BETHEL — It was Monday morning, Aug. 18, 1969, and a crowd estimated at nearly half a million people had thinned out a lot. Mark Harrington of Bethel was spending his fourth day at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York.

Mark Harrington of Bethel holds a Rolling Stone magazine paying tribute to Woodstock and a pamphlet that held his tickets for the 1969 music festival in upstate New York. The Bethel Citizen photo by Samuel Wheeler

He was standing “in a sea of mud,” and less than 100 feet away on a stage stood guitarist Jimi Hendrix, the man he had waited all weekend to see at the Woodstock music festival.

“That’s who I went there to see,” Harrington said. “I was standing in 6 inches of mud. It was soaking wet. All I had was blue jeans and a T-shirt.”

Hendrix played his classics, “Fire” and “Foxey Lady,” and then surprised the crowd with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“His notes were impeccable,” Harrington said.

Hendrix was jamming on his white Fender Stratocaster and dressed in a fringe white and blue outfit. His Marshall amplifiers in the background were taller than he was, according to Harrington.

“I was down below. The stage was about 10 feet high,” he said.

When Santana played, they used conga drums, which Harrington never heard. The band was “full of rhythm,” he said.

Harrington said he didn’t see singer Joe Cocker, but heard his gritty voice belt out “With a Little Help from My Friends” in the distance.

“I heard his voice wailing through the speakers, it was incredible,” Harrington said. “He was a fantastic singer and he captivated the entire audience.”

The festival included some of rock music’s most profound talents, such as Janis Joplin, The Who, The Band, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Sly and the Family Stone.

Hendrix was the last musician to play at Woodstock. He died unexpectedly Sept. 18, 1970, exactly 13 months after his memorable performance on Aug. 18, 1969.

“I was in shock, everyone was dying,” Harrington said about a string of musician deaths between 1969 and 1971. “Music was a big part of my life, so yeah, it was a huge shock.”

Harrington was 17 and weeks away from his senior year of high school in Stoneham, Massachusetts, when he traveled to Woodstock with friends from high school and college.

He was in the Bethel area for that summer and needed to find a way back to Stoneham. He hitchhiked to Wilmington, Massachusetts, where he met a friend with a car. From there, they drove to Cambridge to pick up more friends, and then it was off to Woodstock about 100 miles northwest of New York City.

About 40 miles outside of Bethel, New York, traffic began to slow down immensely. It worsened the closer they got. Less than 10 miles away, they paid $2 to park their car in a field and continued their journey on foot.

“We had to hoof it in,” Harrington said.

He was instantly mesmerized by the scene once he arrived.

“There were people everywhere,” he said. “I’d never seen so many people in my life. All my heroes were there.”

Thousands and thousands of people were scattered about in the “natural amphitheater,” and food was being sold from teepee-like structures on the hill. Harrington believes he had a corn dog, which ended up being his last meal for a while.

By Sunday, he had lost contact with his friends and had not eaten for two days.

“I was all alone in a crowd of nearly half a million people,” he said. “I was running on energy, my own life force.”

Eventually, the U.S. Army flew food in to feed the hundreds of thousands of music fans.

During the day, Harrington’s attire was ideal for the 90-degree heat, but at night the temperature dipped into the 40s and all he had was a T-shirt.

“I was 17, I did not think about bringing a sweatshirt,” he said.

The weekend was an incredible experience nonetheless, though.

“It was a gigantic, overwhelming, life-changing weekend for me,” he said.

When Monday came, he turned to hitchhiking and while walking out on a back road he heard the sound of a metro van approaching.

“It had that deep rumble of a diesel engine,” he said.

He looked up and it was the whole Grateful Dead van and he spotted keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan.

Harrington walked another four to five miles before getting a ride.

“Everyone was picking up everybody,” he said.

He hitchhiked almost the entire way home and was picked up in South Paris by his mother. She withheld her frustration, he said, because she knew he had been through a “powerful experience.”

And what happened to his $18 Woodstock tickets?

He used them to get into a Grateful Dead show at the Boston Music Hall in 1972 because he didn’t have one.

“I’m sure the guy pocketed the tickets,” Harrington said.

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