CHARLESTOWN — Frank Glista was 17 when he set off for Bethel, New York, the site of the festival to end all festivals, Woodstock.
He still has the fringed leather vest he was wearing, an item he treasures to this day.
“I can’t believe I fit into it. I was so skinny,” he said.
Woodstock, named for a nearby town, took place in a field belonging to dairy farmer Max Yasgur on Aug. 15, 16 and 17 in 1969 and attracted more than 400,000 people. It's remembered as the greatest music festival of all time.
Glista, a Charlestown resident, was living at the time with his family in Stamford, Connecticut. He sang in a band and was an avid rock music fan. His parents did not try to stop him from going to Woodstock.
“My parents, I think they knew my passion for music,” he said. “I don’t recall them saying anything but ‘Be careful.’”
Glista bought two three-day tickets for $18 each, one for himself and the other for a girlfriend, Eileen, who backed out at the last minute. Undeterred, Glista piled into a friend’s 1967 Corvair with another friend and the three young men drove to Bethel. Along the way, they picked up a hitchhiker and Glista gave him Eileen’s ticket.
Glista and his friends arrived on Thursday afternoon. There was still plenty of parking, and Glista lay his sleeping bag on the ground near the car. When he was awakened by raindrops early Friday morning, he looked around and saw that the field was teeming with people.
“I woke up and I could have been run over,” he said. “I mean, there were hippie vans, there were buses, there were cars, there were trucks, anything anybody could drive to get there was all around me. I saw all these vehicles, and then when I stood up and the rain subsided and we started to walk around, the people — it was just unbelievable.”
Glista found a spot to stand not far from the stage and stayed there for most of the three days. He doesn’t remember what he had to eat, but he remembers the music.
“The peacefulness. The friendliness. People giving away food. Everything was free after a while, but do I remember eating anything? I do not,” he said. “I was so immersed in the music … A lot of the bands that I really liked and knew about were all there.”
Looking back on those three days, Glista marvels at how peaceful the event was.
“There was never any violence,” he said. “The traffic was backed up, people were crowded, there was no food. You would think if anything would inspire violence it would be those kinds of things.”
The only physical altercation Glista witnessed took place on stage and he still laughs at the memory.
“During The Who performance, which was really early in the morning, 2 or 3 in the morning, Abbie Hoffman got up and tried to take the microphone and speak to the crowd, as a political activist,” he said. “Peter Townsend, the lead guitarist for The Who, picked up his Gibson guitar and butted him right in the back. He flew off the stage into the audience, and the people were applauding because this wasn’t political. It was great to see.”
Glista and his friends left on Sunday, avoiding the mammoth traffic jam that formed later as hundreds of thousands of people left the festival. Two years later, he returned to the site.
“I walked onto the field and I stood on the top and looked down in amazement at all the crops that were growing and the beauty of the area,” he said. “To think of what happened two years earlier was just incredible … It was a once in a lifetime event, and I’m happy that I was able to go.”