40 years later, Wayne Rodgers still lives the Woodstock life
WOODSTOCK, Va. — Big Wayne Rodgers is stardust, man, he's golden, he's been living the Woodstock life all these 40 years, ever since he hitched from Washington to the Aquarian Exposition up there at Max's farm in August 1969, and wound up with a memorable cameo in the Oscar-winning documentary.
It was like the second day of the festival and Rodgers, 6 feet 5 and about 120 pounds, all of 19 years old, staggered out of the Port-O-San portable toilet, marijuana pipe in hand, and wow, there were guys with cameras, making what became the iconic film "Woodstock." Rodgers's blue shirt was open, he was unwashed and unkempt, his brown hair was an unruly wad on top of his head, and he was about 17 tokes over the line.
"Want some? Want some?" he says to the filming crew, offering hits. He's got this goofy grin. He says "Far out!" and "Out of sight!" For lo these many years, the lovable pothead scene has been a fan favorite.
We know this because we just talked to Michael Lang, who co-produced the festival, and who has a new book out, "The Road to Woodstock." We reached him on his cellphone in Manhattan traffic (he still produces music) and told him we're writing about this Woodstock guy who never gave up the lifestyle, the stoked dude who came out of the Port-O-San.
There's a little pause, and then the man who created Woodstock says: "Hey, I REMEMBER that guy! Man! Tell him I said hello!"
It's been 40 years since the crystallization of the peace and love era, the Aug. 15-18 festival outside of Bethel, N.Y. There was mud and music and 500,000 kids and not a single hair-care product. After Jimi Hendrix wrapped up the show on Monday morning, everybody went home and the whole thing died. Nixon, man. People suited up and went into corporate America or plastics or something.
Not Big Wayne.
He has a cabin sort of a house in the woods, about three miles outside this little town in western Virginia. ("It's Woodstock in name only," he says. "Lots of Republicans, man, lots of them.")
He's got sheets of plywood for floors, a school bus he bought for $600 in the back yard, and lots of old motorcycles and motors, and two talking macaws (Elvis and Kooky), and five TONS of marbles he sells sometimes ($2 per pound), and thousands of albums, and half a dozen guitars and amps and an exercise bike and a great picture of John Wayne and a set of steer horns mounted on the wall. The place is on a bluff overlooking the north fork of the Shenandoah River. The sign on the front door reads: "Hippies Use Backdoor. No Exceptions."
There are lots of trees and almost no neighbors, and when it snows he can be shut off from the world for a week or more.
The man says he's never had a bank loan. Never had a credit card.
"I'm a (expletive) hippie, man," he says, twirling up the edges of his thick white beard at the corners of his mouth, with a bone-rattling laugh. "I'm from the '60s."
He's still tall but goes a solid 250 or so now. He's got a tiny little ponytail braided in the back. He describes his ethnicity, in actuality or in jest, we're not really sure, as "Indian and black and Jewish." Says he hasn't done any "real" drugs since 1984.
He was the Citizen of the Year in Prince William County, Va., a few years back, for his work with the poor.
Life is groovy, man, except for when it's not. A bull on a nearby farm keeps mooing in the middle of the night. There was a divorce a few years ago and a continuing child custody dispute concerning his now 11-year-old son. The charity he founded in 1989, the Coalition Against Hunger, was put out of its offices in Haymarket, Va., several years back. Something about escalating rents and the changing downtown area. It led to shouting matches between Big Wayne and then-Mayor John Kapp.
There were accusations "of making pornos with the poor black chicks who were coming by for food."
Any truth to the allegation?
Big belly laugh. "Nah, man, nah. None at all."
Kapp, reached by phone recently, remembered Rodgers "always in cut-off jeans and sandals" but not the thing about the porno flicks. ("Oh my goodness! I don't remember that at all!")
"Wayne, he's a great guy," says Bill Dykes, a musician and guitar instructor who has known Rodgers since they met in a prayer meeting 37 years ago. He helped found the coalition, which distributes food to the poor.
The work is part of what Rodgers hews to as the message of the late '60s, the self-described "freak" lifestyle, of peace and love and all that. Lang, the producer, says it wasn't all flower-child ephemera.
"I think a lot of those things we were into then have come to fruition," he says. "The fact that we have a black man in the White House, the green movement, local farming, organic foods, just a healthier way to treat ourselves and our planet. All those things were born in that period."
Rodgers agrees. He grew up in suburban Washington and ran away from home at 15, in 1966. Busted flat in New Orleans at a pot festival the next year.
The summer of '69, he met some guys headed to Woodstock. He wound up both drunk and high, driving a 24-foot box truck loaded with oranges, peaches and pears to the festival. They got a police escort through the throng, making it within 100 feet of the stage.
He spent the next three days helping out with backstage chores, watched Joan Baez make scrambled eggs in a big skillet. He staggered into that Port-O-San to light up with some friends because the wind was blowing too hard outside.
People recognized him after the film came out, sure.
"It was two years before I could walk down the street without getting frisked."
He figures the spirit of the era "died in 1970," and then things got mean. He says he got into untoward things himself ("the occult, heroin"), but then found the Lord in 1971.
His two main rooms have couches draped with those colorful Mexican blankets, near a motorcycle on a lift with the front wheel taken off. There's also a turntable, a remote-control glider, small amplifiers, four guitar cases, several chairs pushed up against a sagging bookcase, a big television with a DVD, several small motorcycle models, a ceramic parrot holding a surfboard, a five-gallon water jug half-filled with coins, a steering wheel, a globe, a computer, a yo-yo, a Swiss Army knife, sunglasses and stacks of magazines.
He used to sell cars, and still sells rebuilt motors and Soviet-era watches and marbles and tuxedos and all sorts of things. He says he's a "social facilitator," which is what they used to call "a hustler."
He's got no complaints.
"Life is good, man. I got a roof. I got food. I've got my son. I love being a dad. I've got coffee in the morning." And: "The Lord says the bottom line is L-O-V-E. That's what it's all about, really. The rest is just man's dogma."
He gives a visiting reporter and photographer a handful of marbles and a "Say No to Hate" button as parting gifts, a little memento of their time in the garden, of how life might have been if Woodstock had taken hold. The photographer doesn't have pockets, and asks if there is something she might put the marbles in.
It turns out Big Wayne has a little baggie. Who'da thunk?
Life. It's pretty groovy, man, except for when it's not.