Woodstock memoir misses the beat

Final-draft---Woodstock-illustration
Se Yeon Kim/Staff

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Woodstock — the massive music festival of 1969 that radically challenged the way we experience music — has been recreated and relived so many times since that a book depicting who Woodstock’s creators are today seems like a new and natural extension of the concert’s narrative. The title and persona of Ron Evans’ “Chasing Woodstock: Finding the Cost of Freedom” suggest that this is such a book. Unfortunately, it is not.

In the very loosest and most generous of terms, this is a story about the legacy of Woodstock as preserved in the rare and official Woodstock programs, most of which were destroyed before their distribution. Evans’ parents, however, managed to snag a copy in 1969 when they got stuck in the traffic jam the concert caused outside of Bethel, New York, and passed it on to their teenage son, the author of this book. Program in hand, Evans developed what he calls “The Original Woodstock Program Project,” an effort to gather the signatures in the program of all the original artists.

“Chasing Woodstock” is a memoir of Evans’ quest to attain these signatures — or, in other words, to meet and greet lots of famous people. Most of the chapters focus on the logistics of gaining access to the likes of the Who, Carlos Santana and Joan Baez by finding contacts within the management of concert venues or the artists’ actual teams and persistently inching closer and closer to the coveted backstage rooms.

There are a few sweet stories, especially the narrative of one Woodstock audience member, who at 16 snuck out of the house to see the show but to this day has never told her mother. For the most part, though, the author spends little time actually discussing the significance or content of the meetings between himself and the Woodstock performers. The “interviews” Evans says he has with many of the artists are never included, though they could have added a substantial amount of interesting information to the individual chapters and given the book a more concrete purpose.

The book’s subtitle, “Finding the Cost of Freedom,” suggests that Evans is interested in gathering information about the artists’ memories of Woodstock. All he seems to find, though, are signatures and the occasional anecdote, which certainly don’t amount to “freedom.”

There might have been a redeeming quality to the book if the original Woodstock program had been copied and printed in the book. The program is, after all, the point around which the entire story rotates. Including the document, with all the collected signatures, would have added at least a visually engaging context for the book’s many stories.

As it is, however, this is a largely unedited series of recollections. They occasionally elicit the reader’s interest, but they are primarily marked by the repetitiveness of each encounter, the disorganized prose and the unnecessary and unrelated final chapters of political and religious tirade.

There are, however, still a few little nuggets of gold contained within the rainbow-printed pages. For instance, this book could almost be a how-to guide for getting backstage to the shows of one’s favorite bands. Given that Evans’ experiences with the Woodstock artists were not always positive, it’s interesting also to see how the figures included in the book engage with this superfan, drawing into question how we as an audience can and should understand the relationship between a performer’s off and onstage persona.

But these are all what ifs, and the truth is, though Evans may have chased Woodstock across fields and convention centers and the entirety of the country, his book never manages to catch, even in part, the depth and grandeur of that titular event.

Contact Anne Ferguson at [email protected].