Charles Schulz Museum salutes Woodstock: the fest and the cartoon bird
On Aug. 15, 1969, the Woodstock Music & Art Festival opened at Max Yasgur’s Farm in upstate New York, drawing half a million music lovers over the next four days, and the world has never been quite the same since.
“A lot changed with when you looked down at 500,000 people all thinking kind of the same thing,” said drummer Mickey Hart, who played at the festival with the Grateful Dead. “It was a ritual that generation needed. A new nation formed at Woodstock, coming together in one cathartic spirit. That was power. It made permanent changes, and it still lives.”
One of the more unexpected aftershocks of Woodstock surfaced, of all places, on the comics page. Snoopy’s little yellow bird sidekick had been popping up in the daily panels of “Peanuts” since 1967, but in 1970, cartoonist Charles M. Schulz officially named him Woodstock, acknowledging the rock fest as his inspiration.
“Charles Schulz created this imaginary world with no adults,” said Dennis McNally, author and pop culture historian.
“Aside from the mention of a few sports heroes, reality never intruded, except for the word ‘Woodstock.’ It was as though Schulz acknowledged how fundamental this event was, and not just for the people who were there.”
In Sonoma County, locals know both Schulz and the Grateful Dead as more than cultural icons. It’s personal. Charles “Sparky” Schulz, a native of Minneapolis, saw the syndicated debut of “Peanuts” newspaper comic strip in 1950. Eight years later, Schulz settled in Sonoma County, where he wrote and drew every panel until his death in 2000.
The Grateful Dead is also part of North Bay history. Guitarist Jerry Garcia was a student at Analy High School when he won his first battle of the bands. Lyricist Robert Hunter wrote “Dark Star” in Rio Nido.
The Dead were guest stars for June 1969 concerts at Santa Rosa’s Veterans Memorial Hall. Drummer Mickey Hart, and his wife Caryl Hart, California Coast Commissioner and former Regional Parks Director, are longtime residents of the Occidental area.
So it’s only right that the legacies of “Peanuts” and the Grateful Dead should be intertwined this summer.
The Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa celebrates the anniversary of Woodstock the festival and the history of Woodstock the cartoon character with a yearlong exhibit titled “Peace, Love and Woodstock,” which opened last March and continues until next March.
On Saturday, Aug. 3, the museum will present “50 Years of Evolving Consciousness,” a panel discussion featuring Mickey and Caryl Hart and Dennis McNally.
“Caryl and I became friends due to a mutual interest in the environment and her work to expand regional parks and open space in Sonoma County. At the same time, Mickey was traveling around the world researching for his world music album ‘Planet Drum,’” said Jean Schulz, the cartoonist’s widow.
“I think they offer a valuable perspective on the issues explored by the Woodstock generation, such as caring for the land and each other, and how these resonate today, both locally and globally.”
To Caryl Hart, Woodstock is at the roots of a cultural revolution that went well beyond music.
“A lot of the people who went to Woodstock were involved in the environmental movement,” she said. “The first Earth Day was 1970, the next year. The environmental, anti-war and social justice movements all happened at the same time.”
The festival’s impact was massive and widespread, thanks to television, the historian McNally said.
“Everyone experienced Woodstock on the same level,” he explained.
“It brought the youth culture of the ’60s into everyone’s home. It stood for much than just a concert.”
The Grateful Dead, however, remembered the band’s performance at Woodstock as its worst ever.
While Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Sly Stone and others gave stellar performances immortalized in the 1970 film, “Woodstock,” the Grateful Dead played during a storm, losing their lights, sound and even their footing on the stage.
“That stage was like a hurricane of bad tech and the stage was collapsing,” Mickey Hart recalled.
“It was no place to be making music. We couldn’t even listen to the tapes for 30 years. After leaving the stage, it felt like musical suicide, but Jerry (Garcia) said, ‘Don’t worry, it won’t endanger our career.’”
By now, Hart’s anguish has mellowed a little, and he’s glad he witnessed history. In fact, it makes perfect sense that the Grateful Dead, of all bands, played at Woodstock.
“It was a big, free party outside, and we kind of started all that,” Hart said. “This was what we’d been doing for years.”
Troubled attempts to launch a “Woodstock 50” anniversary festival recently ended with its cancellation, and Hart believes that the original Woodstock was a bolt of cultural lightning that can never strike again.
Today, big festival tickets are expensive and security is necessarily tight, with a spontaneous gathering of like-minded people on that scale difficult to imagine.
“It was something that could never happen now,” Hart said. “Everything is too fragmented. The only way to make that kind of change now is to vote.”
You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or email@example.com. On Twitter @danarts.
Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat
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