Meet the Couple and the Photographer From the Iconic Woodstock Album Cover
Pine Bush’s Bobbi and Nick Ercoline share their lifetime of love and memories.
Photo by Burk Uzzle
Six months after the Woodstock Music & Art Fair in Bethel, Bobbi Kelly and her boyfriend, Nick Ercoline, were relaxing back in Orange County with their friends Jim “Corky” Corcoran, Cathy Wells, and Mike Duco. All five had attended the festival; but by that time, Woodstock was just a happy memory among other memories shared between friends.
Corky, a “walking music bible,” as Bobbi describes him, had just bought the Woodstock soundtrack album. As Bobbi and Nick looked at the album, certain features became recognizable: the butterfly flag carried by Herbie, the wayward Californian they befriended at the festival; the blanket around that couple on the cover — isn’t that the discarded quilt that we picked up on our trek through the crowds?
Hey, could that couple be us?
“It was neat, exciting,” says Bobbi.
In August 1969, the 20-year-olds had been dating for only 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 Corky’s mom’s white station wagon and hit the road along with Corky, Cathy, and Mike.
Bobbi and Nick Ercoline are still as much in love as when their photo was taken at Woodstock 50 years ago.
Photo by Stefan Radtke
Bobbi, Nick, Corky, and the others claimed a patch of ground with that dirty quilt. 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.
The Vietnam War was raging — Corky had just returned from serving 13 months 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 photographed by Burk Uzzle, whose photo was later chosen by the folks who were producing the Woodstock album.
Nick and Bobbi stayed together, married in August 1971, and had two children. Nick became a union carpenter, Bobbi a school nurse. They kept busy with the many odds and ends involved with raising a family.
Then, in 1989, Life magazine placed an ad in the local paper asking for insights from people who’d been at Woodstock. 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. They’ve traveled internationally multiple times to share their Woodstock experience, and especially enjoy talking with local schools and colleges.
Photo by Stefan Radtke
Most recently, they were invited by Woodstock alum John Fogerty to help open his Woodstock set in Las Vegas. “We couldn’t go,” Bobbi says with a shrug. “Our [granddaughter] Charlotte’s fourth birthday was April 12.” No hard feelings, though: Fogerty is meeting up with them at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
They return “to the garden” often, and have volunteered for several years at Bethel Woods, “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.”
They wish Woodstock founder Michael Lang well on his plans for a festival elsewhere this year.
“It’s important that today’s generation experience something,” Nick says, “and for them to create their own memories, pay it forward.”
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. “And I’m overwhelmingly grateful and immensely blessed to be able to share this experience with the man I love for 50 years.”
The Man Behind the Camera
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.
Photo by Janet Kagan
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.