Pop Culture
Sep 05, 2023, 06:28AM

Woodstock 101/JG Walter

The new gods exist in the music. It's always the music that makes the biggest impact on getting up and going.

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The Woodstock festival has been dismissed and debated for over 50 years. Even now, it’s considered by most to be the pivotal springboard moment of 20th-century youth culture. A fluke phenomenon, coalescing the universe. Some say they were there, but they weren’t, while others say things happened that never occurred. The timeworn quote remains: “If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there.” That can apply to all generations in any given decade. But this fact remains true: Woodstock was a major source for the alternative forces of cultural change, rock music, and its offshoots. An international movement that spawned a global youth revolution. Not only because of the music but also because of pop fashion, lifestyle choices, freedom, and anti-establishment ideals that debunked the stale old BS politics.

Together now, they melt a far-out stew into a powerful pseudo-psychedelic force that transformed society from its 1950s bleakness. A prerequisite black and white, boring, drab atmosphere to a no-rules, modern, bright technicolor, groovy future experience. Although it wasn’t as simple as moonbeams and rainbows, LSD, smelly patchouli incense, bell-bottom jeans, fringe jackets, pot smoke, and sandals were everywhere. There was also a lot of innocent bloodshed and tears of sorrow for an unjust Vietnam War. The Kent State massacre, civil rights protests, the debacle of the political riots of the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention, and the downfall of Richard Nixon. It was then a country on the brink of collapse. Nothing has changed, except for more collapsing and division into equal parts between two distinct, opposing Americas.

Going full circle brings us back to Greg Walter, a man of many talents, both musical and spiritual. Aka JG Walter. His pictorial book, Woodstock: A New Look, was published in 2009 with co-editor Lisa Grant. JG Walter was an 18-year-old just looking for a job. He found one. He was hired by Woodstock Ventures to help the art crew build the staging and framework for what was to become the greatest music event the world has ever witnessed, almost overnight. Walter had his camera to document the upfront and behind-the-scenes photos to document his life in stylish images before, during, and after the event.

Greg appeared on a Dateline show segment in 2009 commemorating the 50th anniversary celebration of Woodstock. He's back in Bethel once again at the Woodstock Museum (founded in 2006), located on the former grounds of the festival site, for a week of presentations on “The Art and Architecture of Woodstock,” beginning on September 12th.  There will also be a film crew on hand to document the series. Maybe you can see beyond the consumer-driven military-industrial complex. Back to the garden. A journey through the mud of archeological digs that map out the locations on the site. Much like a celestial celebration in the woods and pastures where the museum stands today. It should be noted that the name hippie was a derogatory term in the 1960s, used negatively, like beatnik or punk. It was an extension of a bigger, more significant statement. A manifesto, an eyewitness to the facts. Answering the call to keep the oral story alive for those who want to know.

The cops and the squares didn't dig those dirty hippies. You goddamn fucking long-haired, dirty, lazy hippies. Maybe they’re only hippies on the weekends? Like weekend biker warriors, or worse, lawyers riding choppers. Need more proof? The ending of Easy Rider sums it up, providing an example of the hippie hatred of the times. Being an antiwar activist had its pitfalls. The draft had his number.

JG Walter had to leave the country in 1971 and didn't come back until 1977, when President Carter issued a presidential pardon to draft evaders. He was under federal felony indictment investigation along with thousands of untold others who dodged the draft and fled overseas. Jimmy Carter changed his life, or more likely, gave him his life back after decades as a fugitive for a crime he didn’t commit. People are intrigued by Woodstock and everything that goes along with it. Yet this man’s legacy, against impossible odds, was finally overcome. JG Walter rediscovered the shoebox in his childhood bedroom, filled with slide images of his time there working and enjoying the music too.

There’s an interesting advertisement query on the inside cover sleeve asking if anyone can identify the naked figure in his photo. A $5000 reward will be given to anyone who knows whose butt is in the picture. Levon Helm’s mom told JG Walter that it was a guy named Larry Campbell who played guitar for Levon and also with Dylan before that. He was going to give her the money just for the sake of publicity. But still, to this day, nobody has come forward. A moment that no longer exists but certainly should.  A monumental statement from a small group that became a force to be reckoned with. No matter the genre, it's always the content. As the Merry Prankster Neal Cassady said, the old forms are dead. The new gods exist in the music. It's always the music that makes the biggest impact on getting up and going. That triple me me me go go trifecta completes the pre-package generation. Selling out ain't necessarily so. Directly from those who preach the gospel of hate, hellbent on destroying the ones who want peace. It happened then, as it does now.


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