Forty years ago on Aug. 15, a half-million people gathered on a pig farmer’s property in upstate New York for a three-day music festival that would come to symbolize a generation of Americans. And packed in among the masses at Woodstock was a college freshman who would later become a state district judge in Dallas.
During the summer of 1969, Marty Lowy was home in Baltimore after finishing his first year at Michigan State University when he was listening to an evening radio show promoting the music festival. Lowy hadn’t heard of most of the bands scheduled to play, except Jimi Hendrix and The Who. But the station was chartering a bus to go to the show and offering an attractive pitch to listeners.
“Fifty or 60 bucks would buy you a trip and ticket to the festival,” Lowy says. “And I said, ‘I have the weekend free. What the heck?’ “
So on that Friday morning, Lowy boarded the bus on his way to what would become one of the “more miserable experiences of my life.” The bus made it about five or 10 miles away from Woodstock when traffic came to a standstill. So Lowy and the pack of strangers with whom he was traveling decided to abandon the vehicle and walk the rest of the way.
“And then word came that the gates came down and nobody needed tickets,” Lowy says. “What I mostly remember about Friday night and Saturday morning was it being wet, rainy and cold — and muddy.”
“There was no place else to go, there was no shelter. There were hopelessly inadequate concessions and not nearly enough Porta-Potties,” Lowy says. “But it was an amazingly peaceful and surprisingly happy mass of people considering the circumstance. . . . Most people shrugged it off and enjoyed themselves as best they could.”
Between the rain, the mud, the free love and the brown acid, music happened at Woodstock. Lowy says one of his favorite moments at the festival was seeing The Who. The legendary British band took the stage at 4 a.m. on Saturday Aug. 16 and played a blistering 25-song set that featured music from its then-new album “Tommy,” a rock opera about a “deaf, dumb, and blind boy.”
“The Who performed Tommy on Saturday, start to finish,” Lowy says. “I’d heard it, but seeing it performed live was really an eye-opener.”
After the festival, Lowy returned to Michigan State where he earned a double major in political science and psychology in 1973. After spending about a year as a reporter and anchor at a radio station in Lansing, Mich., Lowy headed to Dallas for another radio job. He was a reporter and original staffer at KZEW, an influential but now defunct FM hard rock radio station.
“I had the thought of doing law for some time. I had covered some courtroom stuff in radio,” Lowy says.
So Lowy enrolled in Southern Methodist University Law School, earning his law degree in 1979. Lowy was a litigator until 1997 when he became an in-house lawyer with Comerica Bank’s Texas division. He stayed there until he decided to run for the 101st District Court in 2006.
“It was something I was thinking about for a while. I am a lifelong Democrat, and I was never going to be appointed or elected as a Republican,” Lowy says. “And after looking at the returns I thought there was a chance we could win in ’06.”
Lowy was right, and the Democrats swept the general election, knocking 41 Republican trial court judges off the bench.
Lowy says he has no souvenirs from his trip to Woodstock. “I’m not sure I have one possession from 40 years ago,” Lowy says. “I don’t know what that would say about me.”
For years, Lowy says he kept his ticket to Woodstock, but it got lost somewhere along the way. “I could just kick myself,” he says.
Texas Lawyer senior reporter John Council, who almost saw The Who in 1982 in Dallas on its then-farewell tour but wimped out at the last minute, e-mailed Lowy some questions to ponder. Here are his answers, edited for length and style.
Judge Marty Lowy
101st District Court
Elected to the Bench: 2006
Texas Lawyer: What do lawyers do in your courtroom that drives you absolutely insane, beyond the normal not being prepared for a hearing, showing up late or arguing with each other?
Judge Marty Lowy: They repeat things way too much. They repeat things way too much. They repeat things. . . .
TL: Are there any peculiarities about the way you run your courtroom that lawyers should know before darkening your door?
Lowy: See answer No. 1 above. Nine times out of 10, I will have read your motion papers and won’t want to hear them recited as oral argument. I have a very low tolerance for lawyers who come to court with discovery disputes that they haven’t actually discussed with one another — sending two or three snarky e-mails is not my idea of a legitimate attempt to confer before filing a motion.
TL: What was the transition from advocate to jurist like for you?
Lowy: I didn’t feel like the transition was too difficult. After 27 years in practice, I had some fairly firm ideas about how a judge should do his or her job. I do still fight a tendency to talk too much on the bench.
TL: What aspect of your job makes you uncomfortable?
Lowy: Having to rule against pro se litigants who may have a legitimate issue but have no idea how to present it in compliance with the rules.
TL: If there is one thing a lawyer should know about how you run a trial, what would that be?
Lowy: See answer No. 1 above. I try to be protective of jurors’ time while letting the lawyers try their case without undue interference. I prefer not to interrupt a lawyer in the absence of an objection, but there are times when an occasional “asked and answered” would be welcome. For trials expected to last more than two or three days, I often impose time limits, but they will be consistent with the lawyers’ estimates of the time required.
TL: What kind of case is your least favorite to hear and why?
Lowy: Business disputes where the attorneys’ fees have overwhelmed the amount in controversy. I think they put the profession and the system in a bad light.
TL: What is your fondest memory of Woodstock?
Lowy: The Who performing “Tommy” on Saturday night. Close second: Jimi Hendrix playing the “Star-Spangled Banner” at sunrise on Monday.
TL: Was that music festival as definitive of the 1960s as people like to make it out to be?
Lowy: I don’t think so, although if as many people had actually been there as now claim they were, it might have been more so.
TL: Which performance was the best in your opinion and why?
Lowy: Again, my personal favorite was The Who. I put Roger Daltrey [The Who's lead singer] up there with [Mick] Jagger and [Bruce] Springsteen on the charisma charts. There’s never been another rock drummer as frenetic as Keith Moon. And “Tommy” is a great piece of work.
TL: And finally, this question must be asked because everyone will want to know. How was the legendary “brown acid”?
Lowy: You’d have to ask somebody who tried it.
“Approach the Bench” is a periodic column in Texas Lawyer.