CLARENDON — Vermonter Ron Evans is showing off his rare souvenir program from the 1969 Woodstock music festival when, pointing to autographs he secured from such performers as Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Santana and The Who, he reveals the biggest attention-grabber of all.
He missed the iconic concert.
“I told my parents I would stay home and work,” the then 21-year-old Connecticut native recalls, “so I stayed home and worked.”
But that didn’t stop Evans’ parents from driving to Canada that weekend for their own getaway, only to find themselves surrounded by concertgoers when they stopped for gas in upstate New York. Pulling up beside a Volkswagen bus out of fuel and funds, the couple gave one of the long-haired riders $5 — and received the program in return.
“That tankful of gas changed my life,” Evans says.
That’s because the now 71-year-old Clarendon resident has spent decades seeking the autographs of the 32 acts at the festival, which is marking its 50th anniversary this month.
Historians know Woodstock as the self-described “3 Days of Peace & Music” that drew nearly a half-million young people weary of political assassinations and the Vietnam War to a Bethel, New York, farm Aug. 15-18, 1969. But at the time, Evans understood only that tickets cost $18 — a pricey proposition when the minimum wage was $1.30 an hour.
“My friends pulled me to go,” he recalls, “but I didn’t because I was paying my own way to college.”
Evans wasn’t bitter when he heard the crowd grew so large everyone crashed the gate. He simply perused the 50-page color program before packing it up upon marrying the former Linda Kiracofe and moving to an abandoned grist mill in Vermont.
The couple eventually traveled to the concert site in 1982.
“I was going to bring that program,” he recalls, “but I figured everyone must have one.”
Returning for the 15th anniversary in 1984, Evans learned how rare it was. The concert’s master of ceremonies, Wavy Gravy, and other insiders recalled how organizers had printed an estimated 35,000 copies, only to learn the delivery truck was stuck in a 10-mile traffic jam. By the time the programs arrived two days later, rain had turned the field into mud that swallowed up many if not most of them.
“I realized I had a program that most people who went to Woodstock didn’t know existed,” Evans said.
That’s when Evans decided to meet the performers and show them. He started with Arlo Guthrie, who appeared at Ben & Jerry’s 1993 One World, One Heart Festival at Warren’s Sugarbush Resort. The singer, who had snagged two programs himself, was happy to autograph the Vermonter’s copy.
“That was easy,” Evans thought as he imagined filling the rest of the pages with signatures.
Then he approached members of The Band who were playing at the same venue. Their manager, fearing a ploy to make money, rejected the request without a non-commercial use agreement. Evans went home and wrote up the proper paperwork before nabbing the autographs at a Stratton concert a few weeks later.
Over the decades the Vermonter has traveled the country — he and his wife drove 12,000 miles this winter alone — in search of signatures. It’s easier to name the acts they haven’t met — the late artists Keef Hartley, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Bert Sommer and the groups Quill, the Incredible String Band and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band — than to list the more than two dozen they have.
To see Woodstock opener Richie Havens, Evans only had to buy a ticket to a nearby Randolph concert.
To snag Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, Evans had to drive to a New Jersey art gallery and dodge the singer’s agent.
To secure Joe Cocker, Evans had to endure rebuffs from a series of Northeast theater managers before discovering the artist’s Colorado contact information on the internet and communicating with his wife.
Evans has yet to decide where his program will end up when he’s no longer around to share it. One dream is that the government turns the concert site into a national landmark with its own museum.
“There are plenty of monuments to war,” he says, “but there isn’t a single monument to peace.”
In the meantime, Evans will spend the 50th anniversary coming full circle by camping out at concert host Max Yasgur’s farm.
“I’ve been so privileged to meet so many people and learn so much,” he says. “For me, what started out as a fact-finding mission has ended up becoming a life’s work.”