On August 15, 1969 more than 400,000 people flocked to a dairy farm in Bethel, New York, for “3 days of music and peace.” Woodstock became a cultural icon representing the spirit of many of the young generation at the time. Check out some pictures from the event to see how crazy it actually was!
Peace Out Wallkill, Hello Bethel
Woodstock was originally supposed to take place in Wallkill, Orange County, New York. However, the town board quickly passed a bill stating you must have permit in order to host any event over 5,000. A permit was applied for but was denied because the plan for the portable toilets were called inadequate. A dairy farmer in New York heard about the concert and its planning issues and offered up his farm for the event. Good thing, because the event saw a lot more than 5,000 people.
Dairy Farmer Turned Hero
As stated before a dairy farmer in Sullivan County, New York, had heard about this concert and its issues. He offered his farm land as a space for the concert. His name was Max Yasgur and he was paid $75,000 for all 3 days. He is quoted as saying “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…” When Yasgur died he received a full page obituary in Rolling Stone Magazine.
Woodstock Was Not In Woodstock
The concert was the brainchild of band manager Michael Lang, and songwriter, Artie Kornfield (pictured below). The 2 originally wanted to raise money to build a recording studio in Woodstock, a place in upstate New York. The area of Woodstock was known for summer concerts called “Standouts.” Michael Lang in his book, said after meeting with John Roberts a few times, he decided to financially back the concert, and because all the projects were based in Woodstock, they decided to call their company Woodstock Ventures.
A Little Rain Never Hurt Nobody
There was a massive rainfall during the event creating a completely muddy mess. In 3 hours, a total of 5 inches of rain fell onto the festival, during which Joan Baez famously sang ‘We shall overcome.’ Alvin Lee, singer of Ten Years After, was warned that artists could get electrocuted. However, it did not worry him and he replied “Oh come on, if I get electrocuted at Woodstock we’ll sell lots of records.”
The Opener Who Wasn’t Supposed To Open
Richie Havens opened Woodstock on Friday, around 5:15pm. However, he wasn’t supposed to. All the other performers were stuck in traffic so organizers convinced him to take the stage. He performed several encores, and played every song he knew. At one point he just began strumming and sang what came to his mind, “Freedom.” This was the first time he played his now famous song. He has later been reported as saying that he had to watch the documentary “Woodstock,” so he could hear how the song was played so he could perform it again.
Woodstock organizers hired the 85 members of a commune called the “Hog Farm.” The Hog Farm had previously run “trip tents,” at other festivals. Normally, a doctor would use Thorazine to calm down a LSD freakout. However, the Hog Farm had developed a different approach. They quietly spoke to people reassuring them they weren’t going crazy, which got the “trippers” to reorient themselves and come back to reality. Doctors and the hog farm treated close to 800 bad trips.
There was medical care on site. The concert hired Dr. William Abruzzi to oversee EMS at the show. He scheduled to have at least 2 doctors and 4 nurses on duty around the clock. However, once it was realized many more than 50,000 people would be coming he had to improvise. A circus tent was turned into a medical facility, and choppers that brought in artists and equipment were also used as airborne ambulances. The doctors saw lots of drug overdoses among other injuries like epileptic seizures, asthma attacks, and punctures/lacerations.
Free Love, Free Concert
Organizers had originally planned to charge $24 dollars per ticket. Had the plan been executed the organizers would have made a TON of cash. Two dozen ticket booths were supposed to be installed before the concert. However, that plan fell through after the amount of people that showed. On day one people were no longer charged and the fences were torn down, declaring Woodstock a free event.
More Food Please
The Hog Farm was also hired to deal with catering. They ordered bushels of brown rice, bought 160,000 paper plates, forks, knives and spoons and 30,000 paper cups. The were able to feed an upwards for 160,000 people from the “Hog Farm Free Kitchen.” However, the Food For Love concession stand was charging for its products. When the stand began running low on burgers, they raised the prices from 25 cents to $1. Festival-goers saw this as capitalist exploitation, and burned the stand down.
Anti-War Hippies Needed The Military
Hippies who attended the concert were very anti-war. Revolutionary literature was even sold there. However, if it wasn’t for the military the concert may not have been able to survive. The U.S. Air Force airlifted food, medical teams, and performers to the event. Organizers were lucky the Stewart Air Force Base was nearby and personnel were willing to help.
There was no official merchandise sold at the concert. It is hard to imagine a concert today without t-shirt, CDs, and posters being sold. However, there were festival programs, that largely went unsold, and many were thrown away. Security and other crew members were given t-shirts and windbreakers, with the Woodstock logo, which have become the iconic souvenirs, along with the numerous bootleg souvenirs concert-goers sold from their cars.
With close to a half million concert-goers, one would expect at least one fight or riot. However, no acts of violence were reported. Although, Governor Rockefeller did declare the area a disaster area, due to a lack of basic amenities. There was a documented 5,162 medical cases, including 797 instances of drug abuse. Despite the chaos, the attendees practiced what they preached, and remained calm and loving. Eventually, Time magazine called it ‘The greatest peaceful event in history.’
Lots Of Traffic
On stage Arlo Guthrie announced “the New York State Thruway is closed, man.” However, that was not the case. The police actually closed Newburgh and Harriman exits to try and stop more people from coming to the concert. With 400,000 attendees you can imagine the amount of traffic that had accumulated. Traffic jams went on for miles, and some people even left their cars in the road, to walk to the festival.
Performers Were Not Free
The organizers searched for acts all the way through the Spring of ’69. Their first big break was when Creedence Clearwater Revival agreed to perform for around $10,000. Michael Lang had then decided to cap each performance pay to $15,000. However, Jimi Hendrix was not OK with the amount. Jimi was signed for $26,000. However, other artists found out about Jimi’s pay and complained. Lang told performers it was because Jimi had 2 sets (this wasn’t true). News spread and performers demanded more money shortly before having to perform.
Joni Mitchell Did Not Perform
Despite what many believe, Joni Mitchell did not perform at Woodstock. This may be due to some of her lyrics from her deceiving song titled “Woodstock.” The lyrics are “I came upon a child of God, He was walking along the road, And I asked him, where are you going, And this he told me, I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm…” She wanted to play, however, her manager had scheduled her to play on “The Dick Cavett Show,” and he wanted her to be in prime performance condition.
With such a large gathering, of course there needed to be a man to preach to the crowd. Meet the Woodstock Guru. He opened the festival with a long speech. His speech was basically about his love and joy of seeing people coming together through music. He also expressed hope of bringing many together might also help build peace among the globe. He also had the whole crowd chanting “Hari OM Hari OM, Hari Hari Hari OM,” and “Rama Rama Rama Rama Rama Rama Rama Ram.”
Terrifying For Some
Many of the performers have been quoted of saying how much fun performing was as the crowd was very vivacious and into the music. However, Ravi Shankar found the experience “terrifying.” He said the large crowd in the mud reminded him of the water buffaloes in his home country of India. Shankar began his set at about 10pm Friday evening and played for 40 minutes during a torrential downpour.
Very Poor Planning
Woodstock was not planned very well. The promoters originally stated there were only going to be 50,000. However, they knew at least 250,000 would most likely show. Ultimately 400,000 people showed up. There were 3 toilets for every 10,000 concert goers. People began arriving days earlier, so by Friday, the first day of the festival, Woodstock had run out of food. Organizers had to ask locals for food. Members of the Monticello Jewish Community Center started making sandwiches with 200 loaves of bread, 40 pounds of meat and two gallons of pickles. Food was also airlifted in from a nearby air force base.
Sly & The Family Stone
This pictures was taken at 3:30 in the morning. Sly & The Family Stone showed no point of exhaustion and continued to jam into the early Sunday morning hours. Their set ended at 4:20am. Many would agree that their performance during Woodstock was one of their best ever. Their performance was shown in “Live at Woodstock,” a documentary about the festival.
Although the concert organizers were not prepared with tangible materials for the large crowd, they were certainly on top of smaller details. Like many large events, there were announcements made from the stage throughout the weekend, being played in between sets. Chip Monck, John Morris, Wavy Gravy and many others recorded various announcements over the 3 days of the festivals. Some of these recording are available to purchase.
Schedule Was Slightly Followed
The actual 3-day festival was set to begin at 4pm on Friday. However, some may say it began much earlier as people began arriving days before the concert began. However, the opening act, Richie Havens began playing at 5pm Friday. Most of the major performers played for 60-90 minutes. Some of the lesser known bands played for 30-60 minutes. Jimi Hendrix had the longest set at 130 minutes. From 3-5:45pm on Sunday there were no performances due to rain.
Melanie Safka Almost Didn’t Perform
Melanie Safka may not be the most remembered for performing, however, her presence certainly created a good story. Melanie Safka failed to get a performer’s pass. So she had to sing her song “Beautiful People,” to the security guards so they would let her backstage. She ended up playing at 11pm on Friday night. Her set was one of the shortest at only 25 minutes.
Since Woodstock, music festivals have sprouted all over the world. There is even one that takes place on the same grounds as Woodstock called Mysteryland. However, other than the amazing music and free love that came out Woodstock, came some amazing fashion trends and the beginning of festival wear. Women who attended Woodstock were seen wearing bright colors, large headbands, lots of fringe, and crop tops. The same type of dress is very prominent at modern day festivals.
Unfortunately, the organizers were not only left with debt buts over 80 lawsuits to deal with after the festival ended. Promoters were sued for property damage, loss of revenue from traffic jams, and disturbing the peace. Many were dropped or won outright. One was settled by paying a farmer $73 because his cows could not produce milk. Woodstock Ventures also saw its demise when Kornfield and Lang sued another partner for portion of profits they felt they had been entitled to.
Happy Trails To You
Actor and country singer Roy Rogers was asked to close the show by singing his song “Happy Trails To You.” The King of Cowboys’ manger did not agree to the idea. Rogers later admitted “I would have been booed off stage by all those goddamn hippies.” The concert was closed by a 2-hour set of Jimi Hendrix, however due to the rain, many people did not see his set.
Woodstock attracted all types of people, of all different ages and races. However, we can all agree that most of the attendees were “Hippies.” The organizers were very smart in their marketing ploys by saying the concert was in agreeance with the ideals of revolutionists and free love. This led to an influx of the Hippie subculture to participate in the psychedelic atmosphere. Some even brought their young children.
Never Get Lost
For those who were lost, either from drugs or just out of confusion, wooden signposts were nailed to a tree. The signs were chalked with “Groovy Way,” “Gentle Path,” and “High Way.” All directions seem like a good one, especially for those who dabbled with drugs. It is reported 9 out 10 festival-goers smoked marijuana. Only 33 people, however, were arrested on drug charges.
The main stage was originally built on wheels, so it could revolve and switch sides. This was done so one band could be playing while the other one was setting up – therefore, create very short time between sets. However, from the rain and the weight of all the people and equipment on the stage, the wheels broke. People were standing everywhere they could, including the scaffolding of the stage in order to get a look at their favorite artists.
John B. Sebastian was originally part of the band “The Lovin’ Spoonful.” However, after the band split, he continued to perform as a solo act. Although, Sebastian wasn’t originally scheduled to perform. Woodstock organizers were able to get him to perform as a filler. He performed, with a mellow set list of 5 songs, on Saturday afternoon. He is quoted as saying there was “a natural high” at the festival.
Imitated But Never Equaled
There were 4 attempts to recreate the experience. In 1979, it was attempted at Madison Square Garden in New York. In 1989, for the 20th anniversary, the event returned to its original location. In 1994, the event was advertised as “2 More Days of Peace and Music,” and took place on Winston Farm in New York. Finally, in 1999, it took place in Rome, New York. 1999’s festival is still infamously known as the one with the most violent and crime. None were able to live up to its predecessor in 1969.
Unable To Attend
Thirty-two bands were originally scheduled to play the event. However, The Jeff Beck Group, featuring Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, split on the eve of Woodstock. John Lennon had also apparently reached out to event organizers. But, he was in Canada and the U.S. government refused to give him a visa. Minus those few hiccups, the line-up was still flawless and the concerts were still memorable.
Like we stated before, the Woodstock promoters definitely lied about teh number of people they were expecting to attend the festival. However, they could not have even imagined how many people would show. The organizers promoted the festival all over the U.S. They actually pre-sold tickets to the show for $18, which due to inflation would not be about $105. Tickets were supposed to be sold at the entrance for $24. However, after so many people showed up for the festival, there was no way the promoters could charge everyone.
Organizers were not expecting over 500,000 people and they certainly did not pick a venue that was adequate to handle the numerous amount. People began arriving to the concert 5 days before it began. The road to Yasgur’s farm was small. The amount of traffic jams were obscene. Thousands of cars were abandoned on the road all the up to 20 miles from the venue. Performers had to be helicoptered in and locals were trapped.
Who Needs Sleep?
Many music festivals today will have certain area for tent pitching and trailers. However, organizers did not expect so many people so sleeping areas became secondary. People slept wherever and whenever they could. As many of the people attending were using drugs, sleep was not on the forefront of their minds. Although some did bring tents, many would just sleep wherever there was space. The man below found some peace, lounging on top of cars.
Rise of Santana
Santana may be known as one of the best musicians to enter the industry. However, at Woodstock 1969, Santana wasn’t the megastar he is today. His debut album “Santana” had only dropped earlier. in the month. Luckily, the band had the legendary manager, Bill Graham, who was able to book them at Woodstock. Therefore, he was fairly new or completely unknown to the crowd. However, when he took the stage people listened. His flawless performance shot him into super stardom.
No Love For Jimi
Jimi Hendrix is still considered one of the best and most influential rock ‘n’ roll music artist ever. However, his rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at the closing of the Woodstock was missed by many. A music critic for the New York post called his signing of the national anthem “the single greatest moment of the Sixties.” However, most of the people had gone home by the time Jimi got on stage 9am Monday morning.
Organizers Landed In Debt
Contrary to belief the organizers at Woodstock Ventures, did not make any money during the original 3-day weekend of Woodstock. The organizers ended up being $1.3 million in debt. It took more than 10 years to get back all the money, which was done through audio and recording rights. We bet the organizers regretted allowing free entrance once they realized how much money was lost. However, the organizers will go down in history as some of the best in the business.
Three people died at Woodstock 1969. The deaths were due to a burst appendix, a heroin overdose, and one kid was run over by a tractor. The heroin overdose was by an 18-year-old Marine veteran. However, the strangest was the 17-year-old who was run over by a tractor. The boy was taking a nap, in the mud, in a sleeping bag. Oblivious to his surroundings and and unseen by the driver, the boy was killed instantly. At least the memory of him will be told for generations.
Britain Brings The Soul
Over the span of the 3 days, the concert had various artists. However, Britain was strongly represented. The British artist that performed were Ten Years After, The Who, The Incredible String Band, the Keef Hartley Band, Graham Nash and Mitch Mitchell, drummer in Jimi Hendrix’s band. However, many say the best British performance was by Joe Cocker, who sang a cover of The Beatles song “A Little Help From My Friends.”
Woodstock Is Oscar-Worthy
In 1970, a four hour documentary “Woodstock,” was released. That same year, it won the Oscar for Best Documentary. The acts featured in the film became the names synonymous with the Woodstock legacy: Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. However, bands like Keef Hartley Band and Quill were kept out of the film and did not receive as much glory. The film was directed by Michael Wadleigh, and his assitant director was Martin Scorsese. The film was since be re-released multiple times, each time adding more footage.