Author recalls events leading to Woodstock festival

TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - Without Elliot Tiber there may have never been a Woodstock music festival.

Elliot Tiber is seen in this undated handout photo. In his autobiography "Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert and a Life" Tiber, 72, described the events that preceded the festival 38 years ago. REUTERS/Handout

The legendary concert in 1969 that attracted almost 500,000 people and became a symbol of the 1960s counterculture almost didn’t happen.

Tiber had hosted a music concert at his parents’ motel in White Lake, New York for 10 years but only a handful of people ever showed up.

So when he heard that Michael Lang, an organizer of the original Woodstock Music and Art Fair, had been barred from holding his festival in a nearby community, Tiber says he offered him his concert permit, and introduced him to Max Yasgur who owned the land where it was held.

In his autobiography “Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert and a Life” Tiber, 72, described the events that preceded the festival 38 years ago.

He spoke to Reuters about his involvement with the event that began on August 15 and the famous people, including Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, he met while living in Manhattan in the 1960s.

Q: What was your involvement with the Woodstock festival?

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A: “If not for me there wouldn’t have been one. When Woodstock was thrown out of the other towns ... because local townspeople were afraid of hippies, drug addicts and gays all coming to their little towns I had my permit.

“I showed (Lang and his associates) the land, which was really swamp and mud and was unsuitable, and they were about to leave. And so I said, ‘My friend and neighbor Max Yasgur ... he has hundreds of acres.’ And we went to look at the farm and they saw this huge, big open space and had one big collective orgasm.”

Q: What was the high and what was the low of the concert?

A: “Looking back on it, it was all high. The low at the time was the mud and the rain and no food and no water and no toilets left. The big high was that there’s a five-mile lake near White Lake. The music hit the lake like a sounding board and you could hear every song, every syllable, clear as day from my grounds, which were four miles away.

Q: In the book, you detail encounters with various well-known American authors and artists. How did knowing these cultural icons affect your life?

A: “It opened up a whole new life that you didn’t have to hide. You weren’t rejected. Everybody wanted everybody. It was before AIDS and I didn’t feel fat and ugly. I wasn’t, but that’s how I always felt because my mother always told me I was.

“It opened up my eyes and my heart to finding myself and functioning as an individual rather than fitting into being a rabbi the way my mother wanted.”

Q: What are your thoughts on the larger impact of Woodstock on society and history?

A: “It was all Vietnam and the man on the moon. We replaced Vietnam in the headlines. We replaced the man on the moon. When peace and music can replace the fortune spent on going no place in space, and the fortunes spent on the war machines -- replace it with peace and music even though it was only three days -- to me that was a major, major happening.

“And it should be happening again. There will never be another (music festival) like Woodstock -- never. The idea of peace and music is a much more important set of values than this endless war stuff going on. I wish there was another Woodstock now to replace the Iraqi war values that are out there.