Scarlet Disko: How old were you during Woodstock?
Barry Shapiro: 18.
S: What were you doing at the time?
B: I had graduated high school in June. The following fall I would be going to film school at the School of Visual Arts in New York. After graduation I had been living with a bunch of people in a house in Rego Park, Queens (New York), Bobby [Torres], then the conga player in Joe Cocker’s Grease Band was one of them. He wasn’t around that often since he had been on the road with the band, but he had a room there. It was a house full of musicians and there was always music going on in the basement.
S: How did you get to Woodstock?
B: I went with my friend David who was a best friend at the time. We went in the back of a friend of David’s car. I didn’t know them and we didn’t stay with them during the festival. We were driving up Friday night when all of a sudden we’d reached a point where traffic had completely stopped. After awhile, out of nowhere, this guy in a pickup truck shows up and he gathered together a caravan of vehicles and said, “Follow me, I will get you there.” He had been doing this all evening, going back and forth from where he got us to where he took us. When he dropped us off as close as he could get us to the festival he told us, “Sleep here tonight, and when you wake up just follow the music.” (I think it was about a 3 mile walk from there.)
If it weren’t for that guy in the truck we might not have ever made it to the festival. We followed the music in the morning. At some point I got separated from David and didn’t see him again until after we got home. I wound up getting into the festival and eventually I came upon 10 or so people I had just graduated high school with…it was perfect. I spent the next two days with them. We were directly in front of the stage up the ridge of the bowl, in other words not all the way in the back but certainly not near the front of the stage. It was a good spot, the sound was really good, and it was a clear view of the stage.
S: What did you think you were going to exactly?
B: Certainly not what it turned out to be… I had gone to my first concert at 13 (Murray the K Shows at the Brooklyn Fox) and subsequently went to clubs and concerts round NYC. I was a very independent kid and really into music. I was going to concerts often, and by the time I’d gone to Woodstock I’d had about 5 years of concert going under my belt. I knew I was going to this giant festival, I knew I was gonna be in a crowd of a lot of people, but I certainly didn’t know that I was going to the American social event of the later part of the 20th century.
S: Why did you decide to go to Woodstock?
B: There was a lot of music in one place for $7.50. I was a BIG music fan. All of these bands and music at the same place at the same time was totally my thing. I was the only guy from my house of 6 or 7 music lovers that had gone to Woodstock (beside Bobby). Nobody knew it would be that big of a deal.
S: When did you arrive at Woodstock?
B: Friday Night (dusk). I’m really sorry to have missed Tim Hardin and some others, but I only had tickets for Saturday and Sunday which is why I didn’t go until Friday evening.
S: How did you spend your time at the festival?
B: We got there for Country Joe and the Fish and by the time Santana came on it was an AMAZING experience. The crowd by then was really big. I was not an Incredible String Band fan so I took a break and wandered around a bit during their performance and amazingly bumped into Bobby Torres who was wandering around with the bass player from Joe Cocker’s band. The group I was with was trying to figure out how to eat for the next couple of days when some people came by with this giant box of food and asked if we wanted some. We said, “yeah” and so they dropped a ton of food right in the middle of us that lasted quite a while. That was sort of Miracle #2 (#1 was the guy in the truck who showed us the way in).
S: Who were your favorite performer/performers?
B: I think the four big ones for me were: Sly & the Family Stone, I was pretty high a lot of the time especially during their performance, and they were just amazing, that was as good a party moment as ever I had, probably to this day. The Jefferson Airplane, pretty much my favorite band of the time, came on when the sun came up and when Grace Slick said “good morning” that was a really memorable moment for me. Crosby Stills Nash & Young were wonderful and then of course there was Joe Cocker’s set which was great. Getting to see Sly, the Airplane, Crosby Stills Nash & Young and Joe Cocker was as good as it gets as an audience member. Of course Janis Joplin who blew the doors off the place and The Who were way up there too. Then came the biggest musical regret of my lifetime. It was so wet and muddy, and there was such a long lull. I was convinced that it was over. People were leaving and someone asked me if I wanted a ride home and I took it. That was a really bad choice because I missed Jimi Hendrix. With all the live music I got to hear before, during and after the festival I never saw Jimi Hendrix as Jimi Hendrix. Interestingly enough I did get to see him a few years earlier when I was about 14 or 15 years old under a different name. I had been hanging around in Greenwich Village and frequented a club named Cafe Wha? I hung out there because they let kids in during the day. There was a one drink minimum and there was a drink called a Green Tiger which sold for 35 cents. So for 35 cents I got to hang out there all day. One day I’m there and this guy shows up, gets on stage and played the guitar like nothing I had ever heard or seen before. A year or so later when Jimi Hendrix hit the scene I realized it was the same guy, but that’s the only time I ever saw him…
Years later, I am about 30, I had a business partner who was Michael Lang’s cousin. We were in the audio business. At one point in time I was introduced to Michael. Once I was in his office making a recommendation for a stereo amplifier for him. Now, somehow, I still had my two tickets from the festival and they were in pristine condition (not even a little crease) …mint condition, Saturday and Sunday Aug 16 & 17. I have no idea how they made it through the festival without a smudge. They were printed in black ink since I’d pre-bought them for $7. (In theory) you would have been able to buy tickets at the gates for $7.50 they were red. So, I’m in Michael’s office, I turn from his desk and I look and see a huge safe in the middle of the room. I had been wanting a Friday ticket to complete my set for all these years and I said, “Michael the tickets are in there aren’t they? I asked if I could have one.” He gave me a red ticket (obviously one of the many that were never sold at the door). He signed the ticket on the back, making my set a red and 2 blacks. They are framed and hanging in my house.
S: Do you have any bad memories of the festival?
B: NO, not at all.
S: Are there any life-changing words of advice or inspiration that you discovered before, during, or after Woodstock?
B: If you’re a big music fan or passionate about anything for that matter, and you have an opportunity like that related to your passion then go for it.
S: What did you do after Woodstock? Was it hard going back to the real world?
B: No not really…I started school that September. Lived a bit of a hippy lifestyle for a couple of years…and continued seeing and hearing a lot of music.
S: If you could, would you go back to Woodstock?
B: Yeah! Except, I hope I would go for Friday night too.
(Interview by Scarlet Disko)