Bobbi Kelly and Nick Ercoline were girlfriend and boyfriend, 20 years old. Bobbi lived in Pine Bush, N.Y., and worked at a bank. Nick lived in Middletown, N.Y., and worked two jobs while going to college.
They had heard so much on the radio about an approaching festival called Woodstock that "we just had to go," Bobbi says. They took back roads to Bethel, N.Y., parked their car when they couldn't drive farther and walked the final two miles.
They stayed only one night. They never saw the stage because they were so far away. But at some point, and they have no idea when, a photographer took their picture hugging, draped in a quilt, on a muddy hillside.
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Bobbi and Nick Ercoline appear on the soundtrack album that immortalized them at the legendary festival.
The photo appeared on the cover of the Woodstock soundtrack. And Bobbi and Nick became part of the legend.
"Woodstock was a sign of the times," says Bobbi, now Bobbi Ercoline. "So many things were churning around in our world at that time: civil rights, the Vietnam War, women's rights. It was our generation.
"I know some people say Woodstock changed their life. But I don't think it contributed to who I am or who Nick is. I think we became the people we would have become anyway."
An estimated half-million young people like Bobbi and Nick descended upon Max Yasgur's dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y., for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, Aug. 15-18, 1969. A documentary film and soundtrack of the music lifted the event into legend.
And the legend -- or at least the merchandising of it -- continues. For the 40th anniversary, we're getting more than a dozen books; the Taking Woodstock film by Academy-Award-winning director Ang Lee; the original Woodstock movie, expanded and in high definition; and a six-CD box set featuring, for the first time, music from every performer at the festival.
The Heroes of Woodstock tour, featuring some of those performers, will visit the original site in Bethel four decades after the legend began.
'Things were pretty grim'
With 40 years of hindsight, does Woodstock hold any meaning today? Or is it merely a sign of times gone by?
"It was a time when things were pretty grim both in America and around the world," says Michael Lang, who produced the original festival as well as anniversary festivals in 1994 and 1999.
"We were in a horrible war in Vietnam. We were engaged in many, many civil rights struggles. There was this huge generation gap between the youth and their parents.
"And then along comes Woodstock, this miraculously peaceful gathering of half a million people. I think it just took everybody by surprise. It was this moment of hope and light in the midst of this very dark period."
Woodstock remains a badge of identity, says Robert J. Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. Those who were there were truly part of the Sixties, he says.
A defining moment?
"Woodstock became the symbol, really late in that decade, of so many of the things that were swirling around," Thompson says. "It was one of the real last gasps of still a relatively innocent interpretation, and to some extent unambiguous interpretation, of that whole counterculture and youth movement.
"In '69 there still seemed to be a grip on some kind of revolutionary vision for the nation. In a very short period thereafter, we would lose the war in Vietnam. Watergate would kick in. All those things that kind of broke the spirit of that American identity, in very significant ways, were just around the corner. But we hadn't quite turned that corner.
"I don't know that we can say: 'Thanks to Woodstock, this happened, or that happened,' " Thompson says. "But that doesn't mean it wasn't important. …
"When the war ended, and the draft went away, there was the extent to which it -- I wouldn't want to use the word 'fizzled' -- but it certainly … lost a lot of that energy that was aimed at getting us out of the war."
Was it that generation's defining moment?
"First of all, when we're talking about that generation, we're really only talking about the white, middle-class part of the generation," says Joel Makower, a veteran writer and speaker who compiled the book Woodstock: The Oral History, by interviewing 75 organizers, musicians and participants. "That said, it was a defining moment. … nothing more or nothing less than a symbolic moment."
Rebellious kids no more
The love generation, the so-called Woodstock nation, matured and, for the most part, joined the culture it had rebelled against.
"Sure, everybody's older," Makower says, "and everybody has kids and grandkids and mortgages, and so, eventually, like most rebellious kids, you end up maturing and moderating your craziness and becoming part of the system by choice or necessity. But that doesn't detract from that particular moment."
And the moment remains as vivid to Bobbi and Nick as it does to anybody.
Married two years after Woodstock, they now have children ages 28 and 30. They live in Pine Bush.
They've always been community-minded, and would have been so whether or not they had gone to Woodstock, Bobbi says. She's a school nurse who started a food pantry out of her office. Nick inspects houses of poor people about to be renovated by the government.
"I think the further we get from the original event the more meaningful it becomes, the more we realize how phenomenal it was: all those people coming together with no violence, just peace, love and sharing," Bobbi says. "Forty years later it's just remarkable that it could have occurred."
Times Union reporter Tom Keyser can be reached at [email protected].