I’m not sure how many Woodshock punk festivals I went to in the ’80s — it was either three or four — but certain images will never leave me. There was the tattoo-scarred kid with a shaved head swinging on a rope over Dead Man’s Hole, his body framed by the rocks as he did a scissor-kick before falling into the crystal clear water. As the mushrooms hit. Then there was the dust storm in the mosh pit as the Offenders, Scratch Acid, Not For Sale and Cargo Cult shredded well past midnight.
I can still remember all the people standing around cars drinking beer from coolers in their trunks after the 20 kegs ran out. And the rent-a-cops wondering what kinda Charles Manson shit had they gotten themselves into. So many memories of anarchy tamed by nature, when punks turned into hippies if only for the longest day.
There is one memory from the Dripping Springs show of 1985 that brings home how Woodshock was not only a landmark of the local music scene, but an event with national implications. It was that moment of the day just before the sun rises, when the darkness positively glows, and onstage was a band from L.A. called Tex and the Horseheads, whose singer’s hair seemed to erupt from her head.
Next to the stage, in my line of vision, was a party revolving around members of Seattle’s U-Men, San Francisco’s Tales of Terror and the Austin bands Poison 13 and Scratch Acid. They were toasting the performances they’d given earlier in the evening, which demonstrated an uncanny musical kinship. They were all considered punk bands, but there was something different going on, from the U-Men’s melding of Captain Beefheart and Pere Ubu, Tales of Terror’s manic metallica, Poison 13’s assertion that Howlin’ Wolf was the original punk rocker and Scratch Acid’s big bottom sound, which was closer to Led Zeppelin than to the Sex Pistols. It was the morning of June 30, the last day that Ecstasy was legal, and pop music had changed right before the dilated pupils of the 600 or so still in attendance 18 hours after the concert had kicked off with Daniel Johnston singing “The Marching Guitars.”
This new style of music — metal/art rock played with punk attitude — wouldn’t have a name until five years later, when Kurt Cobain, a big fan of Tales of Terror and Scratch Acid, led Nirvana to the top of the charts, and the U-Men’s manager Susan Silver guided Alice in Chains and Soundgarden to the platinum promised land. The seeds of grunge were sown at the same Hurlbut Ranch where, in 1972, the “outlaw country” movement got its wings with the Dripping Springs Reunion concert featuring Willie and Waylon and Kris with Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Bill Monroe. That land, also the site of the very first Willie Nelson Picnic in 1973, is sacred in the annals of Austin music.
EVERY YOUNG MAN AND WOMAN SHOULD HAVE AN EXPERIENCE LIKE WOODSHOCK, where you lose yourself in the music and the camaraderie, shaking your mind to get rid of the excess brain cells that are holding you down. But although organizers are planning another “Woodshock” festival, June 2-3 at Waterloo Park, it won’t be the same. The classic Woodshocks (’83, ’84, ’85, ’86) didn’t have fences or police officers or stands selling turkey legs and beer. They were in the middle of nowhere — ugly music in a beautiful setting — and there wasn’t a curfew.
But Waterloo Park is exactly where Woodshock began 20 years ago, so the upcoming anniversary shows carry the clout of legitimacy. The 1981 show, organized by Chris Wing of Sharon Tate’s Baby, was a free BYOB event on the deck near the west entrance of the park. Asked about the maiden ‘Shock, one musician with the Court Reporters couldn’t even recall playing the event. Someone else had memories of a band launching live chickens into a crowd of about 200. Memories are blurry except that it was a magical day.
A group of would-be impressarios, including actor Charles “Doug the Slug” Gunning III (Newton Boys) and musicians Mike Alvarez (Max and the Make-ups) and Jeff Smith (The Hickoids), decided to make Woodshock an annual campout. After three years at the Hurlbut Ranch, the concert moved to Camp Ben McCullough, just across from the Salt Lick barbecue, in ’86. That fest is remembered for two things: 1) an amazing set by the Butthole Surfers, whose singer Gibby Haynes used a bullhorn after the P.A. went out, and 2) someone giving LSD to Daniel Johnston, who suffered psychotic episodes in the following weeks.
The last I saw Daniel that night he was charming, funny, ecstatic to be part of such a cool event. “Come here,” he said, pulling me by the arm toward two women he had been talking to. “Tell them about me, you know, how I’ve been on MTV and all that.” A few days later Johnston would be up to his
knees in Waller Creek, shrieking incoherently until the APD took him away. He was never the same.
Neither was Woodshock. In 1987, Dripping Springs neighbors nixed the show, and it ended up at the Cave Club (currently Atomic Cafe) as a last resort. After skipping ’88, the fest moved to the rugby fields at U.S. 183 and Loyola Lane, but the original spirit of the event, heightened by the knowledge that cops would never drive their cars up the mile of rocky road that led to the Hurlbut Ranch, wasn’t there. A couple of other events called “Woodshock,” with new organizers, took place in the ’90s, but those half-baked events were “Woodshock” in name only.
Watch the 7 minute film by Lee Daniel and Richard Linklater to get a real spirit of the original, never to be duplicated. There have never been more beautiful, more meaningful days in the lives of us paradise gutter rebels who just wanted to be loved and belong. And then there was the long drive back to Austin.
bretSeptember 4, 2021
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