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I’m in my 50s now, and I still go to a number of concerts including some occasional day-long and multi-day events. I love live music, and I’m passionate about a number of bands, but when I joke with friends about “My Woodstock,” what I’m referring to actually has nothing to do with music.
In fact, I’ve never been all that interested in the social or communal components of the concert culture. I don’t go to these shows to make friends or dance or high-five or mosh (unless it’s defensively), and I rarely talk to anyone outside of the group I went there with. I even go to a number of shows alone, and in some ways I actually prefer that.
In short, I’m not good concert company. My eyes and ears are reliably honed in on the stage. I sing along when I can and play a little air-guitar, but that’s about as animated as I get. Anything wilder than that going on around me in the crowd is more likely to annoy me than anything else.
So yeah, I probably would have hated the actual Woodstock — not just the original, but also the two that came together in the 90s.
The kind of Woodstock I like does have some star-power, but the headliners come from a different arena of personal interest: national political commentary.
Pretty sexy, huh? Let me explain…
I’ve been writing about politics for over a decade, and though I get paid to do it, I don’t really consider it my profession. Writing and publishing is my profession, and though the political stuff certainly falls under that umbrella, I’ve long viewed it as more of a hobby. I am, however, very much a consumer of such work. There are a number of professional political commentators whose insight I’ve found a lot of value in over the years. And during the 2016 election-cycle, I came to deeply admire some of these individuals.
Like I’ve said a few dozen times in the past, I try to keep this newsletter non-political, but I think some context is in order to facilitate this week’s topic. So, I’m going to get into politics just a little bit. Please bear with me…
I think everyone reading this would agree that there was a major disruption within the Republican party (of which I was member) in 2016. The party’s dynamics changed dramatically that year, shifting sharply away from principled conservatism toward more of a tribal, attitudinal, “we're not gonna take it anymore” approach. Many professional conservative commentators realized during this time that if they didn’t chase after and adapt to the changing base (which required these commentators to compromise numerous long-stated positions and standards), they’d likely lose their audience and risk sinking their own careers.
So, about 90% of them (unfortunately in my view) rebranded accordingly, tapping into the tone of the movement, and transitioning to mostly political fan-service. Of the remaining 10%, a relative handful shifted sharply left in their positions and have found success earning head-nods from left-leaning media-audiences. The rest of that small subset has maintained their principles and intellectual consistency, and continue to tell cold, hard truths — at their own professional and financial expense — while being heckled on a daily basis by those still upset over them not joining the aforementioned 90%.
I have immense respect for that last group — the ones who kept their integrity. I’m talking about people like Jonah Goldberg, Bernie Goldberg (whose site I write for), Stephen Hayes, Noah Rothman, David French, Kimberly Ross, and Kevin Williamson. These folks and others took the hard road when most of their colleagues took the easy one. As far as I’m concerned, they’re rock stars.
In the summer of 2017, I had an opportunity to meet some of them at an annual Weekly Standard event in Colorado Springs. I think Stephen Hayes was leading the now-defunct conservative publication at the time, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to listen to long, honest, intellectual discussions about important political topics. Such conversations were hard to come by back then, at least in Colorado, prior to the political-podcast boom. The event was interactive and insightful, and it was just cool hanging out with these folks and others at the conference.
This might surprise a lot of people, but outside of my writing, I don’t really like talking about politics. I don’t like boring others with my political views unless they’re the ones soliciting such a discussion. But at a conference like the one I was at, such talk was completely appropriate. You know, free-spirit type stuff.
It was My Woodstock, and when I met one of my heroes Charles Krauthammer that day, it was like listening to Joe Cocker belt out “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
I believe that event included what was Dr. Krauthammer’s last non-televised public speaking appearance, and boy was it a memorable one. He was in rare form. (On a side note, I was absolutely blown away by how fast the man drove his wheelchair down the hallways. Real Evel Knievel energy.)
Man, I miss that guy.
At the end of the event, I remember standing in a big, jumbled line of long-winded attendees waiting to talk to Stephen Hayes. When I finally got to him, I didn’t have a question. I just wanted to thank him, before I left, for his integrity. It really did mean a lot.
I took my wife with me the following year (along with a much better camera-phone), and had an even better time.
More favorites like Jonah Goldberg (he was still with National Review at the time), A.B. Stoddard, Kristen Soltis Anderson, and Haley Byrd were part of that year’s lineup, and I actually made some connections this time. Some of the speakers and panelists knew a little about me through my political writing, but having up close and personal conversations with them is what started some enduring relationships.
The last morning of the event, my wife and I ate breakfast with iconic political commentator Fred Barnes. It wasn’t by design. Fred got held up on his way to the dining room from the buffet table, when someone inadvertently closed a door in his face. He spilled whatever he was drinking (coffee I think) on his clothes. I’m pretty sure my wife and I were the only ones who’d seen it. By the time Fred cleaned himself up, the rest of the tables filled. Seeing the deer-in-the-headlights look on his face, my wife and I invited him over to our table.
It was blast. I joked with Fred that my wife was a Beltway Boys mega-fan, and despite him being a surprisingly low talker, the three of us had a great conversation.
The Weekly Standard was shut down by its parent company a few months later, for reasons tying back to the pressures of that 90/10 conservative-media breakdown I spoke of. So, I just kind of figured that there probably wouldn’t be a Woodstock 3.0 in my future.
But then, in late 2019, Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg launched a new online publication called The Dispatch, which I’ve plugged a number of times in this newsletter. They began bringing aboard other national commentators and reporters that I very much like and respect, and the site has become — in my opinion — the best overall source of news and analysis online. I was an early subscriber, and when I learned that they planned to host a number of in-person events, I got pretty excited.
That was until the pandemic hit a few months later, and put everything on the back-burner for a couple of years. In mid 2022, after things were looking reasonably safe again, The Dispatch announced a multi-day November event in Naples, Florida. After some discussion, my wife and I pulled the trigger on it. We bought tickets (event, hotel, and airline), and then — just a few weeks out — watched Hurricane Ian tear Naples apart on television. So… it was cancelled.
But a couple weeks ago, fortunes finally changed. The Dispatch announced a one-night member meetup in Colorado. Woodstock was back, baby!
Granted it was only a mini-Woodstock. Hayes and company have been hosting some informal regional events over the past few months, and this one was held at a popular Denver brewery. It was just Stephen, Jonah, and the site’s community manager, Ryan. Still, it was well-attended and a ton of fun. The relaxed atmosphere actually made it easier for members (some of who’d driven in from out of state) to become acquainted and share stories of political homelessness, prior to an open, honest, and insightful program by the hosts.
The Dispatch guys clearly had a good time too, and though the event assuredly wasn’t their Woodstock, they were quite heartened by the warm, middle-America reception they received. They confided that it stood in stark contrast with the lonely place Washington DC has become for them.
That’s a shame, because they and their team are good, honorable people providing an invaluable service. I can’t recommend The Dispatch highly enough for those interested in serious news coverage and thoughtful analysis.
And if you can catch their show on the road, I highly recommend checking it out. It may not produce the same hippy vibes these events do for me, but I’m confident you’ll get something out of it nonetheless.
Do you have your own personal Woodstock? Tell me about it in an email or in the comment section below.
Spring Break! Woo!
My family spent last weekend in one of my favorite places, Estes Park. Though I don’t think the temperature ever rose above the low 30s, the sun was shining, and the times were good.
Obligatory Dog Shot
Nothing’s getting by them.
Okay, I couldn’t resist. This three-record album of live, iconic performances from the original Woodstock in 1969 is an absolute classic. It includes Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, The Who, Santana, Joan Baez, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. If you’ve never listened to it, you should.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!