Spirit of Woodstock Lives in ‘Mountain Girl’
Carolyn Garcia didn't attend the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969.
But she maintains a historic relationship to the famous festival held in Bethel, N.Y., that transcends the four days of music, dozens of bands, hundreds of thousands who attended and 40 years of nostalgia.
Garcia, you might say, embodies the "spirit of Woodstock" - the freedom, the values, the history, the music and the morals.
Garcia grew up in Hyde Park - she was Carolyn Adams back then. But after a cross-country journey as a teenager, she joined up with author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, had two children with, and years later married, Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia and became an icon - known as Mountain Girl - for a movement that, in many ways, took Woodstock on the road for nearly three decades.
"As soon as I got out of high school, I hitched a ride to Palo Alto with my brother Don," Garcia says.
That would be Palo Alto, Calif., where her brother was heading for graduate work at Stanford University, and where Garcia helped make history.
"I really wanted to go to college," Garcia says. "But I was kind of a wild child in high school. My grades really stunk. I was looking for a little adventure, and my brother offered to take me out West. ½lcub¾hellip½rcub¾ I drove out with his wife and kids in a Volkswagen bus, which was so much fun. I really wanted to see the U.S. That was a huge opportunity - and off I went. I was 17. I went out to seek my fortune."
Garcia met the musicians who would form the Grateful Dead when they were performing as a jug band at a Palo Alto pizza parlor and beer joint.
"They were just so much fun," Garcia says. "They were just hilarious - and really talented and so lively."
Palo Alto, Garcia says, was home to a raging music scene.
Garcia at around the same time "fell in" with Kesey and the Pranksters, just as they returned from their famous trip, on their psychedelic bus, from New York. That journey included a stop in Millbrook, where Timothy Leary was living at the time.
Kesey, who wrote "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," was at the forefront of the psychedelic movement in the 1960s. He and the Pranksters explored the boundaries of LSD experimentation and formed a movement, a cornerstone of the 1960s counterculture, out of which the Grateful Dead evolved.
Garcia's relationship with the Pranksters began with a car ride from Neal Cassady, a confidante of beat author Jack Kerouac who was the inspiration for the character Dean Moriarity in Kerouac's classic novel "On The Road."
"I ran into Neal Cassady, or Neal Cassady picked me up and took me for a ride, right out of the coffee shop I used to hang out in," Garcia recalls. "I got whisked off into the mountains and saw the bus and immediately fell in love. They couldn't get rid of me after that. I was fascinated and thought, 'This is by far the most interesting bunch of people I've ever run into.' "
The Pranksters in August 1969 went to Woodstock, the Grateful Dead performed at Woodstock and Garcia's friends in the Hog Farm commune were hired by the organizers of Woodstock to run the campgrounds, free stage and free kitchens and to help people on bad acid trips and those who had overdosed on drugs.
But Carolyn, who was living with Jerry Garcia at the time - "that was my guy" - was pregnant with her second daughter and stayed home.
She passed on Woodstock because she was in the early stages of the pregnancy and had terrible morning sickness.
"The only way to get there, if we went cross-country, was in a friend of mine's bus," she recalls. "I couldn't do it. I will watch it on TV, I said, and I did."
When she watched news coverage of Woodstock, she says, "I was laughing, because of where it was, so close to my hometown. How could that possibly happen in the Hudson Valley? ½lcub¾hellip½rcub¾ Things were tightly nailed down. To have something so unpredictable, with so many people, I thought it was a tremendous crack in the wall of control."
You might say the Grateful Dead, during the band's constant touring over the 26 years that followed its Woodstock performance, brought the logistics and the values of Woodstock onto America's highways and back roads, into large cities and small towns, including regular stops in the Northeast - Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Long Island and northern New Jersey included.
"One of the magical things about the long touring history of the Grateful Dead was also this very long-term community that built up around the shows," Garcia says.
Deadheads established fragile yet vibrant communities in parking lots and campgrounds, selling food, jewelry, clothing and other items to pay their way to the next gig, in the next town, and in some cases, to earn a living.
"Relationships and friendships and families and communities sprang up," Garcia says.
The need to bond with like-minded people, the need to travel in search of adventures, however big or small, the desire to dance and enjoy live music, Garcia says, are "basic" needs and desires.
"They are these basic needs to get out of your daily lives and your job and your house and your neighborhood and go to an event where you're going to meet people and let your hair down some," she says. "I think that thing of meeting up for enjoyment, for this kind of stepping out of your ordinary life, it's something we need to do. It's a powerful urge."