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Posted 2/23/15

WHY I DIDN’T GO TO WOODSTOCK

By Joe Katrencik /  Pittsburgh, PA

By mid January of 1969 I had passed the U.S. Army draft physical and had aced the officer’s candidate test.  With college experience in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, I was ready for the enemy.  But then I read that life expectancy for a second lieutenant in Viet Nam was five minutes, so with teaching degree in hand and the clock ticking until induction day, I accepted the first draft-deferred teaching job offered – sixth, seventh and eighth grade students at St. Clare School in Clairton, Pa. (I was told that the teacher I was replacing had left to concentrate on a film career after a successful involvement with Night Of The Living Dead.)  After five months in the classroom I finally understood what an education professor meant when he stated,  “I have served my country.  I taught junior high for ten years.”

Meanwhile my relationship with next door neighbor Victoria was getting more and more serious.  A world traveler, Victoria had spent one of her early teen years In Scotland, and during the previous year studied at the Sorbonne in Paris.  I had been as far as Dayton, Ohio, and tried to upgrade my movies and pizza dating technique by taking her to a free concert by Dave Brubeck - playing on an Allegheny River barge alongside Pittsburgh’s Point Park.  Actually it was my first concert ever, not counting Simon & Garfunkel tickets that went unused due to my suffering a burst appendix during a college party the night before.  I also don’t count as a live concert the Joe Gudac Combo at my Slovak cousin’s wedding that spring – featuring an amazing segue from “There Is No Beer In Heaven” to a raucous polka rendition of the recent Creedence Clearwater hit “Proud Mary.”

I was running out of dating ideas so I asked Victoria to marry me.  She agreed and we went to my Catholic pastor and reserved a Wednesday morning in August, with the condition that we attend special marriage classes offered by the church.  Then news of the upcoming Woodstock music festival hit the airwaves.  In my mind I weighed the options:  my VW Beetle could get us to upstate New York; college roommate Jack lives near Watkins Glenn; marriage can happen anytime; either choice could produce children.

Things got complicated. At St. Clare School, principal Sister Mary Denis Harris said she would be very pleased to hire my future non-Catholic bride as a second grade teacher. Confessing to being liberal minded, Sister Mary Denis said that she was the niece of Ice Capades founder John Harris.  The two teaching salaries would double our household income to $500 a month, but we would have to attend a faculty meeting in August.  Then at one of the marriage classes, Victoria had to sign a promise to bring up any future children as Catholic. Then in July Neil Armstrong proclaimed his “…one giant leap for mankind”.  Then my father announced that he would not attend the wedding unless I cut my near shoulder-length hair to a more respectable Neil Armstrong look.

As it was, Victoria married me despite the short hair.  But we did attend the Pittsburgh premiere of the film Woodstock on Walnut Street in Shadyside – where we got free button pins featuring a white dove perched on a guitar neck and ate German chocolate cake at The Gazebo afterward.  We had children, and years later I would see my teenage daughter wearing silver combat boots, tie dyed shirt, an army jacket, and listening to Jane’s Addiction on headphones.  I would design a logo for my teenage son’s rock band, Paraphernalia.  It featured a skull with musical notes as crossbones, and a slogan underneath – “Listen, Or Die!”   I wished my children good luck as they drove off in my car to search for the Rainbow People camping out in Cook Forest, while I am thinking that I may never see my kids, or my car, again. 

Twenty years after our wedding and Woodstock, I was working at the Civic Arena, promoting Ice Capades, Ringling Brothers and other family shows.  In April of 1989 Deadheads who had been camping in the lot above the facility removed panels from the Civic Arena dome so that a few hundred of the faithful could slip through and see the Grateful Dead for free. Police intervened, Pittsburgh got national coverage, and Mayor Sophie Masloff declared, “I don’t want those deadenders ever back again.  This group is fine (she referred to them later as the Dreadful Dead) but those people who follow them around are not.” Later that summer the Civic Arena hosted the “Twentieth Anniversary Celebration Tour Of Woodstock,” with Richie Havens, John Sebastian, Country Joe & The Fish, and Canned Heat.  Though Canned Heat’s “Going Up The Country” is one of my favorites, I don’t remember the concert.       

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