Long Times Gone

UPDATED 08/23/1999 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/23/1999 at 01:00 AM EDT

When Jimi Hendrix cranked out "Purple Haze" to wind down the Woodstock festival in 1969, hundreds of thousands of young people headed hack to the real world believing they'd been present at the dawning of a new age. (This July's Woodstock revival, where there was haze of a different sort—smoke from fires set by rioting concertgoers—spawned no such illusions.) PEOPLE dusted off photos of the original event and tracked down their subjects. What becomes of a free spirit when he or she grows up? Turn on, tune in—find out:

Mellow marriage, good vibes, two kids

In 1969, Nicholas Ercoline was in college in Middletown, N.Y., where his girlfriend, Bobbi Kelly, worked at a bank. A short drive from the concert, they had no plans to attend until they heard a radio report on Woodstock's first morning. "It said, 'They closed the New York State Thruway. Don't come,' " says Bobbi. "We were on our way. We had to check it out."

Driving with friends, they parked six miles from the site, then made their way to a hill so far from the performers that they couldn't even see the stage. Still, they could hear the music and feel the vibes. "Everybody shared," says Bobbi, 50, a school nurse. "It was a wonderful time." They stayed less than 24 hours, but were captured on film embracing, an image immortalized on the cover of the Woodstock record album. It's a pose the Ercolines—who married in 1971 and have sons ages 20 and 17—still strike. "If I haven't seen my wife all day," says Nicholas, 50, a carpenter, "I'll walk up and give her a big hug and a kiss."

"Look around you, man. You are in heaven"

As a bass player in several classic-rock bands, Rico Topazio, 48, often plays songs he heard at Woodstock. But he knows the concert itself was a onetime phenomenon. "Everybody tried to do it again afterward," he says. "But there was no way to plan something that spontaneous."

Or as chaotic. Topazio, then living in Bristol, R.I., had bought an $18 ticket for the festival, but by the time he arrived, the fences were down. "We had our tickets," he recalls, "and there was nobody to give them to." With two friends, he scaled a light tower before the show began. But the concert staff reproached them. "They said, 'Look behind you and see how many people's view you're blocking,' " he recalls. "That got us down."

Topazio and wife Barbara, 48, married since 1983, have three kids, ages 15 to 26. After working for several years as a puppeteer in TV and films, he recently took a job as a financial analyst for DIRECTV. But he still savors memories of Woodstock, such as the moment late one night when someone onstage suggested everyone light a match. "The guy on the stage said, 'Look around you, man. You are in heaven,' " recalls Topazio. "And that's what it felt like."

From the surreal to real estate

"If Woodstock was a part of history," says John Weidlein, "then I was definitely a part of it!" Weidlein, then a 20-year-old junior at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, arrived four days early to beat the crowds and was invited to help build the stage on which Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin would perform. He fondly remembers sampling the music, the spirit of communal love and what he refers to as the chemically enhanced "energy" of the event. Says he: "If you were there, you knew it couldn't be duplicated again."

But Woodstock, says Weidlein, did not change his life. Then a left-leaning college student who protested the Vietnam War and wore his hair long, today he votes Republican and runs a brokerage firm that specializes in investing the funds of real estate developers. Weidlein, who keeps fit with 45 minutes of yoga a day, lives in Middleburg, Va., near Washington, D.C., with his wife, Lynn 49, his high school sweetheart who now works as his firm's bookkeeper, and Travis, 10, their son. What does he think of all that youthful excess today? "It was a rite of passage," says Weidlein. "If you were going to make drugs a focal point of your life, things were going to go downhill. I tell Travis that drugs are not going to do anything but screw him up."

After suburban comfort, finding a new direction

Dodee Giebas, 50, remembers clearly the moment when a helicopter swooped down over Woodstock, where the Pittsburgh native had a center-stage seat. The crowd expected a food drop. Instead, out came daisies. "They twirled down, their little heads spinning like propellers," recalls Giebas, who had made the trip from Pittsburgh with 30 fellow pilgrims in the back of a U-Haul. "We caught them. Thousands of us stood with daisies in our hands."

Nine years later, the onetime flower child found herself a married mom (of Mark, now 21) working as an electronics technician and living in suburban Maryland with husband Ed Giebas, 37, a maintenance engineer. In a moment of clarity she realized she didn't want that lifestyle, and in 1989 the couple resettled in the home they built in the hills outside Shepherds-town, W.Va., where she works as a massage therapist. "The love I felt at Woodstock was a microcosm of future possibilities," says Giebas, who since has been reunited with a daughter she had given up for adoption in 1968. "We'll be the grandmothers and grandfathers who will impart wisdom in the new millennium. Our job is not done yet."

A staffer's third trip back to the garden

They say that if you can remember the drug-saturated Woodstock '69 festival, then you weren't there. For Pilar Law, 31, whose parents brought her along to the concert as a 2-year-old, that's not entirely true. "I have a few memories of Woodstock that have stayed with me my whole life," she says—like playing on a hill of sand and sitting backstage as a stranger peeled an orange.

Pilar's mother, photographer Lisa Law, 56, helped set up the Woodstock '69 kitchen and her father, Tom, 59, worked security and taught yoga from the stage. This July, Pilar, who lives in Sebastopol, Calif., and works in concert promotions, was back as festival organizer Michael Lang's assistant. "She was born for this job," says filmmaker Mel Lawrence, 62, another alum of '69 who recommended Law to Lang. Law, who also attended Woodstock '94, says she enjoyed the '99 sequel, but the violence at the end left her shaken. "To see all this hard work and these good intentions get trashed by just a few people," says Law, who watched helplessly as vendors' trucks were set afire and ATMs destroyed, "that's really the difference between the generations now and then."

Thomas Fields-Meyer and Patrick Rogers
Gerald Burstyn in Middleburg, Tom Duffy and Eric Francis in New York and Lisa Newman in Shepherdstown

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