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Woodstock Music and Art Festival

I guess it’s time now.  When I first wrote the material that ended up on this website,  the Woodstock concert was considered the beginning of the time after The Golden Age of Rock.  Now, time has blurred a bit, and I’m adding it to the site.  So here’s the story of the greatest concert of all time.

The Promoters

Woodstock Poster

Woodstock started with four young men with money but little experience as promoters.  John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Mike Lang originally planned to build a recording studio and artist’s village.  The  Woodstock area was already home to several famous musicians and seemed like a good choice.

Their plans included a rock concert to generate publicity and finance the studio.  Their original location was an industrial park in Wallkill, on the other side of Poughkeepsie, and about 50 miles south of Woodstock.  But the people of Wallkill weren’t happy with the idea of stoned concert-goers invading their town and passed an ordinance that banned it less than two months from the concert date.

Tickets had already been sold, and the promoters were in a bind.  Their savior was Max Yasgur, a dairy farmer in Woodstock who offered 600 hundred acres of his fields in Bethel for a reported $75,000.  That was a lot of money in 1969 when a full-size Chevy only sold for $2,650.  Max made out ok; it was the equivalent of over half a million dollars today.

The Move to Bethel

The move to Bethel saved the concert, but the promoters didn’t have time to reorganize all of the support and vendors that the concert needed for their planned 50,000 people.  As the concert dare approached, the anticipated attendance grew to 200,000, and their plans collapsed.  When some 500,000 showed up, they were overwhelmed.

The rest is history.  Half a million concert goers showed up.  Many more of us baby boomers wished we were there.  Probably ten times as many as were actually there claimed to have been there.  The weather was lousy; it rained; everything was mud.  The poor planning meant very few toilets and almost no food vendors.  Yet, the concert lived up to it’s billing as 3 days of Peace and Music.

The press had a field day, reporting on the mud, drugs, beer, nudity, and sex. Us rock fan baby boomers loved it; our parents looked at it in shock.

The Bands

Woodstock Poster
Woodstock Poster

Many of the top bands were there, and we heard several of rock’s most memorable performances.

The Who were about an hour into their Rock Opera “Tommy” and had just finished “Pinball Wizard” when left activist Abbie Hoffman jumped on to the stage and started shouting. Pete Townshend grabbed the mic shouting “F* off, F* off my F*ing stage,” “the next f*ing person that walks across this stage is gonna get f*ing killed!”. Looking back at it, maybe Abbie Hoffman made a poor choice in interrupting a bunch of rockers that liked to end their performances by smashing their guitars.

Carlos Santana went to Woodstock as a relatively unknown. He left as a guitar legend. His drummer, Michael Shrieve, put out a drum solo that is still considered one of the best of all time.

Jimi Hendrix closed the show and lit up the stage with what is remembered as one of the greatest performances ever. His Star-Spangled Banner was a one-person symphony, stretching his guitar strings and notes in amazing ways. Remember, this was the height of the Vietnam War, just playing The Star-Spangled Banner was controversial.

The Aftermath

Two people died at the concert, one from a drug overdose and one that was run over by a tractor while sleeping in a field, and it was reported that there were two births.

When it was all over, the farm owner Max Yasgur said to the crowd at Woodstock on August 15, 1969: “This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place, and I think you people have proven something to the world: that a half a million kids can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music and I God Bless You for it!”

The Woodstock concert film was released the following year, and Woodstock became synonymous with flower power, the hippie culture, and peace protests common to the 70s. The concert site and surrounding land was purchased in 1997 and has become the Bethel Center for the Arts. It opened on July 1, 2006, with the New York Philharmonic playing (quite a difference, huh!).

The four young men who started it all ended up almost a million dollars in debt and burdened with dozens of lawsuits. Income from royalties and the movie took care of some of it, but they still ended up deep in a hole. Yet, we have to thank them. They may not have done a good job of running the concert, but they gave us some of the greatest times that rock and roll have ever seen.

The End of An Era

It was probably a combination of the times and the bands of Woodstock that built the festival into the mega festival of all time.  The Golden Age of Rock had been growing since the mid-50s, had already captured most of the baby boomer generation, and was still growing.  Woodstock’s success was a signal that the Rock revolution was coming to an end.  It was a hard-fought battle pitting the older generations against the baby boomers.  As it wrapped up, it was clear that rock won and we look at the lead into the Woodstock festival as the end of The Golden Age of Rock.

Woodstock celebrated the victory. Many of the best bands were all there and they were pure rock and roll. All of Rock’s flavored were present …everything from folk-rock to acid rock. And the crowd was heavy-duty into all of it.

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Woodstock Lineup

Friday Saturday Sunday
Richie Havens
Country Joe McDonald
John Sebastian
Bert Sommer
Tim Hardin
Ravi Shankar
Arlo Guthrie
Joan Baez
Keef Hartley
The Incredible String Band
Canned Heat
Credence Clearwater Revival
The Grateful Dead
Janis Joplin
Sly and The Family Stone
The Who
The Jefferson Airplane
Joe Cocker
Max Yasgur
Country Joe and The Fish
Swami Satchidananda
Ten Years After
The Band
Blood Sweat and Tears
Johnny Winter
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Jimi Hendrix