Woodstock By Helicopter
By the mid 60s, I was established in New York City as a first-call arranger, because of hit records like Sunny, by Bobby Hebb, 98.6 by Keith, Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie, by Jay and the Techniques,
the Spanky and Our Gang album, and many others.
One of the producers I worked for was Artie Kornfeld who’d had a big hit with Pied Piper,
by The Changing Times and Come On Get Happy by the Partridge Family.
One day in1968, Artie called me to arrange the music for one of his artists. After the session, Artie told me about a recording studio he and some pals were going to build in Woodstock, New York.
Artie was really excited about the idea. Just think how great it would be, he said, we could go up there and hang out for a week or two and make records. I thought it sounded great too.
Woodstock was known for being a cool, artsy, hippie-dippy town, and I was a hippie, so…
A month or so passed, and Artie called me in for another session. While the musicians and engineers were setting up, I asked him how the Woodstock studio was coming along.
Artie said the plans had changed. There now was going to be a nightclub attached to the studio.
Wow, I said, what a great set up. You could record bands live with a live audience. We were both really jazzed about the possibilities.
And… Another month passed. Artie and I met again at another recording session.. I asked him,
so when’s the new studio/night club gonna open,
More hyper than ever, Artie let me in on some big news. Not only are we building a club and a recording studio, he said, but now we’re adding a hotel. Golly jeepers, Mr. Kornfeld, I gushed,
this is going to be far out. And Artie nodded with a grin on his face.
Another month or so went by, and when Artie called me in for another session, I pressed him for an update on his club/recording-studio/hotel.
Oh, no no, he answered, forget all that. We’re gonna do a music festival, outdoors in a big open field instead.
Weeks passed, and the next time we talked, Artie rattled off a long list of the artists that were booked to perform at the festival. Each name was more impressive than the previous. I was blown away. I just couldn’t believe all the acts they had booked.
How you gonna squeeze all these performers in on just one day, I asked. We ain’t, he said, it’s gonna be a whole weekend-long fesival.
Before the event rolled around, Artie said he’d hook me up with a backstage pass, and book me on one of the private helicopters flying from the Pan Am building in downtown NYC, up to Woodstock and landing behind the stage. Count me in, I said. Great, he said, you’ll be on the VIP list,
just show up.
The Friday night of the festival, I turned on the TV and heard it was pouring rain up there.
The festival was getting muddy.
When I got up Saturday morning, I turned on the TV and saw that it was still raining, that the crowd was many times larger than they’d predicted, and the fences were down. The festival was now free of charge; a great big sloppy mess.
So I figured, let’s see… flying in a helicopter in the rain, landing in mud in an area that was in such total chaos that there was talk of the Governor calling in the National Guard.
The friggin’ Guard; so fun.
So I did what any self-respecting New York music-professional with no skin in the game would do,
I decided to stay home in my cozy apartment in midtown Manhattan and nap.
I don’t regret it one bit. I don’t think I would’ve had a lot of fun in the mud, not being able to sleep,
nothing to eat or drink, standing in line for hours waiting for a backed-up Porta Potty, and possibly get killed in a helicopter crash in a storm; just not very appetizing.
So when everybody claims they were at Woodstock, and how much they loved it; I’m probably one of the few people you’ll ever meet who decided not to go, even as a first class VIP.
Many years later, in a phone conversation with Artie, I asked him if I was really on that VIP list for the helicopter. Absolutely, he said, but you would have had to pay for it.
Great, so I saved some money too. Joseph Renzetti - 2022