Woodstock was a music festival held between August 15–18, 1969, which attracted an audience of more than 400,000. Billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music”, it was held at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm near White Lake in Bethel, New York, 43 miles (70 km) southwest of Woodstock. It was also referred to alternatively, on occasion, as the “Bethel Rock Festival” given its location in the Town of Bethel, New York, or the “Aquarian Music Festival”.
Now there has been and will be, because this is the 50th Anniversary of the event, a TON of stuff written about it in books, blogz, social media etc. So I will try to keep this as short and sweet as possible by bringing up some fun, and not so fun, facts you might not know about the festival. In 1984, a plaque was placed at the original site commemorating the festival. The field and the stage area remain preserved in their rural setting and the fields of the Yasgur farm are still visited by people of all generations.
Woodstock was initiated through the efforts of Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman, and John P. Roberts. Roberts and Rosenman financed the project. Lang had some experience as a promoter, having co-organized a festival on the East Coast the prior year, the Miami Pop Festival, where an estimated 25,000 people attended the two-day event.
Woodstock was designed as a profit-making venture. It became a “free concert” only after the event drew hundreds of thousands more people than the organizers had prepared for. Tickets for the three-day event cost $18 in advance and $24 at the gate.
Richie Havens was not meant to be the first performer.
With Sweetwater, the concert’s first scheduled performer still stuck in traffic, organizers scrambled to find a replacement, finally selecting folk signer Richie Havens. Havens started his set at just after 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon, and by some accounts continued playing for nearly three hours. Every time he tried to leave the stage, organizers convinced him to keep playing, as they still hadn’t rounded up the next act. When Havens began to exhaust his repertoire, he threw in a few Beatles covers, before finally improvising a new song, “Freedom,” on the spot to close out his epic set. Havens was finally allowed to leave the stage after a U.S. Army helicopter, chartered by the organizers, arrived with additional performers aboard.
Because of the rain delays that Sunday, when Hendrix finally took the stage it was 8:30 Monday morning. The audience, which had peaked at an estimated 400,000 during the festival, was now reduced to about 30,000 by that point; many of them merely waited to catch a glimpse of Hendrix before leaving during his performance.
The music nearly came to a halt on Saturday night.
Just hours into the festival, Woodstock’s organizers were hemorrhaging money. The sheer number of attendees and the logistics of collecting money and tickets at the gates had forced them to abandon the idea of a for-pay concert and instead let everyone in for free. In addition, they were forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars contracting helicopters to transport food, supplies and the musical acts to and from the site. Weeks earlier, in an effort to attract music’s biggest stars to the festival, Woodstock’s organizers had agreed to pay some artists more than twice their going rate—and on Saturday many of them demanded that they be paid, in cash, before going on stage. Fearful of what the crowd would do if the music came to a halt, organizer John Roberts agreed to use his trust fund as collateral for an emergency loan. Organizers finally convinced the manager of a local bank to open up close to midnight on Saturday to get them the funds.
The most famous song about Woodstock was written by someone who wasn’t even there.
At the insistence of her then-manager David Geffen, Canadian singer Joni Mitchell had been booked to appear on the popular Dick Cavett Show on the Tuesday after Woodstock. Geffen, fearful that Mitchell would be unable to make it back to New York in time, refused to allow her to attend the concert. Mitchell had to settle for watching the events unfold on television. Mitchell made it to the Dick Cavett show, but so did several other artists who had traveled up to Yasgur’s farm, including Jefferson Airplane and the newly formed rock super group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (who had made one of their first public appearances at the concert). Band member Graham Nash, Mitchell’s boyfriend at the time, vividly described the weekend’s events, leading Mitchell to pen a new song, “Woodstock,” which even many attendees felt perfectly captured the experiences of those who had attended the event.
There were three deaths at Woodstock, but no confirmed births.
Three young men died while attending Woodstock, two from drug overdoses and another–just 17 years old—was run over by a tractor collecting debris while he was asleep in a sleeping bag. For decades, rumors have swirled that several women gave birth while at the festival. No births were recorded at the site itself, but eight miscarriages were. When the festival was finally over, the New York State Department of Health recorded 5,162 medical cases over the nearly four days, 800 of which were drug-related.
Declined invitations or missed connections:
Tommy James and the Shondells declined an invitation. Lead singer Tommy James stated later: “We could have just kicked ourselves. We were in Hawaii, and my secretary called and said, ‘Yeah, listen, there’s this pig farmer in upstate New York that wants you to play in his field.’ That’s how it was put to me. So we passed, and we realized what we’d missed a couple of days later.
The Doors were considered as a potential performing band but canceled at the last moment. According to guitarist Robby Krieger, they turned it down because they thought it would be a “second class repeat of Monterey Pop Festival” and later regretted that decision.
Now, in another universe and at the very same time, Elvis Presley was performing in concert for the first time in EIGHT years in Las Vegas. This one man was shaking up the world every bit as much as Woodstock all by himself. Plenty of food, water, it was inside, plenty of seats, the toilets were working and not over flowing with human waste for everyone to sit in. HHmmm, I wonder where I would have spent MY money?
Led Zeppelin was asked to perform. Their manager Peter Grant stated: “We were asked to do Woodstock and Atlantic were very keen, and so was our U.S. promoter, Frank Barsalona. I said no because at Woodstock we’d have just been another band on the bill.”.
Where were they ay the time?
They attended Elvis Presley’s show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, on August 12.
Though the same promoters have tried through the years to recreate the 1969 event, it’s never really been the same. At Woodstock ’99 for example, Police investigated four alleged instances of rape that occurred during the concert Eyewitnesses reported a crowd-surfing woman being pulled down into the crowd and gang-raped in the mosh pit during Limp Bizkit’s set. A volunteer also reported seeing a gang-rape during the Korn performance. Approximately 12 trailers, a small bus, and a number of booths and portable toilets were burned in the fray. Six people were injured; there were no recorded deaths at the concert site.
Despite concerns from both Wallkill and Bethel over the anticipated misbehavior of attendees, virtually no reports of violence ever came out of the festival. When those in attendance used telephones to place long-distance calls back to home, local switchboard operators were amazed that all of them said “thank you.” Lou Yank, the chief of police in nearby Monticello, declared them “the most courteous, considerate, and well-behaved group of kids I have ever been in contact with in my 24 years of police work.”
The Viet Nam War, The longest military campaign in history! In 1969 young men were being FORCED to serve and go to war to kill or be killed. If your draft number came up one could allow one’s self to be drafted, join the National Guard (as those troops were not being called up for duty), move to Canada or go to prison. Women’s Rights and Civil Rights movements for African-Americans were in full swing. Many chose not to engage in a fight of any kind but chose peace as a way to live their lives.
On top of all of that, the 26th amendment to the Constitution allowing the rights of citizens 18-21 years of age to vote wasn’t ratified until July 1st, 1971. Thus, young men between the ages of 18-21 could be drafted but had NO SAY and/or VOTE when it came to the policies of the government FORCING them to go to war. Thus the lyric from “Eve Of Destruction” written by P.F. Sloan & recorded by Barry McGuire in 1965 “You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’, You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’, The Viet Nam war lasted, 1 November 1955 – 30 April 1975(19 years, 5 months, 4 weeks and 1 day).
Now the war in Afghanistan drags on 7 October 2001 – present (17 years, 9 months and 3 weeks) closing in on Viet Nam’s “Longevity- Record”. The younger generation however lives in a world where the military is ALL VOLUNTEER. NO ONE is being forced to go to war. Thus using peace as a form of protest is quiet foreign to the folks who attended Woodstock 99 and NOT in the forefront of their thoughts as their Grandparents.
Scenes from Woodstock ’69 on the left with Woodstock ’99 on the right. Both groups PAID good hard earned money to attend a concert where there was not enough water, food, shelter, toilets and/or port potties that, by the end of each respective weekender, were unusable and overflowing with human waste. One generation revolted and rioted, the other was peaceful. Now it might have been just the simple fact that one event sported abundant usage of marijuana and acid (i.e. LSD). Had these “Mass Quantities” been available to the newer generation, there might have been a different out come.
Or, perhaps the “Love” generation did not “Teach Their Children Well”…..pun intended.
While war drags on in 2019, FIFTY years later, the kidz from the original Woodstock helped STOP a war. They didn’t “END WAR” on the face of the Earth but they did HELP STOP ONE! They did, for a time, “Get Themselves Back To The Garden”.
It might sound trite or like a cliché, but I wish us all the peace that Woodstock (1969) has come to represent. My hope is, if we got ourselves “Back To The Garden” once, we can do it again and ALL OF THE TIME!
Other “Lounge” pages with a “50th Anniversary – 1969” theme you might find interesting are: