Nobody expected Woodstock to be a national phenomenon, but even now -- on the 50th anniversary of the climactic three-day live music event in rural New York -- T-shirts, CDs, movies, newspapers and magazines pay tribute to what has become one of the defining moments of the 1960s and a happening that looms large in the history of rock.

Though western Kentucky sits nearly 1,000 miles from Bethel, where the concert was staged, some of the festival's 400,000 attendees now call the area home.

"We had absolutely no idea what we were getting into when we went up there. What I remember most is the mass of humanity that was there," said retired Paducah attorney Jim Lindblad. "There was just people everywhere, laying on the ground, sleeping on top of cars, in tents and campers. It just sort of overwhelmed me and it was one of the experiences of my lifetime."

Lindblad wasn't the only one to note the sheer scale of the crowd.

"I like rock music but before that I was into folk and we went to the Newport Folk Festival every year. That's what I was expecting, to be able to see the acts and sit down in the grass," said Lisa Brazzell, a Connecticut-born Clinton resident. "I had no idea there were going to be so many people. Nobody did. I don't know if I would have gone if I would have known."

"It was just a sea of humanity," added John Moore, 67, a retired building contractor and WKCTC instructor who now resides in Graves County.

The music, of course, was one of the main reasons all three went to the gathering, but none of them got a dream festival experience.

"We walked several miles after we parked the car and when we finally arrived it would have been impossible to get to the stage so we were relegated to the perimeter pretty much," continued Moore, who stopped at Woodstock one day during a trip from his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, to visit a friend in New York City. "It quickly became apparent when we got there that it was overwhelming."

Moore remembers hearing snatches of sets from Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

"Creedence Clearwater Revival was the only act where we laid out a blanket and sat down. There was actually a delay because we were so far off. You'd see a guy strum a guitar and have to wait a second for the sound."

"I remember Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin and Creedence Clearwater Revival the clearest," said Lindblad. "If you were 10 miles away you could hear the music, but we were mostly hanging out with girls and the music was just something in the background."

One of Brazzell's most cherished memories from the gathering, besides hearing Joan Baez on opening night, was when she first heard the growl of a now-iconic English rock 'n' roller making a name for himself on the festival stage.

"We were way, way in the back on the hillside and I heard this deep gravelly voice and I thought it must be some blues man; of course, I got closer where I could see and it was skinny little Joe Cocker just singing amazingly."

Brazzell, now 69, spoke at length about the lack of restrooms and the deluge of rain that came down the first night, leaving a couple hundred thousand concert-goers caked in mud.

"I still have nightmares about those port-a-potties," she said. "When we went back home afterwards, I changed out of my muddy bellbottoms and they were so stiff I could have stood them up."

The festival's infrastructure, or lack thereof, came up in conversations with all three attendees.

"It was just a big mess but everybody was having the time of their lives," Lindblad, 78, said with a smile. "We about starved to death, I know that. They were already out of food when we got there. There was some terrible rain and the mud was everywhere, but nobody cared.

"One of the main things I remember about that place was how everyone was so darn friendly and helping each other out. It's just surreal to look back and think about it."

Moore thinks memories surrounding the event tend to get looked at through rose-colored glasses.

"Maybe people have fond memories of the brotherhood, the peace and the love, but it had rained pretty much all day the day before and it was pretty muddy," he said. "There was no food and you were getting water from tanker trucks."

With posters that read "Three Days of Peace & Music," Woodstock was emblematic of the hippie movement during the late '60s. A number of attempts have been made to replicate the success and feel of the original festival, twice during the 1990s and again this summer, though it was canceled due to a variety of reasons.

Brazzell and Moore both believe that repeating Woodstock's success would be like catching lightning in a bottle.

"There will never be anything with a crowd that large that is that peaceful and I don't think it can be duplicated," Brazzell said. "I was glad they canceled Woodstock 50 because I saw what had happened in the '90s. Sometimes you just can't replicate things."

"It was quite an experience witnessing that huge mass of people pretty much getting along with each other despite the environmental conditions, the heat, the mud and the lack of food and sanitation," Moore recalled. "I think to try to recreate something like that is a little presumptuous. Although it was a planned event, they certainly hadn't planned for what it turned out to be."

While the legacy of Woodstock stands tall now, at the time it was just a big concert in the middle of nowhere. Many attendees, including the ones in this story, didn't think they had witnessed a historic event until afterwards.

For Lindblad, it was "an afterthought that it became as popular and significant as it was," and the others tended to agree with him.

"In retrospect it was a very important cultural event," said Moore. "My memories are, at best, a little faded about the event, but certainly by the time we had left we realized how big of a deal it was from all the news coverage. It was pretty influential to me, as it was to many people, even those who didn't go."

"It was very meaningful and we didn't realize until we got back that everybody knew about it and that it was on TV and on the news," said Brazzell, who remembers her grandmother fearing the worst about her attendance after seeing it on the news. "It was a fun moment in history and we just got to be there."