Thursday, February 13, 2014

Woodstock 99:Powered by Ramen

I've never cared much for camping, which is kind of funny given the number of people who've dragged me along on camping trips.

I like the outdoors. I love to garden and grow things. Cook-outs and picnics are fun. Hiking, boating, cycling, wandering in the woods are all things I like. I'd probably take to hunting, except the intended outcome of the sport seems like more trouble than its worth.

Camping sucks. 

Sleeping outdoors is something you do when you're being pursued by bounty hunters across the Texas plains. It's what happens when you're a refugee fleeing the Captain Trips flu virus and the Walking Dude (That's a Stephen King reference).

I'd rather sleep in my car than sleep in a tent, but I didn't have my car in New York. I had a 30-year-old tent given to me by my father: a reliable piece of equipment and one tested, no doubt to the extremes, but still a tent.

I was grateful to have it, but I didn't like using it.

In the lot designated as my place to camp, I'd assembled my small tent,  not far from the main road into the festival and within sight of the portable toilets and the water fountain. Not too close. I didn't want to smell them, but the potties and the well seemed like something important to have ready access to and good marker for when I needed to find my way home.

I left my clothes and food in the tent, but took my cash. Half of it was stuffed in my left shoe.

The tent went up without much effort and my neighbor, the balding 20-something with the heavy jersey accent, tried to make friends.

He told me his name was Adam and he asked me, "Where you going?"

I looked at the program. I wasn't sure. I just wanted to get a look at the place first and maybe go see LIVE.

"So, we'll catch up later."

A dirt road led to the festival grounds and also the showers, which were already doing a brisk business on a Friday afternoon. Men and women were lined up, holding towels and waiting to go in to a squat, brown building, like the kind you'd find at half the KOA campgrounds in America.

Ahead of the entrance into the festival, a small market had emerged. Sitting on blankets, dealers sold everything from pot to mushrooms to things I'm still not a hundred percent sure about. Sun-bronzed, wooly-haired, bearded entrepreneurs mumbled out their prices and lazily waved people over to look at their many boxes and baggies.

They did so brazenly with the comfortable knowledge that the cops were not invited to this particular party. There was nothing like a badge anywhere in sight --not so much as a crossing guard.

It was my first, "OK, I'm not in Kansas anymore" moment. The second came a few minutes later when an old couple came walking gingerly over the rough road, holding hands. They had to be pushing 70. He was lean, long-haired and bearded with wire-rim spectacles. She looked like she might have been Stevie Nicks's grandmother.

Both of them were naked and smiling benignly. 

The crowd parted to let them pass.

Woodstock 99 was held on an old Air Force base and from what I'd heard, the festival organizers wanted something a little off the beaten path, but easily secured. At the previous festivals, crowds eventually kicked in the fencing and just marched onto the grounds: no ticket, no problem.

Nobody was getting into this place without paying. There were multiple chain link fences surrounding the grounds and the impression was, that even though there was very little real security on this inside, they patrolled the exterior of the festival like sharks in a shiver.

The people who'd laid out the cash for this thing wanted to make every dime they could and that was readily apparent inside. Aside from the three stages for shows, there were vast areas devoted to spending money and prices were predatory.

Four bucks got you a pack of cigarettes (which was a bit high at the time. The price of gas that summer was about $1.10). It also got you a 16 ounce bottle of water or a bottle of soda. The guy selling cases of bottled water on the way in for five bucks suddenly wasn't that big of a moron.

Basic food was expensive and a cup of beer was at least six bucks in the beer gardens, making dope the better deal if you were looking to get messed up during your stay.

In fact, I marveled at the brilliance of a guy who set up a table next to the water hole in my camp. He set up a bottle of Jack Daniels and a single shot glass. He charged four bucks a slug and had a line 20 deep until the booze ran out.   

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