“Name an iconic Sixties rock moment and Ellen Sander was probably there,” Rolling Stone recently wrote of the veteran rock and culture journalist. That includes Woodstock, though Sander qualifies that she covered the festival “not out in the muck and mud, but backstage with all the comforts: food, champagne, rides back and forth.” She detailed some of that experience in Trips, first published in 1973 as a wider consideration of ’60s music culture. PW spoke with Sander about the book’s latest iteration and Woodstock’s continued relevance.
What have you changed for the new edition?
I didn’t change a lot in the body of the work, because I wanted to keep that voice, even though some of the writing is cringe-worthy. Some things I couldn’t abide, like calling Jimi Hendrix a “spade.” It was the parlance of the time, but I couldn’t live with it now. Sometimes the language was too casual in terms of first or last names that I would throw around; I put whole names in because people are not too familiar with them two generations later. End notes. Record reviews and some interviews. I also added pieces of journalism where I felt they had context. And a couple of extra chapters, like Plaster Casters of Chicago; Scribner wouldn’t print it at the time even though it was the story that broke the groupie scene open. It was published originally in the Realist.
Does hindsight change what you think about Woodstock?
I remember the camaraderie and rapture of the event; it was extraordinary. I don’t question what I felt because it hasn’t changed with time in my memory. It was a remarkable event not just because of the amazing musical lineup but because of the audience itself, which made it newsworthy: their cooperation and people enjoying each other as much as the music. The star quality was immeasurable and unprecedented. As a concert it would have been a great concert, but as an event it was momentous.
Do you think press coverage at the time shaped how people think about Woodstock today?
I don’t know how anybody else thinks about it. I was writing for conventional media by then, like the Saturday Review. I read one account of [a journalist] who left; he said it was a mess, but I don’t know how many there were of those. With hindsight, we had all the information about the breakdown of the infrastructure, which we didn’t have while we were there. But I can only look at it through my own memory. I do think it’s amazing that all of these commemorative things are coming out—I’ve got an essay in the [38-disc box set] Woodstock 50: Back to the Garden put out by Rhino Records.
Why do you think Woodstock continues to intrigue 50 years on?
In the contentious times we live in, with our culture so fractious, to identify with a moment where there was such a high degree of harmony might be very appealing. If we ever will get there again, though, is an open question.