Reflections on Woodstock and the Counter-Culture

Forty years ago a farm in upstate New York was transformed into a rock and roll heaven. Billed as “Three days of peace and music,” the Woodstock rock festival drew over a half million people to what has become the most memorable event of the 1960s counterculture.

A reunion concert was just held there over the weekend. The crowds were a fraction of the original size, and only a handful of the original artists showed up to perform. Country Joe McDonald was there for example, and he still used anti-war themes to highlight his act. This time however it was Iraq and Afghanistan he complained about, instead of Vietnam.

Some things it seems are simply unique and not able to be replicated. Woodstock was part of another time and another place, and is unlikely to ever be fully reincarnated. The festival was of course part of a much larger movement which has come and gone.

Canadian folk singer Joni Mitchell, who never did make it to Woodstock, nonetheless penned the song which would live on after the event (and was made even more popular by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young). Her anthem to the festival encapsulated the optimism, idealism, romanticism and spirituality of the times. Consider some of the lyrics:

“I came upon a child of god
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me
I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm
I’m going to join in a rock ’n’ roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden”

The biblical and spiritual references are obvious. It really was a time of hope and optimism for many. We thought we could replace the materialism, competition, capitalism, militarism and rugged individualism of our parents with a new golden age, complete with love, sex, rock and roll, drugs, community and peace.

The intentions were good. But it was to be simply a house built on sand. We had no basis for making it a reality. We did not realise that ultimately it was not social structures that needed to be changed or overthrown (eg, capitalism, the military-industrial complex, etc.), but ourselves.

Sin and selfishness were the real problems, and the narcissism of the drug culture would only exacerbate the problems, not relieve them. We thought we knew what was not working, but we did not have a panacea to offer in its place. Therefore the peace and love revolution was very short-lived.

Indeed, if Woodstock was the epitome and acme of the 60s counter-culture, another rock concert would be its decisive and irreversible end. Indeed, almost to a man we hippies knew that this event spelled the end of the dream and the death of the movement.

I refer to Altamont, a raceway outside of San Francisco. Nearly four months after Woodstock a free concert was held there. It too had many of the heaviest acts going, including the Jefferson Airplane, Santana, and the Rolling Stones.

The defining moment of the concert, and the entire hippy dream, came when the Stones were performing. In one of the dumbest moves in concert history, the Stones thought they could use the motorcycle gang the Hell’s Angels as security guards, and pay for their services with free cases of beer.

Now even a drugged-out hippy should have realised that Hell’s Angels and lots of free beer is a very risky combination indeed. And sure enough, half way through their song, “Sympathy for the Devil,” an overzealous fan trying to reach the stage was restrained by the Angels.

But restraint by a drunken Angel is different from normal restraint. The young fan was brutally stabbed to death by the inebriated bikers, and at that moment the entire peace and love movement died. We knew then and there that the dream had been shattered, utopia had been found wanting, and the future had come to an inglorious end.

As I mentioned, the peace and love generation had to eventually fail, as it was not built on the right foundation. Idealism and wishful thinking alone do not a paradise make. Something much more firm is needed. As Jesus warned two thousand years ago, unless a house is built on a rock, it will fall when the winds pick up and the waves grow violent. The shifting sands of drugs, free sex, narcissism and self-centredness are not the stuff to change society with.

So the hippy dream went almost as fast as it came. Its shelf life was well under a decade – closer to half a decade. They were heady times, and those of us who were a part of it will never forget it. But it had to give, and something more real and lasting had to take its place.

And that did happen. While many of my hippy friends committed suicide, or died of drug overdoses, or joined cults, or went on with the Revolution (as die-hard Communists), many of us found the true counter-culture: we discovered that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ was the only genuine way to not only change our world, but more importantly, to change ourselves.

Thus while this wild, and ultimately destructive hippy revolution was underway, another radical movement, the Jesus Revolution, also took place and influenced many. Countless stoned-out hippies finally found the true source of peace and love: in God through Christ.

While some 15,000 aging hippies sought to relive the dream this weekend in New York, many millions of former hippies who came to experience the love, grace and forgiveness of Christ are still today marveling at a far greater and more profound revolution.

The counter-culture has come and gone. But the revolution wrought by Jesus Christ lasts forever, transcends all cultures and all places, and is the only permanent and worthwhile revolution to be a part of. Christ has turned my life completely around, as he has billions of others.

The overriding purpose of this website is that others will also find the life-transforming reality found in a living relationship with Jesus Christ. It provides not just three days of peace and music, but an eternity of genuine love, reconciliation, wholeness and righteousness – and with no bad side-effects.

[1058 words]

14 Replies to “Reflections on Woodstock and the Counter-Culture”

  1. Beautiful testimony Bill.

    We serve and worship an awesome God who sent His only begotten Son to die for us all, even hippies. I wonder what the “unbelieving” youth today might want to celebrate in 40 years from now, if the Lord tarries.


    Nigel Onamade

  2. Thanks for the link to this article on Facebook, and you can add my experience to that testimony of God’s grace from that era as well. As one of the early 1970s Jesus movement songwriters well-said in a song lyric ‘His grace isn’t cheap, but it is free.’
    Joe Whitchurch, Indianna, USA

  3. I was saved in 1974 in far North Qld while doing the hippy grow-your-own thing and being deeply into astrology. The old guy next to my plot of land asked me if I knew why Jesus had to die on the cross – I said no. He then proceeded to tell me why, and I thought “well, I won’t interrupt him, he’s a nice old guy, but this Jesus stuff is on a par with noddy and big ears and hansell and gretel”.
    I am now a 60-yr-old grandfather, having been married 33 years to one woman, with 2 adult children, a debt-free home and some savings.
    What I have learned would fill a reasonable autobiography, but the one central thing is that Jesus is LIFE to all who will learn of him, and take His yoke apon them. He will transform your life, for your good and all those who travel with you, and generations to come. He is pure love, but also discipline and grace and wisdom. Long live the King and His Kingdom!
    Ian Brearley

  4. After reading this excellent article, I’m filled with a sense of deja-vu. Its all happening again, but this time its the Greens who are about to remake the world in their image.
    Dunstan Hartley

  5. Dear Bill
    I enjoy your writing. As a now-Christian ex-hippie musician of the ’60s I was thrilled to read that you were once an underground journalist. The Barb? Yellow Dog?
    Larry Norman & Linda Ronstadt both recorded a 50’s hillbilly gospel song that goes like this:
    You can read it in the morning papers
    Hear it on the radio
    How crime is taking our nation
    This world is about to go
    We need a good old case of salvation
    To get the love of God in our soul
    We need a whole lot more of Jesus
    And a lot less rock’n’roll…
    Best regards
    Terry Darmody

  6. Thanks again, Bill for allowing us to be edified by your wisdom and spiritual maturity.
    Ross McPhee

  7. bill, what a message of hope. i met you in college shortly after you changed your life around and traded in your hippy counterculture lifestyle for a genuine committment to Christ. Thanks for staying the course and continuing to spread the word that JC is our source of true love, hope and peace. I’ll always love joni mitchell though. even still…
    Cyd Ford Quarterman, US

  8. Well said Bill. How well I remember the excitement of hearing about Woodstock, and the emptiness and hopelessness of hearing about Altamont. It was only months after Altamont that I found Jesus!
    Ed Sherman

  9. Thanks Ed

    Yes Altamont was a real downer for many of us. It was two years after Woodstock that I found new life in Jesus Christ. A lot of my hippy friends did not make it however. Suicide, drug overdoses, etc took many of them. I have to keep asking, why was God so gracious to me?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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