By Paul Kennedy
All couples have first dates; some are simply more memorable than others. Meet Kathy and Butch Dukes of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, who pretty much have cornered the market on memorable first dates.
“People will meet us and ask, ‘How can you be so liberal?’” Kathy, 71, says with the amused voice of a woman who gets that question a lot. “I tell them, ‘Come on, we met at Woodstock.’”
In the organized chaos that was Woodstock, these two kids crossed paths. Little did they know that they would then share the same path for the next 50 years. “We had fun together and decided to continue the romance,” says Butch, 69.
Kathy was 21 in 1969, living in New York’s Greenwich Village. Eddie Bigler, a friend living across the hall in her apartment building, suggested they go to this musical festival he had been hearing about. So, sleeping bags in hand, Eddie and Kathy headed out. Once on the Woodstock grounds, Eddie bumped into Butch, an old friend. After introductions, Eddie split. Kathy and Butch stayed.
The two found themselves center stage and up the hill, right in the middle of the biggest concert in history. And that’s where they stayed, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people, talking, listening to music and, like all couples on a first date, getting to know each other. “We didn’t budge,” Kathy says. “Once you sat down there wasn’t anywhere to go.”
It was nonstop music for Butch and Kathy. Richie Havens, Ten Years After, Jefferson Airplane, they enjoyed them all. But the most notable act? Had to be Sha Na Na, Kathy says. “It was just so outrageous to see these guys in gold lamé outfits singing doo-wop and dancing around. They were just so fun.”
Through thick and thin, the couple hung tight. Searing heat, torrential rain, mud, music miracles and delays; all was taken in stride, buoyed by the wonder of youth. “On our way out,” Kathy says, “we literally were walking by the stage when Jimi Hendrix was playing the ‘Star-Spangled Banner. ’”
Who goes their own way after that? Exactly. Which is why after the festival Butch went home, gathered his belongings and moved to New York to be with Kathy. They were married Thanksgiving weekend, 1969. Their daughter, Jessica, was born the next spring. Her middle name is Satori, named after friend Eddie Bigler’s cat.
As for Woodstock itself, Kathy and Butch thought it was grand. Butch still has the denim jacket he wore that weekend; mud stains and all.
“I know it’s a cliché,” Butch says, “but Woodstock was all about love and peace.”
For Kathy and Butch Dukes, it’s no cliché. Woodstock will always be about love.