50 Years After A Couple First Met At Woodstock, They Discovered Footage Of Their Fateful Encounter

Image: Facebook/Judith Kerner Griffin

It’s often joked that if you remember the 1969 music festival Woodstock, then you probably weren’t there. But Judy and Jerry Griffin were definitely there. In fact, it was where they first met. And after a 50-year search for images of their first encounter proved fruitless, they finally saw themselves on film.

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In the 50 years since the Woodstock Festival took place, it has stood as an iconic event of the 1960s. Although it was scheduled as a relatively small affair, it soon snowballed beyond the organizers’ control. And perhaps that was how Jerry and Judy Griffin felt as their paths randomly crossed that day.

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For the couple, the 50th anniversary of Woodstock also marked the 50th anniversary of the day they first met. The pair fell in love and have been together ever since that chance meeting. However, caught up in the moment, they never thought to take photos to mark the occasion.

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Friends would often ask Judy and Jerry if they had any photos from Woodstock and the couple always regretted not taking any. So they went on a decades-long search through documentary footage and image archives to try and fill that gap. It was a search that lasted for 50 years.

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Indeed, for the couple, trying to find themselves in a crowd of around half a million people was like trying to find a needle in the proverbial haystack. Then they got a text from a friend about a new Woodstock movie. And as they watched the documentary in the theater they were shocked by what appeared before them on screen.

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Woodstock is the name commonly given to a famous music festival held in 1969 in Bethel, New York. The event was originally scheduled to run for three days from 15 August that year. At the time, however, its name alternated between the Aquarian Music Festival and the Bethel Rock Festival. Either way, its organizers, by all accounts, were underprepared for its magnitude.

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Indeed, the festival’s immensity wasn’t only confined to that weekend in the late 60s. The whole event was so monumental that, 50 years later, it is still regarded as among the most pivotal moments in music history. Many anniversary events were planned in its honor, but none lived up to the original’s significance.

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However, the original Woodstock was about more than celebrating the music of the time. Presented under the banner, “An Aquarian Exposition: Three Days Of Peace and Music,” the festival was emblematic of the era’s anti-establishment cultural movement advocating peace and civil rights. And it featured some of the biggest musical icons of the decade.

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The event was originally planned for three days. Inclement weather, however, forced an overrun of the scheduled performances into a fourth day. A a result, Jimi Hendrix played to a thinning crowd in an 8.30 a.m. set that famously featured his psychedelic take on The Star-Spangled Banner. The iconic performance was a highlight in the subsequent Woodstock movie.

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Woodstock the film was released in 1970. It documented the festival through artist performances and interviews, with footage also shot from the crowd’s perspective. Critics praised the movie for capturing the spirit of the festival and sense of community among concert goers. Indeed, it was a spirit felt early in the weekend for Judy Griffin.

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It was August 15, 1969. And not only was it the first day of Woodstock, it was also Judy’s 22nd birthday. To celebrate, she and some friends got together and headed to the concert site in upstate New York. However, on the way, she ran into trouble that soured the party.

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Judy and her two companions with were almost 100 miles from the Woodstock site. They had gotten as far as the Tappan Zee Bridge, north of New York City, when their car broke down. The birthday girl was crushed, thinking their journey was over – there’s no way the trio could walk that far.

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“I was just thinking, ‘Damn, now we can’t go,’ and we were dying to,” Judy recalled to People magazine in August 2019. However, the birthday girl and her friends were so determined to get to Woodstock that they decided to try hitchhiking. And it wasn’t long before their luck turned around.

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Also traveling to Woodstock that day was Jerry Griffin and his friends. Their party was split between a couple of VW Beetles, and they pulled over when they saw Judy and her girlfriends were in need of a ride. Could it be that the stranded group had found a solution to their predicament?

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“Jerry and his friends pulled up,” Judy explained to People magazine. “I stuck my head in and I saw that there was a woman in the car. I’d never hitchhiked before, but I figured, well, since there was a woman, it was fairly safe and I probably should get in the car.” For the trio, the trip to Woodstock was back on.

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And, as luck would have it, Jerry and his friends were also on their way to Woodstock. As he described to New York’s ABC7 News in August 2019, “We saw these three girls hitchhiking and they had no idea where they were going, other than they wanted to go to Woodstock.” So the two groups converged.

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However, Judy wasn’t the only person who felt like her luck had changed. As Jerry explained to People magazine, “I thought, ‘Okay, this is definitely unusual. We just picked up this really cute girl. And I’m going to Woodstock and I’ve got a tent and she doesn’t.’” Furthermore, sparks soon started to fly between them.

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Fifty years on, Judy still remembers the feelings she had for Jerry that day. As she described to People magazine, “By the time we got out of the car and set up camp, we were into each other. We basically were together from that point on.” Indeed, a chance encounter that August day turned into a meaningful relationship.

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Judy and Jerry’s journey to Woodstock turned out to be a road to love. From there on, the young couple were inseparable. They spent the whole weekend together and only had eyes for each other over the full three days. And the birthday girl even ended up a with someplace to stay for the duration of the festival.

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“[Judy and her friends] had nothing,” Jerry explained to CBSLA News in August 2019 of the girls they picked up by the Tappan Zee Bridge. “So it was an opportunity to share a tent and, later on, a sleeping bag with Judy.” As a result, the couple ended up sharing the rest of their lives with each other. But there was one thing they didn’t share.

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It might have felt natural for Judy and Jerry to keep the early stages of their relationship private. However, later, when it came to regaling friends with the story of how that chance meeting had worked out, the couple had no photos to show of their blossoming romance that historic weekend.

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That lack of photos from Woodstock, particularly due to their personal memories of the event, was something Judy and Jerry grew to regret. In fact, they had both taken cameras to the festival. But perhaps due to being lost in the experience and, indeed, each other, neither of them thought to take any pictures.

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“We both had cameras, but neither of us took any pictures,” Jerry recalled to People magazine. Friends would often ask to see photos, but it was a request the couple were simply unable to fulfill. So they made it their mission to track down a shot of themselves at Woodstock.

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For the next 50 years, Jerry and Judy searched for an image of themselves among the vast Woodstock crowd. It was a challenge that lasted through not only their marriage and the birth of their two sons, but also the arrival of five grandchildren. And as you’d expect, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

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Indeed, there was a lot of documentary footage and many images for Jerry and Judy to scour over the years. They would meticulously scan pictures of the crowd in the vain hope they might eventually spot themselves among the revelers. However, although source material was abundant, so, too, was the festival audience.

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Woodstock’s organizers hadn’t expected crowd numbers to exceed 50,000. Ticket prices were set at $18 for the weekend, which is a price that today would be equivalent to around $125. Compare that to a three-day $429 pass to Coachella, and 18 bucks looks like an enticing prospect, just as it did to hundreds of thousands of fans.

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Fans began arriving to the Woodstock site in their thousands two days before its official start. Many of them, however, didn’t have tickets. And due to a last-minute change of venue, organizers were underprepared for the influx of revelers. In fact, they soon became overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up.

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Thousands of festival goers eventually swelled to hundreds of thousands. And although booths were set up for ticket purchases, organizers ran out of time to secure the site – eventually a 15-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. Those who hadn’t paid the entry fee simply strolled through inadequate perimeter fencing.

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“I don’t think I sold any tickets,” 72-year-old Lynda Sales Engholm told Reuters in August 2019. Engholm ran the box office at Woodstock and remembers the scenes well. “It was chaos,” she revealed. Indeed, the small town of Bethel also struggled to cope with the influx of pleasure seekers.

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The huge rush of concert goers caused a famous traffic jam in the Bethel area. Wary of the sheer numbers of people descending on it, the township waived its traffic codes. And with cars at a standstill for around 20 miles, thousands simply abandoned their vehicles and completed their journey on foot.

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Unable to cope with the number of people attending the event, Woodstock organizers had no choice but to make the festival free. However, with so many revelers showing up without a ticket, it’s impossible to put a definitive number on the crowd size that weekend. Estimates range from around 400,000 to half a million.

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Traffic reports of congestion around the Woodstock site put many off trying to get in. But Jerry and Judy were undeterred. Not even the rain showers could dampen their spirits or extinguish the sparks that flew between them. Spotting themselves among that vast crowd, however, seemed impossible. Until an unexpected text 50 years later.

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To mark Woodstock’s 50th anniversary, PBS released a new documentary of the event titled Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation. In a trailer for the film, Jerry and Judy are seen wrapped in a blanket, soaked from a rain shower. A friend then snapped a shot of them and texted it to the couple.

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Jerry and Judy went to see the documentary at a theater, and sure enough, there they were on the screen. “I screamed, you know, ‘There we are!’” Judy recalled to Inside Edition in August 2019. However, it wasn’t enough for the couple to just see themselves in the footage.

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When the movie finished, Jerry and Judy went to the projection room with a special request for staff. They convinced the projectionist to replay the scene where they’d spotted their younger selves in the crowd. The couple then took a picture of themselves in front of the screen with their Woodstock image behind them.

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“For 50 years we’ve been looking for a picture of ourselves [at Woodstock], and out of the blue, one shows up,” Jerry explained to People magazine. And although five decades have passed since filmmakers captured the rain-soaked young couple, Jerry and Judy remember the day with surprising clarity.

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“There was that giant rainstorm on Sunday and after the rain, or during some part of the rain, we were standing up,” Judy recalled to People magazine. “I have no recollection of it whatsoever, but I guess there were people photographing the crowd. And we were standing there and they must’ve taken our picture.”

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“We were standing watching a lot of kids slide down the cow pasture mud, and that’s something we didn’t really want to do,” Jerry further recalled. “We were soaked. We were tired, too. And it got cold and we were completely drenched when that photograph was taken.” Nevertheless, the image was everything they’d spent 50 years looking for.

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Originally from New York, Jerry and Judy relocated five months after Woodstock when they both expressed a desire to move. Jerry was due to attend law school in Los Angeles, so they loaded up a VW camper and drove nearly 3,000 miles cross-country. They married in 1975, but Judy’s birthday – and the day they met – is equally a landmark celebration.

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For their 50th anniversary – and Judy’s 72nd birthday – she and Jerry’s kids had a special Woodstock-themed cake made, featuring the long-sought image. “That’s a pretty indelible memory for both of us,” Jerry explained to CBSLA News. “It was just so accidental. Accidents happen, and sometimes really good accidents happen.”

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