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Eats And Beats: 'Mom, I Went To Woodstock', The 50 Year Lie

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Fifty years ago today, throngs of people descended upon Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. It was billed as 3 days of peace and music, and would go on to become a legendary moment in U.S. history and the counter culture ideology of the time. We didn’t have to look too far to find someone who was there…John Heinsius, father of KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius, was 19 when he and a friend hit the road for Bethel. He lied to his parents about where he was going because he just didn’t think they could handle the truth. It’s a secret he kept from his mother for the rest of her life. She died last year at the age of 97.  In the latest installment of our series Eats and Beats, John reflects on the experience…and the lie he told 50 years ago in the name of peace, love and music.

JH: I kept that lie for a long time. And I sort of felt bad about it. I felt embarrassed, actually, about defying them. I was a fairly compliant kid, and they were so against it – my mother especially – that I just couldn’t let her know that we defied that and went. I’m fairly sure my sons have kept things from me.

Credit John Heinsius
John Heinsius' band, The Henchmen, circa 1969. They all attended Woodstock and still play music together to this day. (John is pictured second from the right)

We knew bout the Woodstock festival; I was in a band, all the band members were going. They had actually purchased tickets - $18.00 for 3 days, as I recall. And, I remember Ravi Shankar was playing his ragas. I think he was only supposed to play for 35 minutes, but as it turned out, it seemed like it went on for, like, an hour, or an hour and a half. Ravi Shankar was really big during that time, but I could see the boredom on the faces of the kids because I think most of the people there wanted to hear Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Really, one of the reasons I wanted to go was Santana. I was really into Santana at that time. They were playing on Saturday along with Arlo Guthrie, who I was really, really into.

Credit Getty Images
Carlos Santana at Woodstock, 1969

Seeing the number of people that were there and were streaming in was an unbelievable sight. Sort of like looking at the Grand Canyon the first time…it takes your breath away. It was certainly that feeling.

Credit Getty Images
Arlo Guthrie at Woodstock, 1969.

I was always surprised at how many people stayed and didn’t have to work like I did. Because I wanted to hear some of the acts…I mean, The Who were playing. They played, like, a 25-song set, and we didn’t hear that. Jimi Hendrix, of course, closed it on Monday, didn’t hear him. So, there was a lot we missed.

I haven’t talked to my two sons about this a whole lot during my life. And I think part of the reason that is, is I didn’t want it to be a defining moment of my life.

Credit Getty Images
Ravi Shankar at Woodstock, 1969

And, I think a lot of people hang on to that as, ‘I was at Woodstock. It was the defining moment of my life. Everything that occurred afterwards had to do with Woodstock, and I was really into it’, and honestly, I had other things going on. The summer of 1969 was a wild summer, and this was just another thing for me. I just wanted to go hear music and, sort of, put one over on my parents.

Credit Ryan Heinsius
John Heinsius with his sons, Ryan and Scott

Now that the 50th anniversary is looming, I’ve been thinking more about it, and I’ve been talking to my sons more about it. They’re primarily interested, of course, in the music – and I am, too – and looking back, it was just a fabulous snapshot in time.  

I think that the overwhelming legacy of Woodstock – most people would say the music, and it certainly was the music, and I wish I had heard every band through Monday – I think the overwhelming legacy is, for almost a half-a-million people to get together and not having fights, and not having bad feelings, and everybody being happy…

John Heinsius and his son Ryan, KNAU's newscast manager. They play music together often.

I don’t think that could occur today. I think there’d be scammers out there, and I think there’d be fights, and I think there’d be less sharing going on. That’s really what I take from Woodstock…and good music, too.