Bobbi Ercoline and her husband, Nick, appear to be ordinary retirees. They like to volunteer, enjoy traveling, and love spending time with their children, grandkids, and friends. But dig deeper and you’ll find something extraordinary.
The Pine Bush duo are the couple from the Woodstock album cover. They’ve been on Oprah, a writeup about them appeared in Smithsonian, and they lead rock-star musicians on artist tours around the Woodstock site. And all because of a roadtrip across the county line nearly 50 years ago.
In August 1969, they were 20 years old, and only dating for a couple of months. The TV and radio were abuzz with news of a crowded music festival the next county over. Officials were warning people to stay away.
“When you’re 20 years old and someone tells you not to do something, you’re going to do it,” Nick says with a laugh. A bartender/college student at the time, he and Bobbi — who worked in a Middletown bank — hopped in their friend Jim “Corky” Corcoran’s mom’s white station wagon along with friends Cathy Wells and Mike Duco, and hit the road.
What they saw was “pretty cool.”
“There was singing, dancing, crying,” Bobbi says. “You could smell cooking, campfires, pot, vomit, patchouli oil — it was an assault on the senses.”
“There was a young man sitting on the hood of a state trooper’s car, smoking a joint,” Nick says, still incredulous given the strict drug laws of that time.
Bobbi, Nick, Corky, and the others claimed a patch of ground with a discarded quilt they’d found on their trek through the crowds. Illuminated by the orange glow of the festival lights, swaying to the music, the people filling Max Yasgur’s farm looked like a wheat field to Bobbi and Nick.
Yet, somehow, the chaos worked.
“You know how the best-laid plans go awry, but a spontaneous party ends up being the best you ever had? That was Woodstock,” Bobbi says.
It can’t be replicated today, although people have tried, the Ercolines agree.
“Music had a different effect on people then; it was cohesive,” Nick says. “Now, people don’t have the right to a different opinion without a riot breaking out.”
The Vietnam War was raging — Corky had just returned from fighting with the Marines. Battles for women’s rights and civil rights were being waged on the homefront. Yet for three days up in Sullivan County, peace reigned.
As morning broke on Sunday, Nick and Bobbi stood and greeted the sunrise wrapped in the quilt. They didn’t know they were being watched.
Photographer Burk Uzzle was a member of the Magnum photo agency when news of Woodstock broke. A couple of agency photographers went to cover it for magazines, but Uzzle decided to go on his own: that way, he’d cover what he saw fit, not just what his bosses suggested.
Uzzle happened upon Bobbi and Nick as dawn rose. Unbeknown to them, he snapped some pictures. The folks who were producing the Woodstock album later contacted Magnum to look at shots taken by Uzzle and other Magnum members.
After Woodstock, Bobbi and Nick returned to their regular lives. “We didn’t know the picture had been taken until the album came out in the late winter/early spring,” Bobbi says.
Nick and Bobbi stayed together and married in August 1971. Their son Matthew came along in 1979; another son, Luke, followed in 1981. Nick became a union carpenter, Bobbi a school nurse. They kept busy with the many odds and ends involved with raising a family (“We were by no means hippies,” Bobbi says with a laugh — although a nod to the Age of Aquarius is evident in a sign on their porch that jokingly reads, “Hippies Use Back Door”).
Life magazine placed an ad in the local paper in 1989, asking for insights from people who’d been at Woodstock, for a 20th anniversary issue. Bobbi responded, and Life called back and sent a photographer. Since then, their lives have been intertwined with the history of that photo and the festival of peace and love that it represents. The couple has traveled to Germany twice, they Skype with schoolchildren around the country, and they receive items in the mail to be autographed several times a month.
They return “to the garden” often, and are volunteering for the second year at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, “a jewel in the crown of Sullivan County,” Bobbi says. “They’re the stewards of that hallowed ground, and they’ve done an amazing job.”
Looking back, Bobbi and Nick say the photo captured the start of their life together.
“This has given us so many wonderful memories and opportunities,” Bobbi says. “The wonderfulness of it all is that we still love each other.”
Uzzle agrees, saying the purity of what he captured still resonates: “It gave me such pleasure to see them so much in love. It was a real thing — they’re still so much in love.”
Photographer Burk Uzzle was a member of the Magnum photo agency when news of Woodstock broke in August 1969. A couple of agency photographers went to cover it for various magazines, but Uzzle decided to go on his own: that way, he’d cover what he saw fit, not just what his bosses suggested. “That’s the way I’ve always preferred to work,” says Uzzle, who was based in New York City at the time.
The director of Magnum owned a 2,000-acre farm in the Catskills, so Uzzle packed up a couple of Leica cameras and headed there with his wife, Cardy, and two young sons, Tad and Andy.
Their plan was to “get up, leave the tents by the stream, visit the festival and head back,” Uzzle says. “But once we got in, we couldn’t get out because of the crowds. Because we were traveling with the kids, we carried a shoulder bag with animal crackers, juice, and some fruit. That ended up being our sustenance. And I always carried a poncho in case of rain. I tacked it to a barbed-wire fence, making a kind of lean-to, and that became our living quarters.”
He was struck by the camaraderie he found: “You couldn’t meet a stranger. People were helping each other.”
Uzzle reveled in the freedom he had in choosing what to shoot, although having only a half-dozen rolls of black-and-white film, he had to be selective.
He told fellow photographers at the stage what he saw up on the hillsides.
“I kept going there and telling them, ‘People are up there taking their clothes off.’ But they couldn’t leave,” Uzzle said. “So I said, ‘If you can’t leave, could you lend me a couple of rolls of color film?”
Freshly stocked, Uzzle happened upon Bobbi and Nick as dawn rose. Unbeknown to them, he snapped some pictures, which were included in a Woodstock pictorial in New York magazine. The folks who were producing the Woodstock album later contacted Magnum to look at shots taken by Uzzle and other Magnum members.
“By then, everyone knew the story [of Woodstock] was the people, not the music,” Uzzle says, although he admits it was unusual for a rock album to feature something other than musicians on its cover.