Woodstock – a music festival that became more than a myth. Billed as “3 Days of Peace & Music”, even after nearly half-a-century, the impact of those days still lingers on. Woodstock not only changed rock and roll forever but remains one of the most iconic events of the twentieth century in general. Three other festivals took place on the original’s 20th, 25th and 30th anniversary (1989, 1994 and 1999 respectively), with the last one ending in infamy as an event marred by violence and fires.
The festival’s influence is not only limited to music, but it extends to pop culture and society as we know them today. Woodstock came to define the 1960s, the anti-war and civil rights movement and the Flower Power generation and its impact still resonates in society today. Its lineup seeming almost surreal today, it was the first music festival on such a scale and had a major impact on music and musical events all over the world, inspiring uncountable music festivals that have since taken place. Opening on August 15, 1969, Over 400,000 people came together on a dairy farm in upstate New York to celebrate music, love and peace. Although scheduled to be a three-day affair, it continued until the morning on August the 18th.
This is one of the original posters promoting the festival. This rare handbill advertised the first location in Wallkill, New York. However, just weeks prior to the opening of the festival, the town of Wallkill revoked the permit and the festival had to find new grounds. It was ultimately held at Max Yasgur’s 600-acredairy farm in the Catskills, 43 miles southwest of the town of Woodstock, New York.
Originally, 186,000 tickets were printed but the attendance ended up amassing an unprecedented crowd no one could even dream about. Over 300,000 people arrived on Friday (the first day of the festival), and organizers made the decision to announce that the event would be free.
4. Woodstock Nation
The youth attending became known as “Woodstock Nation.” The name originated from a book written by activist and Woodstock attendee Abbie Hoffman. The term eventually became a catchphrase for the baby boomers generation who followed the values of American counterculture in the 60s and 70s.
5. Max Yasgur
The festival took place at a dairy farm property that belonged to a farmer named Max Yasgur. He hosted the festival out of conviction, believing strongly in freedom of expression. The following year, Yasgur declined renting out his farm for a follow-up event, saying “As far as I know, I’m going back to running a dairy farm.” Max Yasgur died in 1973.
Held during the height of the Vietnam War and the draft resistance, Woodstock was about more than just music. Most of the performances that weekend were geared towards the opposition against the war.
It was a rainy and muddy weekend. Ravi Shankar played through the rain on a Friday night to a committed crowd. On Sunday, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band played “With A Little Help From My Friends.” After their set, a severe thunderstorm halted the festival’s events for several hours.
There were no reports or incidents of violence that took place during the duration of the festival. The chief medical officer for the event and several other local residents praised the festival goers for the cooperation, generosity, and the good nature that was maintained throughout the event. 400,000 people at one place over four days and no incidents of note truly sounds surreal by today’s standards.
No official merchandise was sold at Woodstock with the idea that the festival should not be a profitable endeavor. Probably the least commercialized music festivals to ever exist, many considered the “fences at Woodstock” to be an oxymoron.
A documentary filmed during the festival was simply titled “Woodstock.” Directed by Michael Wadleigh and edited by Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese, it became symbolic of the zeitgeist of the 1960s. The film is 4 hours long and it won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 1970. Warner Bros. backed the documentary, which ended up earning the studio a lot of money and saving it at a time when they were perilously close to going out of business.
Max Yasgur’s dairy farm was not confirmed as the location of the concert until mid-July – just one month before the festival. A total of 80 lawsuits were filed against the organizers. These fines were finally paid with the royalties that were earned from the “Woodstock” documentary.
Janis Joplin is said to have been nervous and even hesitant about performing at Woodstock. She took to the stage at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, after Creedence Clearwater Revival. Legend has it that Joplin had no idea of the festival’s existence until few days prior to her performance.
The final act to perform on Monday morning was Jimi Hendrix and Gypsy Sun & Rainbows. Although scheduled to close the night before, Hendrix took the stage at 9 a.m. and closed out the festival at around 11:10 a.m. By the time he took to the stage, the crowds have dwindled significantly and Hendrix performed for the 30,000 most dedicated ones. His rendition of the American national anthem became one of the highlights of the documentary and entered the collective memory about the 1960s.
Carlos Santana was only 22 years old 1969. His band’s eleven-minute instrumental “Soul Sacrifice” became a staple of the “Woodstock” film, thus vastly increasing their popularity and helping them to international stardom.
The highway leading to the festival site became jammed leading up to the event, essentially turning into a parking lot. Media coverage eventually veered towards the positive, but initially, front page headlines took a more negative spin and included: “Traffic Uptight at Hippiefest” and “Hippies Mired in a Sea of Mud.”
When traffic eventually ground to a halt, thousands upon thousands of people decided to abandon their vehicles and walked to the event. Eventually, announcements on radio stations from as far away as Manhattan began reporting on the festival’s traffic jams and television news attempted to discourage people from attending. Some artists are said to have been flown in by helicopters to the stage.
There was an extreme shortage of food throughout the entire weekend. Due to the unexpected number of people attending, Woodstock ran out of food in just one day, and locals from the community stepped in to provide concert-goers with food and sandwiches.
The town of Bethel, New York also refused to host the festival the following year. By 1970, new laws had been put into place in order to prevent festivals like Woodstock taking place again. At that time, the youth counterculture movement had gained such momentum that the establishment was doing everything in their power to retain control.
Today, an outdoor concert pavilion and museum sit where the famous festival once took place. The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts opened in 2006 with a performance by the New York Philharmonic. 37 years after their performance at Woodstock, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young performed at the new Center for a crowd of 16,000. The field and the stage area remain preserved in their rural setting and the fields of the Yasgur farm are still a place of pilgrimage for people of all generations.
Due to the decision to let everyone in for free and not sell merchandise, Woodstock organizers lost over $1 million that weekend. It took over ten years to cover the losses with most of the money earned back from royalties that came from the success of the documentary.
A total of 32 bands played that weekend. The entire festival was organized in just six months. Following the festival, Max Yusgar said, “If we join them, we can turn those adversities that are the problems of America today into a hope for a brighter and more peaceful future.”