SAUGERTIES, N.Y. — Undaunted by pelting rain falling from slate-gray skies, a new Woodstock Nation came alive Saturday, its youthful tribes joining together with a sprinkling of older veterans in a round-the-clock party in search of relevance.
By midday, as grizzled Woodstock '69 survivor Joe Cocker launched into raspy strains of "With A Little Help From My Friends," the concert site had become a yawning pit of humanity, at least 250,000 strong.
Hundreds of concert-goers roamed into the event for free by scrambling over, under and through fences and walking through unmanned security posts. Nearly 8,000 others drove around in frustration as logistics snafus at parking lots forced state police troopers to turn them away from access roads.
In the late afternoon, the rain poured, though the storm slackened after about an hour. Concert promoters feared a series of severe thunderstorms, and security officials said lightning strikes were reported in Kingston, about 15 miles to the south.
"In the event of lightning, we are warning people to stay low," said John Scher, president of PolyGram Diversified Ventures, the festival's principal financial sponsor. "We are telling people to stay in their tents. We are telling kids to assume a basic fetal position in case of lightning."
Scher said the rock fans also were being advised to stay away from metal fences and trees.
Medical personnel warned of a danger of hypothermia as temperatures cooled overnight. They also said most first aid stations were blocked by campers' tents.
"We can't get through the crowds if there is a medical emergency," a physician said. He urged concert-goers to familiarize themselves with the location of the nearest first aid station.
With the combination of rain and traffic snarls, New York State Police officials estimated it could take as long as 20 to 25 hours to clear the crowds from the concert site once the three-day festival ends today.
When the storms came, a great primal howl swept across the vast audience. One concert-goer, recalling the wet weather that typified the original Woodstock, rose from his rain splattered tent, stretched his arms and yelled: "Now, is it real?"
The legions of young rock fans who made it inside the grounds roared their approval as their peers and rock idols staked a claim for a new generation. From the concert stages and deep into the makeshift tent cities, they chided their elders even as they appropriated their old slogans, their tie-dye uniforms and even some of their heroes.
"It's time they stopped talking about the old Woodstock," said Dina Vincenti, 21. "This time, it's our concert."
Nearby, Kathi Berg held her 15-month old daughter, Galadriel, who pounded on a drum.
"She'll be around for Woodstock 25 years from now," Berg said.
Ever since promoters announced there would be a second Woodstock, they have been dogged by comparisons to the first concert. And as the music pounded out from two giant stages over massive speaker columns, promoters, musicians and fans took every opportunity to move this Woodstock away from the shadow of its 25-year-old parent.
Some of the veterans of the landmark 1969 concert found themselves turned into living museum exhibits, posing in well-worn frills and flags for younger fans with cameras.
Deep in the crowds by the main stage sat Byrd Wilson, 41, and Harry Pegram, 45, of Winston-Salem, N.C., sun-burned, fringe-spangled and grizzled, two muscle-bound peace warriors from another era.
"It's two generations finally getting to meet each other and exchange spirits," said Wilson, whose ashen goatee and gray locks hung limp in the humid afternoon. "The old's teaching the young, man. And we're getting hip to them too. It's wild."
They said they had come to after a long night of partying on "Rebel Hill," an encampment up on a wooded ridge. They awoke at dawn to the strains of a bagpipe, played by a tipsy musician in kilts.
"I could've killed him," Wilson said. "I got a hunting knife. But, naw, this is Woodstock. He was doing his thing."
In darkness and in daylight, Woodstock '94 developed a personality of its own. If nudity and drugs were key symbols of the original concert, 25 years later there were new enduring images: The thousands of multicolored tents that dotted hillsides like Bedouin camps; the "Mud People," earth-caked rockers who snaked through the fields in front of television cameras; and the ravers, twitching partisans of droning industrial rock who danced all night long as swirling psychedelic lights played over them.
By Saturday, there had been four weddings performed on the grounds. One couple got married on the set MTV had erected next to the main stage, and the crowd cheered as the bride threw her bouquet.