Eleanor Walden, social activist and folksinger, recently told me in a phone interview that she believes she was the catalyst for the first Woodstock Festival. That festival took place in 1962 at the Woodstock Estates on Friday, September 14th, through Sunday, September 16th.
Pete Seeger donated concert proceeds from an August gig at the Woodstock Playhouse to help fund the festival. According to the program there were square and folk dances, demonstrations, dulcimer-making workshops, storytelling and a hootenanny. The model for the festival was to bring country traditional singers and city topical-political songwriters into the same arena to share influences. Altogether there were nine co-founders and organizers. They included folksingers Eleanor Walden, Mona and Frank Fletcher, Sonia Malkine, Billy Faier, producer Bill Hoffman and folklorist Sam Eskin. Pete and the co-founders mentioned above, plus Barbara Moncure, Harry Siemsen, Squire Elwyn Davis, and recording artists Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Hedy West and Native American singer/songwriter Peter LaFarge, all performed during the festival. Fiona Fletcher, Mona and Frank Fletcher’s daughter, said that she and her siblings had a blast. They were allowed to stay up late, and they had the run of the event.
Eleanor Walden took a circuitous route to Woodstock. She was raised in New York’s Greenwich Village and her father was a Wobbly. She grew up knowing Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Lee Hays. She remembers the weekly songfests in Washington Square Park in the 1940s. In 1948 when the Progressive Party organized the singing Wallace Caravans she went on one of those multi-state tours with Pete Seeger. Walden says she was not a good musician, but she did sing well. In fact, when Lee Hays and some others were forming a group, she was invited to join them. She says she laughed off the invitation, claiming that she was too young. This berth was offered to Ronnie Gilbert, and The Weavers, as the group became known, went on to fame and fortune with such hits as “Goodnight Irene” and “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena.” Read the rest of this entry »