By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million (minus one) strong
August 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the seminal festival of the sixties. Remembrances and tributes, not to mention a new film by Ang Lee, have commemorated the event as many participants experienced it: groovy, mythical, and drug-addled.
But not everyone who made it to Yasgur’s farm was having a transcendental experience. Poet Alan Shapiro, then a rising senior in high school, was more concerned with honing his basketball skills during the summer of 1969 than he was expanding his consciousness. But yet he found himself a member of Woodstock nation that August, and lived to tell the tale. “Woodstock Puritan,” from his 1996 essay collection The Last Happy Occasion, recounts not only the poet’s disheartening experience at the concert, but also explores the poetry of Thom Gunn, the importance of pleasing your parents, and, of course, the transcendence of basketball. In honor of the fortieth anniversary of those three days of peace, love, and music, we have excerpted the essay for the first time. Cue up Jimi Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner and transport yourself to another time, forgotten space.