Sample from the Summer 2009 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.

By the Time I Got to Woodstock…with Swami Satchidananda

By Victor Arjuna Zurbel

On July 14, 1969, I found myself in a chauffeured limousine, escorting Swami Satchidananda to the Woodstock Music Festival to deliver his historic opening address to a gathering of 400,000 people.

I was sitting in the center front seat. On my left, was the limo chauffeur and, on my right, riding “shotgun” (passenger front), was the Swami. Sitting in the back, was folk singer Tim Harden (“If I were a Carpenter”), and two other musicians. The limo was provided by Woodstock producer Michael Lang, to ensure the Swami got there on time. But despite our all-access VIP status, we were up against the biggest traffic jam to ever hit New York State. Eventually the traffic would be backed up for twenty miles.

We were on a two-lane country road several miles from the site and weren’t moving. The driver’s walkie-talkie signaled and he was told to do whatever it took to get us there. He turned to us and emphatically said two words: “Seat belts!” The country road had a shoulder, although not a very level one, but to the driver, who was that period’s version of Jason Stathum (The Transporter), it was all he needed. We were suddenly doing 60 and hitting a lot of rough bumps along the way.

He saw a gap in the traffic, cut in and pulled out into the opposite oncoming traffic lane. For the next few miles, we were up to 80 mph until a farm tractor appeared on the road, forcing us to the opposite shoulder, for which we had to slow down to a cruising speed of 60. Once we passed the tractor, we slipped back for another 80 mph run for another mile or so and then hit total traffic chaos. At that point, everything was piled up and there was no way to get through—with or without a VIP limousine. The driver pulled out into a cow pasture and came to a dead stop. I let out my breath, which I was holding the whole time, and uncurled my toes, which were almost cramped from the tension. I was okay, but very concerned about Swamiji and the ordeal he must have been going through.

I looked over to him to see if he was all right. Excited, he enthusiastically exclaimed, “Ahhh, that was great! Just like Bullitt with Steve McQueen!” (Bullitt was the ultimate car chase movie of the ‘60s). He saw my pale face and laughed out loud and blood quickly rushed back to my face as I joined him in uproarious laughter. Then I turned around, to see how the passengers in the back were doing, and Tim Hardin, who had been drinking from his flask of whiskey, had passed out.

We got him outside and Swamiji had him rest his head in his lap and generated some energy from his palm onto his forehead. In a few minutes, Tim’s eyes opened and he came around. Just then, the driver, who was back on the walkie-talkie, walked over to us and said, “Get ready, they’re sending in a helicopter.” Sure enough, a few minutes later, a helicopter landed in the pasture, and Swamiji and I, along with Tim Hardin and his two band members, were ushered aboard.

We ascended and followed a long trail of cars for a couple of miles, flew over a hilltop and the sight of all those people still lingers in my imagination four decades later. Swamiji was also impressed but not as blown away as I was, as he had been to several Kumbha Mela gatherings in India— pilgrimages of millions of Hindus. We descended into the crowd and landed backstage, where we were greeted by the producer, Mike Lang, who gave us his big trademark grin. We then joined the backstage group, which consisted of Richie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Sweetwater and The Incredible String Band…


Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2009 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.