It was exactly 50 years ago: Les Poinelli was on a campaign trip to the Woodstock Festival, which he heard on the radio, where he would meet the woman of his life.
This weekend, he returned to the small rural town of Bethel, northwestern New York, marking its existence, with hundreds of aging hippies wearing faded T-shirts, colored crowns and suede fringe jackets. , emblematic of the Peace and Love era.
"You couldn't help but feel overwhelmed by the crowds overwhelmed by the generosity of the people," recalls Poanelli, 19, at the time, from a legendary scene where rock legends like Jimmy Hendrix, Janice Joplin and Santana nearly half a million souls.
He remembers that after spending the weekend with their new sweet Gayle, they went behind the scenes where Joe Cocker had just started playing to say goodbye.
"I kissed him on the cheek, and these were our only sexual adventures over the weekend," he says, smiling, with the tickets for the time he had framed,
Two years after dancing together to the sounds of classic bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Canned Heat, Gail and Les got married. They would have five children and 12 grandchildren together.
– Kissing Janice Joplin –
A cult festival for the whole generation, from August 15 to 18, 1969, Woodstock saw nearly 500,000 people in alfalfa fields in the picturesque region of Catskills. Despite the pouring rain, they had fun and often used drugs or made love in a rare atmosphere of freedom and carelessness.
Despite the mud, lack of food, and the danger of overdose, the festival remains a symbol of hope, a decade-long, rich in murders and unrest, amid the Vietnam war.
The site is now run by the Bethel Woods Arts Center, which regularly hosts concerts and runs a museum to commemorate the festival.
The 50th Anniversary celebrations kicked off on Thursday night: folk musician Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie, who appeared in 1969, when he was just 22, had to open a ball followed by Ringo Star over the weekend. , Santana, John Fogerty by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Biker, RJ Pinto goes on a pilgrimage almost every year to Bethel to discover the atmosphere 50 years ago.
"Peace, music and love are really there," he says emphatically. "It was a global phenomenon."
Pinto claims to have seen it all in 1969, despite the widespread chaos that was the festival. But most of all, remember Janice Joplin's kiss.
"She touched me deeply," he says, sitting on his bike. "Giannis was an amazing girl … we stayed around her until I could hold her hand and kiss her cheek."
– Woodstock for eternity –
Some came from far to find Woodstock's legendary spirit, such as Patrick Depov, who came especially from Belgium.
He was only 10 years old in 1969, but saw the 1970 Oscar-winning film, which was to mark the festival as the apex of the hippie era.
"I've been impregnated with this event all my life," says the 60-year-old man in a washed T-shirt. "I had only one idea in my head. It was to realize my dream and come to Woodstock's 50th anniversary on the festival's original website."
Woodstock's spirit is back today, he said, because "events, whether on the American continent or in Europe, are disturbing (…) There is a growing lack of solidarity in the world and this type of movement (encourages) solidarity."
Before returning to Woodstock on Thursday, Le Poanelli went, as he does almost every day, to the grave of his wife, who died in 2016.
"From Woodstock to eternity," he says, engraved on his headstone.
Looking down at the hills around Bethel, he adds, "This is where life began."