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Manteca residents remember Woodstock

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POSTED August 9, 2009 1:41 a.m.
It’s a pretty safe bet that at least some of George Janis’ music students would most likely associate Woodstock with the Snoopy sidekick rather than the mold-shattering music festival.

Now that it has been four decades since nearly half-a-million people ascended upon Max Yasgur’s farm in Upstate New York for “Three Days of Peace and Music” those old enough to remember seeing the massive crowds on television and the revolutionary artists taking the stage are quick to share their stories about an event that helped summarize an entire generation.

“If there was one thing that Woodstock really did do, that was showcase blues music on a grand stage in a lot of the acts that would go on to become household names,” Janis, who owns and operates Janis Music in downtown Manteca, said. “Everybody thinks of the hippies and the sex and the drugs and unfortunately not all of those things were good.

“But until then the blues were something that was reserved to guys like Muddy Waters and people out on the Mississippi and Louisiana Delta – Woodstock helped bring that to the surface.”

While he was relatively young when the hundreds of thousands of young people abandoned their cars on the New York highways to walk to the 600-acre site of what would become an iconic event that turns 40 this year, Janis says that he realizes that just the concept of organizing a festival with that magnitude of talent was groundbreaking in its own right. It was something that no other music festival would ever be able to live up to again.

“It’s just crazy if you think about it – you had all of those people in one place and for the most part there was no violence and there was no rioting and everybody was sort of together in that same spirit,” he said. “The organizers never anticipated that many people being there, and most of them just crashed the party without a ticket and the entire thing went off without a hitch.

“It was a much different thing that what would happen later that year right here in our own backyard.”

From Aug. 15 through Aug. 18, that 600-acre farm became the site of something that transcended the initial concept of a rock concert – where people like Jami Hendrix, Country Joe and the Fish, Janis Joplin, Canned Heat, The Band, The Who, Crosby Stills Nash and Young and a host of others – and became the final feel good event of the turbulent 1960s that forced Americans to watch the assassination of a President, the most famous Civil Rights Leader of all time, and a New York Senator that many felt was destined to capture the presidency in the 1968 election.

On Dec. 6 of the same year, California was supposed to have its own version of the three-day love fest at the Altamont Motor Speedway west of Tracy where the Rolling Stones, Santana, Crosby Stills and Nash, The Who, the Grateful Dead, and the Jefferson Airplane were all set to bring the same vibe to the  masses.

But the event – one that some historians have said marked the end of the “Summer of Love” and the free-wheeling 1960’s – would end in tragedy when a man who pulled a gun during the Rolling Stones’ performance of “Sympathy for the Devil” was stabbed by two Hells Angels that were hired to provide security for the event.

The entire ordeal was captured on the documentary “Gimme Shelter” – named after another famous Rolling Stones track.

“At Woodstock there was this vibe where everybody was there to have a good time – maybe a little too good of a time,” said resident Steven Williams. “It was almost like a utopian environment that represented the attitude of the time. But that all changed in that one day at Altamont, and now it’s almost impossible to think of Woodstock to think about what would happen just months later – especially if you were from Northern California.

“That changed everything.”
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