Fifteen year-old Robin Westle spent the summer of 1969 at a self described “hippie camp.” One day she found herself among a group of girls herded into a bus with tents and sleeping bags. They arrived at fields slick with mud and thick with stoned, half naked people. Each camper was given two paper bags, one for lunch, one for dinner. These were devoured by noon. They had arrived at “Woodstock.” (She sings Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit.”)
The concert stage was almost an hour away. Counselors, many, she tells us, never seen again, departed in search of drugs. “Then Richie Havens took the stage and the experience became real.” The rest of this parenthesis, her show’s highlight/raison d’etre is alas, very brief. We hear not about impressions, discomfort, sights, people, but only a march back to sleep and the bus. Our loss. “Woodstock” (Joni Mitchell) and “Come Together” (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) follow, trenchant and full, showcasing alto range.
Before Woodstock, Westle sets the scene or, rather her scene, wholesome and naïve despite, at last, getting high with besty, Susie Essman (who went on to a recurring role in Curb Your Enthusiasm). Still, we’re not sure what the singer is thinking or feeling. She practically never smiles during the show and is unconvincing as stoned. Was it a good time?
Afterwards, evidently changed, the young woman began to make her own clothes with special preference for tie-dye and evolved into the socially/politically active woman she remains. “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” (Robert Lamm) aptly expresses transition/confusion.
We close with “We Shall Overcome” (Pete Seeger) and “I Shall Be Released” (Bob Dylan). Tracy Stark offers layered, period arrangements and on point harmony (throughout). Barry Mann/Cynthia Weill’s “It’s Getting Better” is seemingly directed to the artist’s husband of 43 years, not the era.
Westle’s style is consistently longlined which tends to take bounce out of songs. Perhaps a result of her civilian career as a speech pathologist, she seems over conscious of enunciation. The performer is, however, warm, sincere, and can be funny when she allows herself. Our memories are disinterred. Hers remain only glimpsed.
Photos by Tricia Baron
Robin Westle: In the Summer of ‘69
Directed by Eric Michael Gillett
Don’t Tell Mama
December 30, 2019