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Monday, March 1, 2021

Woodstock 50 Years Later: Musician David Bromberg Meets Jerry Garcia

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JulieAnne Cross
JulieAnne Cross
JulieAnne Cross has built a career around making her home state a fun place to live, working with restaurateurs, festivals, artists and arts organizations to bring people together for good times.

The stage at Woodstock, August 1969. It rained throughout most of the 3-day concert. Photo by Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The fact that Woodstock celebrates its 50th anniversary this year has not been lost on the sixties rock lovers in our community who are kicking off two retrospectives next month. The Light up the Queen Foundation’s annual concert fundraiser on March 2nd will feature 50 esteemed local musicians who will Shine a Light on 1969. And for the first time, Graham Nash, writer of such songs as “Teach Your Children Well,” will perform at The Queen — on March 31.

With local anniversary celebrations underway, TSD’s JulieAnne Cross decided the time was right to track down a few Delawareans to ask them about the generation-defining music festival Woodstock. 50 Years Later, Delaware Woodstockers’ Memories Linger includes interviews with Bill Stevenson, the original owner of Delaware’s mega-popular concert venue, the Stone Balloon Ale House, and Wilmington native Charles Flaherty, who just happened to meet Jerry Garcia, ‘who was just wandering around looking for food.’

In her second installment, Cross takes us back to the summer of ’69, sharing memories of some Town Square Delaware neighbors who were among the hundreds of thousands who made their way up to the legendary upstate New York farm to become part of something historic.

David Bromberg Band, San Francisco, May 1974
Photo by Robert Altman

Helicopter Pranks and Magic Tricks

David Bromberg is among Delaware’s most famous residents. Philadelphian by birth, and raised in New York, this multi-instrumentalist, known for proficiency with a number of string instruments, as well as a singer and songwriter, has played with the likes of Willie Nelson, Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan. He co-wrote a song with George Harrison, “The Holdup.”

The 23-year-old Bromberg flew into Woodstock in a helicopter. He rode with Wolfman Jack, who thought it would be funny to push on Bromberg’s back, as he was perched near the aloft whirly-bird’s open door.

He was there to accompany folk singer-songwriter Rosalie Sorrels, who never made it to the stage at Woodstock.

Bromberg recalls many friends of his were on site, and he was doing a lot of people-watching. He believes it was the first time he met Jerry Garcia, during a rainstorm, when they were both in a tent. Not one to go somewhere uninvited, he can’t recall who invited him into the tent, but Bromberg and Garcia sat through the rainstorm playing guitar and having a great time. Video (Bromberg contradicts the video’s labeling, saying it is Sorrels singing in the video, not Mimi Farina [Joan Baez’s sister]) has surfaced of one of Bromberg’s experiences: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ld-g30MGJu4

Woodstock - Bromberg guitarist
A master guitarist, David Bromberg (here at the 2009 Philly Folk Festival) has played with the likes of Willie Nelson, Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan. Photo by Kim Sallaway.

A childhood hobby of prestidigitation (magic tricks) served Bromberg well at Woodstock.

He says, “I remember doing magic tricks for some people, including Janis Joplin. One of the things I did involved removing her wristwatch without her knowing and then I returned it to her. That was fun.”

He adds, “I don’t think I wandered around the grounds at all, I was backstage.”

Woodstock - Van Blarcom ticket
The late Bill Van Blarcom, past president of the Delaware Symphony, kept his Woodstock tickets as mementos

On Being Moved

Many people declined to go on record about their experiences. One local woman agreed to share her story, but only anonymously. Her story seems to reflect all three of the men’s experiences in one.

She says, “I will say that my memories of those three days are in black and white for some reason (documentary style?). The terrain was a sloppy mess from torrents of rain and swirls of mud. We were lucky to get on site as the New York State Thruway eventually was closed down and cars were stranded and left abandoned.”

“I remember being frightened and exhilarated at the same time and wanting desperately to connect, connect, connect to the palpable beat of the rising generation. Speaking of beat…I was so close to Janis Joplin that I believed our hearts were one.”

Woodstock - Van Blarcom poster
Van Blarcom also kept a framed poster listing all of the performers at Woodstock plus descriptions of the activities offered at the festival, which included an art show; crafts bazaar; poetry-writing, beaded necklace and clay workshops.

“As a seventeen-year-old and a recent high school graduate, I viewed Woodstock as an end to the turbulent national unrest that seemed to loom over my high school years and a symbol of the beginning of my individual identity. Woodstock seemed like an oasis from the dictates of the ‘Establishment’ who were sending our peers off to Vietnam; Woodstock was all about Love.”

“This sounds so corny, but when you have enough people of a certain age purporting love, sharing kindnesses and experiencing great music together, the paradigm shifts. I felt part of my beautiful generation…and alienated from my elders. I was young and didn’t do drugs or have sex…I think I might have been naked though. Maybe just a little.”

She remembers feeling confused by the older generation. “How could they do something so magnificent like getting a man to walk on the moon, and, seemingly at the same time, demonstrate such ill character as to walk away from a drowning girl [at Chappaquiddick]? Perhaps I conflated the time period but, in my memory, both news stories were vying for attention on network news.”

When she got to college the month after Woodstock, she decorated her room with quotations from Immanuel Kant, John Milton and the Sacred Texts of Lao-Tzu.

“I was seeking Truth. But, the cultural climate of Woodstock and a brief moment of hope dissipated and disintegrated into a fury of radicalism. The Kent State shootings happened in the spring of my freshman year.”

She dropped out of school and wandered the globe in search of connection.

“This really does sound a bit dramatic, but I sincerely believe that there was a promise in the air of Woodstock that summer. Of course, eventually, I made it back to college and stayed sequestered in a university setting but nothing could bring back the days of ‘splendor in the grass.’”

She concludes her experience by saying, “I feel lucky to have been at Woodstock, which was a manifestation of a tremendous cultural energy…and angst.”

 

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