Mudbath (Part 3)
July 26th he arrived at the town of Bethel in Sullivan County, New York, with his wife, Jamie, and his brother, Noel, in their VW Samba minibus painted aqua blue. As it collided with a music festival a lot activities were going on up the hill. Peter Leeds in charge directed his seven pieces of glass-welded artefacts to go into the sculptures section in north wing. This exhibit included contemporary arts and Native American-influenced arts, in keeping with the hippie – Back to the Land nature of the festival. And Claude was inspired by the psychedelic arts of the modern era in its raw form of surrealism and hallucinations bringing out an aurora of colours in no manner art could describe. It spread all over the place. Every vehicle on the road, other than his, got that magic of colours in kaleidoscopic and kinetic illusions. So were the arrays of letterings.
As an Art Fair guy he was able to park his bus close to the museum but the roads were jammed as the hippies arrived packed in their campers and minivans. Numbers kept growing.
In the days that followed all the halls were set for the art exhibition. He observed closely as the timber structure of a stage came up in the field up the hill and the posters, particularly the red one with a white dove perched on the neck of an acoustic guitar, designed by Arnold Skolnick, to advertise the ‘Woodstock Music and Art Fair’ and letters in bold, ‘3 DAYS of PEACE & MUSIC'. There was nothing about art.
Claude was caught in a surprise to find five of his oil paintings hanging on a wall in the south wing. He stared at them mesmerized. He could definitely tell they were his work standing side by side. So the mysterious artist, Rolf Schneider of Sacramento, was in the bunch. He wanted to meet him but something was wrong. None of those paintings bore a signature or a label and most shockingly, the View of the Sea at Scheveningen wasn’t there.
He did ask Peter Leeds to find a source where they originated from and a group of students in the hall echoed they were passed by Michael Lang himself. He decided not to hunt further. All those sculptures and paintings allocated as selling items tagged heavy prices. That was one reason why he wanted to know who were selling them.
Claude climbed the hill with a drink. A day for the concert and there was still work going on lifting the loudspeakers and light systems up the scaffoldings. He was getting used to the LSDs and joints of marijuana passed around. They were sound checking on the stage. Crowd had gathered on the farm.
He paused by a mid-age person hanging there isolated, wearing thick glasses and smoking a pipe. He asked, “Who’s that guy charming his guitar?”
“Jimi Hendrix,” he saw the entry card around Claude’s neck. “Are you here for the music?”
“Ah…I’m with the Art Fair.”
“Huh! Be in the music,” he said.
“I do. He’s playing that guitar like hell…using a wah wah foot pedal…distortion and technique…never heard of him…”
“He’s not an underground bloke. Actually, Paul McCartney recommended him to be on the show.”
“Really?” uttered Claude.
“Watch him,” and he turned to go.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Max Yasgur.”
Days later he learnt it was his farm.
As the show began at 5.07 PM on 15th August, Richie Havens sang…
A minstrel came down from Gaul,
With scores of tales to tell,
Some of them were false,
Ye, some of them were true…
Half a million gathered under the cloudy skies and without a barrier or a fence or a ticket. They sang, they saw, they felt…peace, love and music…most of all freedom. Meals were served. The joints kept rolling and the rains kept falling.
Claude had an afternoon duty at the exhibition hall and missed several hours of live time on the first day. He didn’t miss the Arab group who arrived in bullet proof armoured cars at the museum. Those cars carried flags. One belonged to his land and the other from afar that he couldn’t tell, some diplomats.
This Arab group was accompanied by a lady in a smart white uniform of a Commander from the Navy and to his absolute shock it was Jennifer McConkey. He assumed it was a commander’s uniform after noting the dress code of Lt Commander Mulloy.
As he watched from a distance this Arab group entered the south wing and observed the paintings on the walls; those five pieces that he drew for her. When they were gone those paintings didn’t bare price tags. They were ‘SOLD’.
He joined the crowd and watched Arlo Guthrie.
In the morning he realised his pants and shoes were full of mud. Crowd moved up and down the roads in a swamp of mud. They were all naked in the bushes, in the ponds and on the roads.
He reached his minibus and asked Noel, “Where is Jamie?”
“I don’t know,” Noel said, “she went down with a guy.”
“I don’t know!”
Claude cleaned his shoes and climbed the bus. “Who’s playing today?”
“Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Country Joe…I don’t know the timings. Did you sell anything?”
“Sure, I did. Three of my objects are sold…five thousand dollars each. Damn! That Miss McConkey sold all my paintings to an Arab bunch, you know, a hundred thousand dollars per piece.”
“A hundred thousand!” he uttered.
“A piece,” said Claude.
“I’m going to find Jamie.”
Claude, now in a fresh dress, passed a narrow path towards Gempler. He paused behind some bushes to pee. At that moment he saw Jennifer in the white suit come out of the trees. She appeared suddenly too close to him. He quickly turned his face away but she came right towards him. Claude had no option but to jump into a pit. He did and covered his whole face in mud to conceal his identity. She came to pause on the raised ground.
“Boy! Are you alright?” she asked.
Claude turned to look up and nodded. He was shocked to find her in a Commander’s uniform. It gave him a shiver.
And suddenly she vanished just like a candle blew off.
Claude Chase ran back to the bus. Noel saw his brother covered in mud. He began to laugh, “What the hell have you done? Is it a mud bath?”
“Help me! Put some water on me,” cried Claude, “I had to jump. It was that lady…it’s so crazy! She just disappeared!”
“What are you talking about?”
“You won’t believe this.”
Meanwhile, Jamie was gone with a hippie for a jam session.
That night Claude wanted to keep Jamie close and watched Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, The Who – one of the best acts – and Jefferson Airplane.
On the 17th a thunderstorm ruptured the sky and slammed on the crowd ending Joe Cocker session. It turned into a full-blown mud bath.
Next morning they were gone turning this place into a junkyard piled with sleeping bags and garbage. And then there was Jimi doing his own thing as the final act of the show making noises out of his guitar and his version of Star Spangled Banner. It was just a genius noodling like God.