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Woodstock remembered: Project documenting historic 1969 event interviews Tri-Counties concertgoers

 Pam Gunther of Santa Barbara is interviewed as part of a nationwide project collecting stories from people who were at the iconic 1969 Woodstock concert.
Lance Orozco
Pam Gunther of Santa Barbara is interviewed as part of a nationwide project collecting stories from people who were at the iconic 1969 Woodstock concert.

More than a dozen people from the region share Woodstock concert memories as part of a nationwide oral history project.

It was one of the most epic music festivals in history: Janis Joplin, Jim Hendrix, and Creedence Clearwater Revival were among the 32 acts that performed at Woodstock.

The 1969 event on a farm in Bethel, New York is considered to be one of the pivotal moments in rock music. But, it’s much more than a slice of history to a small group of people in Santa Barbara County. They are part of an oral history project which came to Summerland to record their stories.

"My name is Pam Gunther, and I was at Woodstock," said a Santa Barbara woman, who was starting a videotaped interview as a part of the project.

Gunther was 21 years old at the time, and loved music. She, her boyfriend, and two friends heard about the concert, and bought tickets.

She says despite the stories about the massive size of the crowd, and the lack of facilities, things went incredibly well.

"Once it started...everyone was just so loving...and kind," said Gunther. "It was just exactly what you read about."

She says they were prepared, and had extra food and water which they shared with others.

And, Gunther says with performances by legends like Joe Cocker, the music was incredible. Did she have a favorite act?

"I was afraid you might ask that," said Gunther. "They were all great. I would go down by the stage, because I wanted to see the musicians play their instruments."

Gunther is part of the oral history project run by Woodstock’s official museum, the Museum of Bethel Woods, which came to Santa Barbara County this week. The project videotaped interviews with 14 people who attended Woodstock, and now happen to live in our region.

"The site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival became a historic site in 2017, officially listed on the national register of Historic Places," said Neil Hitch, who's the Senior Curator at the Museum of Bethel Woods. "That was like a watershed moment."

He says around the 50th anniversary of the concert, they thought about what's next, and what's important as far as the future for the museum, and historic site are concerned. Hitch says they realized that with the years catching up with the Woodstock concertgoers, they needed to capture as many stories as possible.

The museum got a federal grant to take an oral history project on the road around the country. They hoped to get 250 interviews, but they are set to do number 500 next week. On Monday and Tuesday, they used a Summerland church to record interviews some people from the Tri-Counties who were at the historic concert.

Hitch talked about one of the many stories they found along the way. He said someone he interviewed in Los Angeles told him as a 16-year-old boy, he was at the concert when it started raining. He said a man came up to him and gave him a backpack, with a small tent inside.

Hitch said as he was interviewing people in Santa Barbara, another man told him about how they found a stockpile of backpack tents, and started handing them out to the crowd. The museum curator said these are the remarkable kinds of connections they are discovering through the oral history project.

Gunther said she’s excited to share her story. She admits that not even all of her family knew she was at the historic event.

Gunther says while they didn’t know it would become a major part of music history, even at the time they knew it was more than a concert.

"I realized the music at the time was reflecting what was happening (like the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights movement) and urging us to think about it, and take action, and to try to seek peace and love," said Gunther.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.