Woodstock and The Hong Kong Flu

Next week is the 51st anniversary of Woodstock.

David Falconnier, a McCollum High Classmate from the early 1970s reminded some of us on Facebook about a global Hong Kong Flu pandemic that took place in 1968 – 1969

I started thinking about what was going on in those days and recalled the World’s Fair, Hemisfair ’68 was held in our hometown of San Antonio.   Nationally, CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite reported on things like the first Moon landing, the war in Vietnam, assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the drowning of Ted Kennedy’s aide at the Chappaquiddick Bridge in Massachusetts.

The Hong Kong Flu (yes, it was quite OK to identify pandemics and viruses by their places of origin before the days of socialistic political correctness kicked in) was also in the headlines, but the Media and politics were as near obsessed as they are today.

Also getting big time coverage was the Woodstock festival held in August 1969.

Although Woodstock didn’t take place during the pandemic’s peak,  (for the U.S., December 1968 through January 1969; Dec 28, 1968 in New York state), a second ‘wave’ of illness was going on all the way into 1970. 

About 70% of America’s deaths were during the first wave. As with most cases of influenza, its occurrence subsided over the summer of 1969 before returning in the later months of 1969 for its second wave.

So basically Woodstock was going on between the first and second waves of the new H3N2 ‘Hong Kong Influenza.’

It had emerged in 1968, but not during a peak in infections and months after the first, deadlier wave of the virus hit the U.S.

“It was first noted in the United States in September 1968,” according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). “The estimated number of deaths was 1 million worldwide and about 100,000 in the United States. Most deaths were in people 65 years and older. The H3N2 virus continues to circulate worldwide as a seasonal influenza A virus.” 

For young readers, Woodstock Music and Art Fair was an iconic music festival held at a dairy farm in upstate New York. The organizers expected 30,000 people but hundreds of thousands showed up.

There were traffic jams up to 20 miles long, which resulted in concert-goers abandoning their cars and walking to the venue. The festival did not have enough food, water and sleeping areas for the unexpected crowd.

By today’s standards, tickets for the three-day festival were a steal at $18. In 2019 dollars, that same ticket was $125.

Thirty-two acts took the stage over the weekend, starting with Richie Havens, included Janis Joplin, Creedance Clearwater Revival, and ending with Jimi Hendrix’s iconic rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” In between, Woodstock featured The Who, The Grateful Dead and Santana.

Food, water and places to sleep ran short as the crowds surged. But drugs remained in ready supply during a psychedelia-enthused area, and an iconic recording of the performance features promoters warning people not to take a bad batch of the “brown acid.”

In 2019, Woodstock co-creator Michael Lang attempted to organize another concert commemorating the 50th anniversary. It was eventually cancelled after they had to twice relocate the site and lost its headliners — including Miley Cyrus, Jay-Z and several of the original Woodstock 1969 performers.

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