbulent 1960s, Woodstock represented the
culmination of something special to a generation of kids who were just
coming of age.

"It's almost like we lived the real American dream," Gelbart said.
"America was built by people following their dreams and ideals. And we
did that. And we turned out great. We're happy. We had kids. We became
lawyers and doctors."

Katzer said one of the proudest moments of his life was when his
father defended youngsters like him.

"I was so proud of him, a tear comes into my eye. He got into an
argument with a guy talking about those disgusting-looking hippies.
That really touched me."

For Westchester resident Marie McNeely, Woodstock stood in sharp
contrast to her conservative upbringing.

"It wasn't an element my father wanted me to associate with," she
said. But like so many others, she headed to the concert on a whim.

"About seven or eight of us piled into a VW bus," she said. "I enjoyed
being with different people."

The 60-year-old McNeely, who also saw the Beatles at their famous Shea
Stadium concert a few years earlier, said the time was ripe for a
youthful revolution.

"Maybe it was our way of rebelling," she said. "Nixon was in office.
People were fed up with the government and the lies of Vietnam. It was
a year after Robert Kennedy was shot."

The experience has resonated throughout her life.

"I think it changed me in that I grew up in a small town the size of
Torrance," she said. "It made me realize there are different worlds
out there. I moved here a year later, which was quite a culture shock."

Bernie Friedman of Hermosa Beach was supposed to meet a group of
friends at the festival. He never found them and wound up staying with
a group of strangers.

"There were people in my tent," he said. "I unzipped it and said,

Lou? Steve?' And I heard, 'No, this is John, Carol and Artie.' They
said they had nowhere to stay. So I let them stay in my tent. We
camped out that night."

Now that they're in their AARP years, the Woodstock generation has had
to face the fact that their own children might want to do things that
they find alien.

McNeely doesn't have kids, but she thought about what should would
tell her nieces and nephews.

"I would say to the kids today, 'Be yourself as long as you're not
hurting someone else."'

Katzer, however, said he would have another message if his 21-year-old
daughter or 19-year-old son decided to leave their car by the roadside
and join the fun.

"Forget it," he would tell them. "You're not going."
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