‘Long Time Gone’: Memories of Woodstock

September 2019 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Community, People

Poppy Shell

By Brenna Wiegand

The nation recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and a Silverton resident with strong ties to that festival – who also appeared in the classic film of the concert – is now part of a new book.

Poppy Shell’s experiences at Woodstock are chronicled in Pilgrims of Woodstock a new book about the festival in Bethel, New York that drew an estimated 400,000 young people and became the symbol of the hippie era.

The book is composed of never-before-seen photos by Richard Bellak and the stories of 30 Woodstock hippies compiled by John Kane. Shell was contacted after someone noticed a Facebook post she’d made about her time at Woodstock.

Shell moved around some, but she graduated from high school in the Washington D.C. area and lived in Northern Virginia.

“I was a big hippie and lived near DuPont Circle in D.C., a major hippie hangout,” she said. “Rock concerts and peace rallies were the main things I did.”

At 16 Poppy caught a ride to Woodstock with three older friends from Northern Virginia to attend what she expected to be a few days of camping and hearing some great bands.

“We got there early and drove right up on the hill behind the stage,” Shell said. “When we set up our tent there were maybe three or four others; when we got up in the morning the hillside was completely covered.

“We had a tent, sleeping bags and some clothes,” she added. “Some people literally showed up with the clothes on their back and sat in one place for three days, but I roamed all over – to the woods; swam in the pond…”

It was at the pond that a man with a big camera approached Shell and her friend asking if he could follow them around to collect footage for a film.

“We thought that was really cool,” Shell said. “He spent maybe four hours with us. With his press pass he took us up front and we climbed the scaffolding to get a better look at the bands.”

Out of all those hours, only 10 seconds made it into Woodstock – the movie.

“The movie came out a year later, but even after it came out, we didn’t know the legacy would live on to where it almost has some kind of cult status,” Shell said. “I had no idea there were also people camping miles away who would schlep in for a concert then schlep back to their tent. I knew there were a lot of people there, but I had no idea that the Governor had declared a state of emergency.

“My most vivid memory of Woodstock, besides the crowds, was my time at the pond,” Shell said. “It was just a beautiful outdoor relaxing time and the only place you could get clean. Everybody was very kind to each other, and I never saw anyone who wasn’t having a good time, even when the storm came.”

Shell finished high school early, bought a Volkswagen van and, at 17, headed West to check out Mount Angel College in Oregon.

“At that point it was an alternative college where I could study things like goat herding and cheese making and art history – it was super fun,” she said.

Poppy met her future husband, David Shell, a few years after attending Mount Angel College. They went on to raise five kids in Silverton and on the island of Kauai where they moved in 1992 to help rebuild after Hurricane Iniki.  When it was time to retire in 2015, moving back to Silverton was an easy decision. Two of their kids had moved back and they still had many friends in the area.

Reflecting back on Woodstock, the movie, the book… it doesn’t end there for Shell.

“What are the odds I was picked out of 400,000 Woodstock attendees for a book that only has 30 interviews?” Shell said.

Most recently Shell got a call from the curator of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in New York State; her story will be included on the wall of a new Woodstock display.

“My kids think it’s hilarious that their old mom and grandma was at Woodstock but going to concerts and peace rallies were my favorite things,” Shell said. “Now they’re my kids and 11 grandkids, playing pickleball at the YMCA and riding my bike around the lovely town of Silverton. My hippie days are long over!”

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