In 1969, the country was deep into the controversial Vietnam War, a conflict that many young people vehemently opposed. It was also the era of the civil rights movement, a period of great unrest and protest. Woodstock was an opportunity for people to escape into music and spread a message of unity and peace.
According to history.com, the Woodstock Music Festival began Aug. 15, 1969, as half a million people waited on a dairy farm in Bethel, New York, for the three-day music festival to start. Billed as “An Aquarian Experience: 3 Days of Peace and Music,” the epic event would later be known simply as Woodstock and become synonymous with the counterculture movement of the 1960s.
Despite, or because of, all the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and rain, Woodstock was a peaceful celebration and earned its hallowed place in pop culture history.
It began with four guys
The Woodstock Music Festival was the brainchild of four men, all age 27 or younger, looking for an investment opportunity. They were John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang.
Lang had organized the successful Miami Music Festival in 1968 and Kornfeld was the youngest vice president at Capitol Records. Roberts and Rosenman were New York entrepreneurs involved in building a Manhattan recording studio. The four men formed Woodstock Ventures, Inc., and decided to host a music festival.
Creedence Clearwater Revival was the first big-name talent to sign on and gave Woodstock the credibility it needed to attract other well-known musicians.
Location, location location …
The initial plan for Woodstock called for the event to be held at Howard Mills Industrial Park in Wallkill, New York. Wallkill town officials got spooked, however, and backed out of the deal, passing a law that eliminated any possibility of holding the concert on their turf.
Woodstock Ventures explored a few other venues, but none panned out. Finally, just a month ahead of the concert, 49-year-old dairy farmer Max Yasgur offered to rent them part of his land in the White Lake area of Bethel, New York, surrounded by the verdant Catskill Mountains.
With a venue and talent secured, the partners turned to logistics. Fencing, entrance gates and ticket booths needed to be set up and a performers’ pavilion, concession stands, bathroom facilities and medical tents built.
But by the time people started arriving a couple days ahead of the concert, the fencing, gates and ticket booths still weren’t ready. With no efficient way to charge concert-goers, Lang and his partners decided to make Woodstock a free event.
The masses arrive
Originally, about 50,000 people were expected. But by Aug. 13, at least that number were already camped out on location and over 100,000 tickets pre-sold.
As an estimated one million people descended on Woodstock, its organizers scrambled to add more facilities. Highways and local roads came to a standstill and many concert-goers simply abandoned their cars and trekked the rest of the way on foot. Eventually, about half a million people reached the venue.
Although the crowd at Woodstock experienced bad weather, muddy conditions and a lack of food, water and adequate sanitation, the overall vibe there was harmonious. Looking back, some people attribute the lack of violence to the large number of psychedelic drugs being used. Others believe hippies were simply living out their mantra of “making love, not war.”
Legacy of Woodstock
Woodstock officially ended Monday, Aug. 18, after Hendrix left the stage.
In 2006, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts opened on the hill where the Woodstock Music Festival took place. Today, it hosts outdoor concerts in its beautiful pavilion. There’s also a 1960s museum on site.
Woodstock is perhaps best described by Yasgur, the humble farmer who lent his land for the occasion. Addressing the audience on day three, he said, “…You’ve proven something to the world … the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids, and I call you kids because I have children who are older than you are, a half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music and God bless you for it!”
A combination of local and world-famous talent, performed at Woodstock. They include, but were not limited to:
Country Joe McDonald
The Grateful Dead
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Sly and the Family Stone
Country Joe and The Fish
Blood Sweat and Tears,
Crosby Stills Nash & Young
Sha Na Na