It’s August 15, 1969, and Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in upstate New York sees an estimated 500,000 people on a psychedelic pilgrimage to attend a 3-day music festival called Woodstock. The four event organizers are all under 27 years old, in way over their heads; the team is vastly under-prepared for what was supposed to be only 50,000 (paying) attendees. The highways are jammed. The police have started turning away people trying to stop the flood of long hairs from turning their small community into the next Haight-Ashbury district. Through sheer will of the universe neither rain, mud, traffic nor bad LSD could stop this festival from turning into one of the single greatest events in music history.
When you hear the word Woodstock several images come to mind: Jimi Hendrix wearing a bandana, hippies dancing in a field, peace symbols, and Volkswagen. And one VW in particular, a 1963 VW Type 2 Mircobus – called the Light Bus – sporting a one-of-a-kind paint job by Bob Hieronimus. That bus unintentionally became a symbol for Woodstock and the entire generation there to witness it, as well as later generations waiting to discover it.
The Light Bus was suppose to be a tour bus for the Baltimore-based band called Light. They wanted a tour bus that captured the attention and hired Bob Hieronimus – in 1968 – to paint their ’63 Van. Even though Light was not one of the many musical acts hired to play at Woodstock, they still wanted to go and took the Light Bus with them. Upon arriving the police stopped them. In order to avoid being turned away they told police that the van was an art piece meant to be an exhibition for the show; it was the story that got them through.
During those three days the people of Woodstock turned the Light Bus into a celebrity. Everybody loved it, and for good reason. The vivid colors perfectly captured the spirit of what the event was all about. Plus, it probably looked “Farrr out, man” while under the influence of LSD or magic mushrooms. Reporters from Life magazine and Rolling Stone took photos of it and turn it into a symbol. Sadly, the band Light broke up shortly after 1969, and the original Light Bus vanished to an unknown fate.
Since that event I cannot see a VW Bus without thinking Hippy Van. August 2019 will mark the 50 anniversary of Woodstock and recently a very creative way to celebrate has just been unveiled. Bob Hieronimus and his team have finished painting a replica Light bus that was restored by Volkswagen. As the saying goes, history repeats itself. The 1963 Type 2 van sports a far-out spectrum of color that invokes positive energy to anyone who lays eyes on it.
Volkswagen plans on touring the bus this year across the country, finishing the tour at the 50th anniversary of Woodstock in Bethel, New York.
Fun fact: After Woostock, the four event organizers – John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Mike Lang – ended up with an estimated debt of over $1 million dollars, and some 70 pending lawsuits. Even after the success of the Woodstock film managed to retire most of the financial burden, the debt was still around $100,000. There is a lesson here – never (NEVER) host a party, because you’ll always end up with a mess to clean up.