250,000 Brave Rain, Humidity at Woodstock II

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Undaunted by pelting rain falling from slate-gray skies, a new Woodstock Nation came alive Saturday, its youthful tribes joining together with a sprinkling of older veterans in a round-the-clock party in search of relevance.

By midday, as grizzled Woodstock '69 survivor Joe Cocker launched into raspy strains of "With A Little Help From My Friends," the concert site had become a yawning pit of humanity, at least 250,000 strong.

Hundreds of concert-goers roamed into the event for free by scrambling over, under and through fences and walking through unmanned security posts. Nearly 8,000 others drove around in frustration as logistics snafus at parking lots forced state police troopers to turn them away from access roads.

In the late afternoon, the rain poured, though the storm slackened after about an hour. Concert promoters feared a series of severe thunderstorms, and security officials said lightning strikes were reported in Kingston, about 15 miles to the south.

"In the event of lightning, we are warning people to stay low," said John Scher, president of PolyGram Diversified Ventures, the festival's principal financial sponsor. "We are telling people to stay in their tents. We are telling kids to assume a basic fetal position in case of lightning."

Scher said the rock fans also were being advised to stay away from metal fences and trees.

Medical personnel warned of a danger of hypothermia as temperatures cooled overnight. They also said most first aid stations were blocked by campers' tents.

"We can't get through the crowds if there is a medical emergency," a physician said. He urged concert-goers to familiarize themselves with the location of the nearest first aid station.

With the combination of rain and traffic snarls, New York State Police officials estimated it could take as long as 20 to 25 hours to clear the crowds from the concert site once the three-day festival ends today.

When the storms came, a great primal howl swept across the vast audience. One concert-goer, recalling the wet weather that typified the original Woodstock, rose from his rain splattered tent, stretched his arms and yelled: "Now, is it real?"

The legions of young rock fans who made it inside the grounds roared their approval as their peers and rock idols staked a claim for a new generation. From the concert stages and deep into the makeshift tent cities, they chided their elders even as they appropriated their old slogans, their tie-dye uniforms and even some of their heroes.

"It's time they stopped talking about the old Woodstock," said Dina Vincenti, 21. "This time, it's our concert."

Nearby, Kathi Berg held her 15-month old daughter, Galadriel, who pounded on a drum.

"She'll be around for Woodstock 25 years from now," Berg said.

Ever since promoters announced there would be a second Woodstock, they have been dogged by comparisons to the first concert. And as the music pounded out from two giant stages over massive speaker columns, promoters, musicians and fans took every opportunity to move this Woodstock away from the shadow of its 25-year-old parent.

Some of the veterans of the landmark 1969 concert found themselves turned into living museum exhibits, posing in well-worn frills and flags for younger fans with cameras.

Deep in the crowds by the main stage sat Byrd Wilson, 41, and Harry Pegram, 45, of Winston-Salem, N.C., sun-burned, fringe-spangled and grizzled, two muscle-bound peace warriors from another era.

"It's two generations finally getting to meet each other and exchange spirits," said Wilson, whose ashen goatee and gray locks hung limp in the humid afternoon. "The old's teaching the young, man. And we're getting hip to them too. It's wild."

They said they had come to after a long night of partying on "Rebel Hill," an encampment up on a wooded ridge. They awoke at dawn to the strains of a bagpipe, played by a tipsy musician in kilts.

"I could've killed him," Wilson said. "I got a hunting knife. But, naw, this is Woodstock. He was doing his thing."

In darkness and in daylight, Woodstock '94 developed a personality of its own. If nudity and drugs were key symbols of the original concert, 25 years later there were new enduring images: The thousands of multicolored tents that dotted hillsides like Bedouin camps; the "Mud People," earth-caked rockers who snaked through the fields in front of television cameras; and the ravers, twitching partisans of droning industrial rock who danced all night long as swirling psychedelic lights played over them.

By Saturday, there had been four weddings performed on the grounds. One couple got married on the set MTV had erected next to the main stage, and the crowd cheered as the bride threw her bouquet.

There were so many campers that tent gridlock was common. Some tents were so close to portable toilets that trucks couldn't get in to clean them, and people left the concert grounds and pitched their tents on front lawns and in neighbor's back yards. Some landowners charged a hefty price for the privilege.

"They're breaking out instead of breaking in," said a state police spokesman.

Within the tent cities, one death was reported. Joseph Roussel, 44, of West Babylon, N.Y., died Friday night of complications from diabetes, said Walter Dobushak, Ulster County medical examiner. Initial reports that Roussel's death was alcohol-related proved incorrect, Dobushak said.

At night, the symbol that emerged was the rave--thousands upon thousands of young people dancing uninhibitedly to pulsating high-tech, psychedelic music. Many danced until dawn, slept for a few hours, then emerged from their tent entrances like woodchucks poking their heads up curiously from their burrows.

Shortly after noon Saturday, the music acts began with a calculated touch of nostalgia.

A screaming announcer walked out to the microphone, introducing Cocker, who had opened the Sunday show at the original concert and had brought that crowd alive with his trademark contortions and frantic, husky voice.

Twenty-five years later, he did the same. "See you again in 2019!" he said after his 75-minute performance.

At the original concert, the storms were so fierce that there were fears of mass electrocutions from exposed cables. This time, the big cables were buried--and there were more detailed contingency plans to handle a weather emergency.

In a knot of white trailers on a hill between the festival's two stages, promoters set up a command center. Security officials said they would try to evacuate the huge crowd from the area in front of the twin stages back to the campgrounds, where lightning rods had been erected. But they admitted it would be a slow, cumbersome process.

Meanwhile, faced with a parking crisis, the festival's producers were forced to stop selling tickets. At the same time, state police officers turned back some 8,000 rock fans, who had paid $135 for tickets, because the lots were full. Scher conceded promoters might have to offer refunds to anyone who didn't make it into the show.

"The state police are turning them away and telling them to go home," said a New York state official, who explained that inexperienced parking attendants had positioned vehicles too widely apart in several lots--filling them prematurely.

In an effort to limit traffic, several entrances on the New York State Thruway, a key artery, also were closed.

As they struggled with the automotive chaos, the glowering sky gave way, first to a drizzle and then to a downpour. The campgrounds were turned into muddy culverts, making movement treacherous. On the south grounds, Devin Stein and Ryan McCartney, both 19, of Reading, Pa., ignored the rain streaming down their faces to marvel at the mass of humanity around them.

"It don't matter, rain, snow, who cares?" Stein said. "This is Woodstock. This is what it's supposed to do."

Just behind them, at the edge of a row of concession booths, were employees of Good Cheap Stuff, a shop that wasted no time taking advantage of the storm.

"Ponchos! Ponchos!" they called out, waving their plastic booty. "$5! You need 'em!"

To the north, as the rain began to ebb over a stage in the concert's "environmental quadrant," dancers twirled, drummers patted bongos and young women in flowing robes blew soap bubbles in their own updated version of 1969's famous "no rain" chant.

As a hint of sunlight appeared, Los Angeles poet-rocker Henry Rollins acknowledged nature's caprice to the delight of the sodden audience splayed before him. "Hey!" he shouted. "The sun's out!" But it soon faded behind the clouds again.

Through sun and rain, the music continued from the stages. The parade of artists on the main north stage ranged from the punk-etched anger of the contemporary Rollins Band to the rowdy rap irreverence of Los Angeles' Cypress Hill to the sweet, comforting harmonies of veterans Crosby, Stills and Nash--who played at the original Woodstock concert.

While the crowd cheered numerous songs, they saved most of their energy for two bands that speak forcefully to many of the issues facing the young concert audience: Nine Inch Nails and Metallica. Aerosmith, the other band on the bill, has been a mainstream force in rock since the late '70s.

In the twilight, John Roberts, one of Woodstock's producers and a principal financier of the original concert, estimated the crowd at 250,000. He acknowledged that more were likely to easily penetrate the concert's perimeter. Many of the security guards, he said, were being pulled back to "deal with the health and welfare" of the crowd.

But a number of the guards around the camp site said that scores of guards have left their posts, frustrated by lack of meals, sanitary facilities and other problems.

Guards and many concert-goers also said that since Woodstock's gates opened Friday morning, searches of narcotics and alcohol among the crowd was inconsistent and often lax.

"They just waved us on in," said Scott Respass, 24, of Greenville, S.C. "Where I came in, they weren't hardly searching anybody."

Promoters have been reluctant to come to grips with the evident use of marijuana and LSD across the concert grounds, insisting that their searches were adequate to backup their no-drugs policy.

Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn and staff writer Jeff Leeds contributed to this story.

Woodstock, the Sequel

Facts about the Woodstock '94 festival, which runs through the weekend:

Among today's performers: Arrested Development; Spin Doctors; Red Hot Chili Peppers; Bob Dylan; Porno for Pyros; Neville Brothers; Santana; Jimmy Cliff's Reggae All-Stars, featuring Rita Marley, Worl-A-Girl and Eek-A-Mouse.

Schedule: First act scheduled to begin at 9:45 a.m. EDT. Last act begins at 11 p.m. EDT.

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