The Davison Art Center at Wesleyan University has purchased a collection of Leonard Freed’s photographs of the abortive second coming of the Woodstock Festival in the summer of 1970, planned to take place at the Powder Ridge Ski Resort near Middlefield, Connecticut, on July 30 and 31. Some of the most renowned rock stars of the time were scheduled to perform, including Joe Crocker, Allman Brothers, Janis Joplin, James Taylor, Van Morrison, Little Richard and Richie Havens. Local citizens, apprehensive about the large gathering of young people (30,000 tickets had been pre-sold), obtained a court order and forced the cancellation of the festival. The audience turned up anyway and entertained themselves. The number of participants is numbered between 25,000 and 35,000. There were conversations, swimming, sex, and on the second evening music from local bands. Drugs of all kinds were liberally enjoyed, with the attendant excesses, but no deaths. Contemporary news coverage tended to focus on the bad trips and other sensationalistic aspects of the event—none of which were to be seen in Leonard Freed’s sunnier view of the proceedings, as selected by Susannah Freed and shown at The Brill Gallery. (For a complete view of the show, click here.)
Freed had been in Europe the previous year and missed Woodstock. He was determined to be at the sequel. He stayed around after the cancellation and photographed the free-form gathering. Even if Freed had had the distraction of the star performers at Woodstock, his eye would have been free to rove the humanity in the audience, on and around the stage, in the surrounding roads, etc. These photographs of young Americans in 1970 coming together on a ski slope in summer have an idyllic charm and a tantalizing sense of the possibilities of new discoveries and new connections. I like to imagine the rambling conversations, some coherent, some not, but somehow bonding or memorble, the one night stands or briefer encounters, the longer relationships that were forged.
I only vaguely remember hearing about Powder Ridge at the time. Perhaps I’m imagining it. Like Leondard Freed in the Woodstock summer, I was in Europe. I had graduated from college, was working in Germany, and looking forward to my first term at Oxford. The news I heard from the States was sporadic, and I don’t believe that any friends of mine were there. It is unsettling to look back on a past that might have been, but was not, one’s own.