Welcome to the Woodstock - Preservation Archives
Dedicated to the Historic Preservation of the Site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival
THE WOODSTOCK SITE
Hurd & West Shore Rds
on the Historical and Cultural Significance of the 1969 Woodstock
September 25, 2001
baffling history of mankind is full of obvious turning points and
significant events: battles won, treaties signed, rulers elected or
disposed, and now seemingly, planets conquered. Equally important
are the great groundswells of popular movements that affect the
minds and values of a generation or more, not all of which can be
neatly tied to a time or place. Looking back upon the America of
the' 60s, future historians may well search for the meaning of one
such movement. It drew the public's notice on the days and nights of
Aug.15 through 17, 1969, on the 600-acre farm of Max Yasgur in
Bethel, N.Y." 1
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair, held in the Catskill Mountains of New York's Sullivan County, showcased a veritable who's who of the top performers of rock, folk, and progressive popular music during the Sixties era. To this remote location was attracted an audience estimated variously at between a quarter- to a half-million mostly young people from all over the country. For the three summer days over which it was held, the Festival site was said to constitute the Empire State's second most populous city.2 The site itself had been selected by the Festival's organizers because it comprised a natural amphitheater that afforded decent acoustics and unobstructed sight views, plus plenty of space for camping on the grounds. To gauge the significance of the talent on stage, consider that over a third of the thirty-one groups or solo performers who played Woodstock have subsequently been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with several more expected to be so honored in the coming years. Despite problems with the sound system, intermittent downpours, and critical shortages of food, drinking water, and toilet facilities, this self-billed "Aquarian Exposition" was universally regarded as a critical success. Even those who didn't attend reckoned it to be an epoch-making event, a gathering that has come to represent the acme of the era's counterculture. Recognizing its singular place in contemporary history, the U.S. Postal Service recently issued a first-class postage stamp in honor of Woodstock and based it on the distinctive dove-on-guitar neck design of the Festival's poster.3 Another indication of its importance is demonstrated by the inclusion of an entry for Woodstock in The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, thus according it the status of a term that the scholars who compiled this reference work feel every educated member of our society would be expected to know.4
The Woodstock Festival site is significant for a number of reasons. First is its association as the setting for the largest musical event of its kind produced to that date. (And in this role, the land itself figuratively became an important and much remarked upon "player" in the drama that enfolded on its sylvan-fringed sward).5 Second, it is of local and regional significance because of the enormous impact, both immediate and lasting, the event had on the local and regional community. Finally, it is significant due to the symbolic weight with which the Festival and the Festival site have been invested by members of the Sixties counterculture, as well as their admirers and detractors over time. Indeed, this amorphous social movement subsequently came to be called "Woodstock Nation," and the Baby Boomers, who comprised most of the audience at the Festival, are frequently referred to as the "Woodstock Generation" as a result. 6
preceding the Festival had been of one of the most violent in
post-World War II history.
The long struggle for African-American civil rights had been
forestalled following the assassination of its most articulate
leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
His murder had provoked rioting and arson in most of the
nation's largest cities with the destruction of property worth
hundreds of million dollars.
Protests against American involvement in Vietnam had drawn
thousands of people into the streets, most notably in Chicago the
previous summer at the Democratic National Convention.
There demonstrators who, in their frustration at being
prevented from picketing nearer the convention center, taunted law
enforcement authorities and precipitated what the Kerner Commission
report later called a "police riot."
A growing perception among women of their own lack of social
and economic equality prompted the emergence of a new wave of
feminism that in its insurgent stage went by the name of Women's
campuses were convulsed with sit-ins opposing the Vietnam war and
also against in loco parentis
the month before the Festival a routine police raid on a gay bar in
Greenwich Village touched off the Stonewall riots, which itself
marked the birth of the Gay and Lesbian Liberation movement.
All of these crises and disruptions to the status quo
produced a feeling among many Americans, and particularly the youth,
that the country was coming unraveled. Among the more radical
segment of political and cultural activists on the left there was an
increasing sense that the next American revolution might be at hand.
II history. The long struggle for African-American civil rights had been forestalled following the assassination of its most articulate leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. His murder had provoked rioting and arson in most of the nation's largest cities with the destruction of property worth hundreds of million dollars. Protests against American involvement in Vietnam had drawn thousands of people into the streets, most notably in Chicago the previous summer at the Democratic National Convention. There demonstrators who, in their frustration at being prevented from picketing nearer the convention center, taunted law enforcement authorities and precipitated what the Kerner Commission report later called a "police riot." A growing perception among women of their own lack of social and economic equality prompted the emergence of a new wave of feminism that in its insurgent stage went by the name of Women's Liberation. College campuses were convulsed with sit-ins opposing the Vietnam war and also against in loco parentis practices. During the month before the Festival a routine police raid on a gay bar in Greenwich Village touched off the Stonewall riots, which itself marked the birth of the Gay and Lesbian Liberation movement. All of these crises and disruptions to the status quo produced a feeling among many Americans, and particularly the youth, that the country was coming unraveled. Among the more radical segment of political and cultural activists on the left there was an increasing sense that the next American revolution might be at hand.
The Woodstock Festival was the largest and most spectacular gathering of the type known as the be-in. The first such gathering to be called by this term (which itself was derived from the civil rights movement "sit-in" demonstrations held throughout the South beginning in Greenville, N.C., in 1960) was the Human Be-In, a free event held in January 1967 in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. There a crowd of young people, including those who were associated with the beat movement of the late 1950's and their younger bohemian successors known as hippies, along with a wide assortment of college students and curiosity seekers of all ages, participated in what the organizers had promoted as a "gathering of the tribes." The rationale for this festive occasion was to bring together Bay Area activists who had been involved in the movements for civil rights and free speech and opposition to the Vietnam War with counterculture activists, distinguishable from their more conventionally political counterparts by their belief in dropping out of society instead of working to reform it. As a focal point of the Be-In, a low stage was erected on the park's polo grounds and there were invited to speak such luminaries as the poets Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lenore Kandel, the Buddhist spiritual leader Suzuki Roshi, and antiwar activist Jerry Rubin. Also on the dais were showcased several of the bands most representative of the "San Francisco sound," including the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Despite these attractions, the Be-In conveyed a palpable feeling for the estimated 20,000 persons in attendance that their community of opposition was larger and more colorful and diverse than any of them had previously imagined. It provided a cultural form for evoking an alternative community in place, and garnered the counterculture's first coverage by the national news media. Dozens of be-ins and love-ins were organized across the country over the course of that year, the most famous of which included the love-in held in Los Angeles and New York's Central Park be-in, both which took place on Easter Sunday 1967.7
musicians performed at be-ins, they were considered an essential
part of the gathering, although not quite its raison d’être.
New "acid rock" groups had found their audience in primarily
what has been called the vaudeville hippie ballrooms whose floors
permitted free-form dancing abetted by state-of-the-art sound
systems and liquid projection "light shows." 8
With experiences enhanced by the use of psychedelic drugs,
there was very little distinction made between audiences and the
performers in the early days of these concerts (1965-1967).
In many cases the two were the same, and the dance halls
themselves were sometimes communally operated on what the collective
hoped would be at least a breakeven basis.
While groups such as the Haight-Ashbury Diggers helped organize free concerts in the San Francisco parks with the arrival of the "Summer of love" in 1967, a new type of musical gathering was being staged featuring acid rock groups and other eclectic performers whose talents ran from folk to jazz, and from soul to Indian classical music. The first of these was the Magic Mountain Festival held over a three day period on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County across the Bay and north of San Francisco in early June 1967. It was followed about a week later by the much better known Monterey Pop Festival down the coast near Big Sur. Over a three-day period some 30,000 to 50,000 members of the "love generation" were treated to performances by British invasion groups such as the Who, soul singer Otis Redding, folkies like the Lovin' Spoonful and the Mamas and the Papas, as well as the Grateful Dead. Two of the breakout performances were by Janis Joplin and Big Brother and Jimi Hendrix with his band the Experience, who were making their American debut. Over the next two years several other festivals were held that aspired to replicate the critical success of the Monterey Pop Festival, and, their promoters hoped, to turn a profit. Although these festivals became more focused on the performers, their form - large numbers of people camping out on the grounds and together sharing close quarters-preserved the sense that they were sites where the counterculture itself was rehearsed, performed and, one might say, consumed, as at the be-ins.
Woodstock Festival happened in a kind of backhanded way.
Two young New York venture capitalists, John Roberts and Joel
Rosenman placed an ad in the
New York Times stating simply "Two young men with unlimited
capital looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities
and business propositions."9
The ad immediately caught the eye of Michael Lang, a self-
identified hippie rock promoter who had just organized his first
festival with moderate success in Miami.
He and his partner, Artie Kornfeld were seeking financing to
build a recording studio featuring all the latest technology in the
Hudson River Valley town and bohemian enclave of Woodstock (Ulster
County), N.Y. The town had been known as a haven for artists and
writers since the turn of the century, and by the mid1960's had
begun to attract a host of well known musicians such as Bob Dylan
and the Band. Lang and
Kornfeld were convinced that a studio at Woodstock would attract
their trade as well as musicians from all over the country.
Messrs. Roberts and Rosenman were non pulsed by the pair's
proposal, since they had already financed a recording studio and
were looking now for new ventures to pursue.10
Lang and Kornfeld's prospectus had included the idea of
staging a rock festival in advance of the studio's opening to both
promote the studio and raise funds for its operation.
That part of their proposal captured the investors' fancy and
together the four men embarked upon the project of organizing a
festival at Woodstock.
pursued contacts in the musical entertainment industry and secured
the services of John Morris, who had recently been fired as manager
of Bill Graham's Fillmore East auditorium in New York City.
Morris successfully signed every act that had been booked to
perform at the Fillmore East that same summer.
Having these and other musicians on the same bill would make
the Woodstock Festival the largest gathering of rock and pop talent
ever assembled on a single bill.
When it was determined that there was no site in the village
of Woodstock to accommodate a crowd expected to number
30,00050,000, the group settled on the town of Wallkill in Orange
County. The site they
had located, although less than optimum, could be leased at a
reasonable rate. Obtaining permits for such a gathering proved to be
more troublesome. Only
two country lanes ran into the town and law enforcement and medical
personnel were few and far between.
Their application for permits were eventually denied them
when an ad hoc group called the Concerned Citizens Committee
obtained some 2000 signatures of local residents who opposed a
festival that might bring large numbers of hippie drug users into
the town. Woodstock
Ventures, the promoters partnership entity, instigated legal action
to reverse this decision while simultaneously seeking an alternative
site. Their desperate search by helicopter into what seemed like
every nook and cranny within a few hours drive of New York City led
them eventually to the Sullivan County dairy farm of Max Yasgur. For
$50,000 (and $75,000 in escrow to cover damages), he agreed to lease
them several hundred acres, including a 37½
acre alfalfa field that formed a natural amphitheater and would make
an ideal performance space.
In total, Woodstock Ventures leased 600 acres from Yasgur and
other landowners for the festival grounds.11
Yasgur was a well respected citizen of Bethel Township with extensive holding of rolling hills and woodlands. His health was not good which made him more receptive to deriving income from pursuits other than farming. With his assistance, the appropriate permits were obtained from the Town officials, but as news of the Festival soon spread, it stimulated local opposition. An anonymous party erected a 2½ -by-4-foot sign that read "Local People Speak Out / Stop Max's Music Festival / No 150,000 Hippies Here / Buy No Milk." The Yasgur’s had been having second thoughts about their decision to lease their land to Woodstock Ventures, once it had been reported that as many as 75,000 tickets had already been sold with the prospect that perhaps 100,0000 people, and maybe more, could be expected. But after they saw that sign, they were determined to go through with it.12
Preparations for the Festival were conducted under less than opportune conditions. Essentially there was too little time - three weeks - to get the site ready, and the organizers themselves were either inexperienced or underexperienced in the required tasks for an event of this size. To give just one example, sources document how difficult it was to ascertain how many rental privies would be needed for a crowd whose numbers could only be guessed at. No one provider of such portable toilets had a sufficient number of units available, so the promoters obtained as many as they could find throughout a regional search. That number would prove to be woefully inadequate. Another serious problem arose after the man who was hired to provide security for the Festival had arranged for 346 off-duty New York City police officers to serve as "ushers." But the day before the Festival was to open, New York's Police Commissioner prohibited anyone from his force to accept these positions, citing 1967 moonlighting regulations that proscribed police officers from taking outside jobs involving security.13 At loose ends for how to replace them, the promoters were able to convince members of a New Mexico commune known as the Hog Farm to constitute themselves as a "Please Force." (The commune had earlier agreed to set up a free food service and staff a tent for the treatment of those suffering the effects of bad drug trips.) Hugh Romney, a/k/a "Wavy Gravy," first among the commune's equals, entertained journalists' queries about their plans for providing security at the festival. "Do you feel secure?" Romney innocently responded. When one of the reporters answered in the affirmative, Romney quipped, "It seems to be working!" He followed this with a mock stem warning that miscreants would be put in their place by dousing them with seltzer water or targeting them with custard pies.14
promoters had failed utterly in restricting access to the site while
preparations were being made with the result that some 50,000 people
had already arrived there before the fences had been completed.
Realizing how difficult, probably impossible, it would be to
clear the field and force those early arrivals to show their tickets
at the gate, by Friday afternoon on 15 August, while gate-crashers
were dismantling the fences, the fateful decision was taken to bow
to reality and declare that it would be henceforth a free Festival.
This guaranteed that the promoters would stand to lose money
on their venture; it was mitigated only by the hope that revenue
from the eventual release of the film and audio recordings would
help them recoup their losses (which, more than a decade later it
festival was supposed to have begun at 3:00 p.m., but Sweetwater,
the first band scheduled to go on, was mired in traffic with all of
A helicopter was dispatched to find them and airlift them to
the stage. Various
means were used to amuse the crowd in the meantime.
One of the Hog Farmers, Tom Law, sat in the lotus position on
the center of the stage and led those who were willing among the
100,000 gathered in front of him through a series of yoga exercises.
Meanwhile approximately 85,000 others congregated in one of
the other adjoining areas.
There were, for example, a pavilion set up for the display of
an American Indian Art exhibit (this was the "Art" part of the
"Aquarian Exposition"); a tent designated as "Movement City," where
various radical political groups distributed literature and talked
with visitors; an unauthorized area where dope dealers congregated
to sell various types of drugs including LSD, marijuana, mescaline,
and hashish; and a children's playground with elaborate equipment
built on the site that was soon taken over by older "flower
In the same general vicinity of the Hog Farm food service tent,
there was a free stage set up for use by any party - local bands,
poets, jugglers, mimes, or speakers.
It reportedly saw extensive use throughout the festival. Joan
Baez was perhaps the only major act who showed up to playa more
intimate set on this stage; the rest were amateurs or lesser-knowns.
Nonetheless, all weekend the free stage remained a focal
point for those who wished to sit in close proximity to the
Among the most commented on recreational activities indulged in by Festival goers throughout the weekend involved swimming in one of the three lakes or ponds located near the site. One could be found behind the campgrounds near the intersection of Perry and West Shore Roads, one was "Filippini Pond" behind the crew's mess hall north of West Shore Road, and the last was east of Perry Road across from a hayfield. Local landowners lodged objections to these trespassers, but to little avail. Some of the swimmers wore suits, but soon skinny dipping became the order of the day.19 Photographers took great delight in the spectacle of young people frolicking in the nude. It was as if the Book of Genesis was being rewritten on the spot and in this new version the children of Adam and Eve had been allowed to return to the Garden of Eden, clothed as before only in their innocence. This unashamed social nudity at Woodstock established a trend for those who attended subsequent festivals.20
When the festival started a few hours later, the first performer on stage was Richie Havens. He greeted the crowd by loudly observing, "We've finally made it! We did it this time -- they'll never be able to hide us again!" He later wrote in his memoir: "We were there because we felt good about ourselves, happy to be in the same place with so many brothers and sisters who shared this common bond. We were there to look at each other, meet each other, identify our support for each other. We were there to celebrate. We would share this experience the rest of our lives." It was an acknowledgment by one of the featured musicians of the Festival's roots in the be-in phenomenon. For Havens, as it would be later described by other participants, the experience was first and foremost about "[the feeling that Bethel was such a special place, a moment when we all felt we were at the exact center of true freedom." Back on stage for an unprecedented seventh and final encore, Havens improvised the song "Freedom," which then became his signature tune. It also helped established one of the Festival's key themes.21
Another notable performer on that Friday was Country Joe McDonald who agreed to follow Richie Havens when Sweetwater had still not arrived. Without the rest of his band, the Fish, he agreed to play solo, something he had been contemplating doing, but not for a few years. McDonald opened his set with the infamous "Fish Cheer": "Gimme an F!" he cried out, and the crowd now numbering a quarter million enthusiastically roared back "F!" "Gimme a U!" The call-and-response ended with what had to be the loudest uttering of an obscenity ever. Together they took great delight in shouting out a word that only a few years before, when scrawled on a sheet of notebook paper on the steps of Sather Gate on the U.C.- Berkeley campus, had set in motion a protracted battle between students and administrators over what the press dubbed the "Filthy Speech Movement." Whether they thought about it or not, the Festival goers were claiming for themselves the right to use certain words in public that many of them unselfconsciously were already using in private conversation. Country Joe was followed by John Sebastian, the Incredible String Band, Tim Hardin and Joan Baez. The weekend's first downpour occurred during Ravi Shankar's set. The lightning and driving rain forced him and his accompanists to leave the stage.
following two days witnessed numerous stellar performances
interspersed with more rain that turned the stage area in particular
into a quagmire. Those
who braved the elements witnessed sets by the Who; Janis Joplin and
her new band; Santana; Crosby, Stills and Nash making their national
debut; Johnny Winter; and Blood, Sweat and Tears, among several
dawn on 18 August, Jimi Hendrix and his five-piece band the Gypsy
Sun and Rainbows closed the festival.
His performance has entered the realm of legend in large part
because of its brilliant and inspired rendition of "The Star
Spangled Banner." 23
THE LOCALITY AND REGION
to the Woodstock Festival, which had driven it from its first
planned location in Wallkill, N.Y., was due in part to the feeling
among local residents and officials that they were ill equipped to
handle the influx of tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of
people. Besides this
deficiency in infrastructure and services, the opposition was also
fueled by a pronounced bias against the hippie counterculture and
all it represented, typically evoked by that hedonistic triumvirate
of "sex, drugs and rock 'n roll."24
Shortly afterward, an
alternate site had been found at Bethel, some three weeks prior to
the advertised start of the Festival. Soon the citizens of Sullivan
County would indeed find themselves facing a crisis of unprecedented
proportions as every road leading to Yasgur's farm became clogged
with cars for twenty-to-thirty miles in all directions.
It was the first and only time that the state actually closed
a portion of the New York Throughway, after festival goers, trapped
in a seemingly endless traffic jam that in places featured four,
sometimes five columns of vehicles splayed across a two-lane
turnpike, simply abandoned their cars and set off for the festival
site on foot.
The same spirit of cooperation that was noted among festival goers was also exhibited by people on farms adjacent to the site and in neighboring communities, many of whom provided housing, food, and water upon hearing of shortages at the site. Local hospitals and schools opened their doors to assist in the treating of festival goers who had been airlifted there when they needed more urgent care than the medical professionals at the Festival site could provide.25 Approximately 4,000 people were treated for "injuries, illness, and adverse drug reactions"; about ten percent of that number for the last of these complaints.26
There was immediate political fallout from the Festival. In the fall election of 1969, the citizens of Bethel voted out of office Daniel Amatucci, the town supervisor who had approved the festival permit application. He was defeated by a man who ran solely on his very vocal opposition to the Festival.27 Subsequently the Town adopted an ordinance banning mass gatherings in excess of 10,000 people unless a variance was obtained, effectively ensuring there would never again be a mass event on the order of Woodstock in their community. (Such restrictions were also put into effect elsewhere in the state and nation.)28 Over the past three decades, the animosity between local residents who supported the Festival and those who opposed it has dissipated somewhat. Much more in evidence today is the attempt by elected officials and those charged with tourism development to play up the locality's claim to fame as the site of the original Woodstock Festival. In 1984, in observance of the Festival's fifteenth anniversary, an ad hoc committee of area citizens commissioned local welder Wayne Saward to erect a concrete monument at the site with a cast iron plaque and sculpture commemorating the event. It may be found there today near the intersection of West Shore and Hurd Roads. This historical marker serves a useful function in letting the steady stream of visitors to the site know they have arrived at their desired destination.29
What made the 1969 Woodstock Festival different from all other rock festivals? The answer may be found in a combination of several factors: it featured the largest line-up of musical talent ever assembled and provided the largest live audience in history for them to showcase their talent. Several groups such as Sly and the Family Stone; Santana; Crosby, Stills and Nash; and Richie Havens regarded their performances at Woodstock as career making. Another factor was the notable lack of violence among the festival goers. Medical personnel noted no injuries caused by violence, despite the plethora of deplorable conditions already documented. The number of people treated for adverse recreational drug reactions, reported by Dr. William Abruzzi, Festival Medical Director was relatively small: around 800 cases in the three-day period, a minuscule figure in proportion to the size of the crowd (300,000-500,000) compared with later festivals that drew equal or smaller numbers of people.30 More than one commentator has remarked that the feeling of elan, bonhomie, and the spirit of cooperation that marked the Woodstock Festival was due in part to the prevalence of psychotropic substances rather than hard drugs such as methadrine, heroin, and cocaine, in addition to alcohol, which were much more in evidence at subsequent festivals. A number of those gatherings were also marred by outbreaks of violence and rioting.
nothing had been organized on this scale before, the Woodstock
Festival took on the aspect of a high stakes experiment where both
the organizers and those in attendance grasped the need to improvise
solutions to the many challenges they were faced with. Festival
goers reported feeling a sense of accomplishment and exhilaration
that together they found solutions to these challenges.
Later festivals tended to be better organized because of the
Woodstock experience and when they were not, crowds tended to be
much less willing to put up with conditions they found wanting.
IMPORTANCE OF WOODSTOCK TO THE SIXTIES COUNTERCULTURE
talking about Woodstock's importance one needs to distinguish the
event from the myth with which it is co-terminous.
The myth of Woodstock was generated simultaneously with the
event's unfolding and, like other cultural myths, has undergone
periodic alterations and transformations down to the present time.31
In the strict sense of the term, myths are stories that are
intended to convey larger truths which may not otherwise be
verifiable; they may also provide explanations about the origins or
meaning of phenomena whose facticity is beside the point.
Social groups commonly create or recreate myths about
themselves which serve to buttress cherished beliefs and values held
by its members and signal how they collectively wish to be known.
The myth of Woodstock is that in a time of military conflict
abroad, racial and ethnic strife at home, when a deep social
division known as the "generation gap" separated parents from
children, a half a million mostly young people removed themselves
from proximity to these conflicts and went "back to the garden" to
"try and set [their] soul[s] free."32 Attracted by the
largest lineup of popular music talent ever showcased at one venue,
these young people endured inclement weather, and critical shortages
of food, water, shelter, dry clothing, and sanitation facilities; in
sum, most of the basic necessities of life.
Despite these hardships, for three days they lived peaceably
in a state of harmony and love, sharing what limited resources they
had with one another.
Written and verbal accounts of those who have undertaken
self-described "pilgrimages" to the Festival site indicate that they
do so as a way of feeling the "vibrations" that are said to inhere
in the land in the aftermath of this mass ceremonial experience.33
rock critic Ellen Sander appraised the immediate impact of the
Festival this way: "No longer can the magical multicolored
phenomenon of pop culture be overlooked or underrated.
It’s happening everywhere, but now it has happened in one
place at one time so hugely that it was indeed historic .... The
audience was a much bigger story than the groups. It was major
entertainment news that the line-up of talent was of such
magnificence and magnitude (thirty-one acts, nineteen of which were
colossal) .... These were, however, the least significant events of
what happened over the Woodstock weekend.
What happened was that the largest number of people ever
assembled for any event other than a war lived together, intimately
and meaningfully and with such natural good cheer that they turned
on not only everyone surrounding them but the mass media, and, by
extension, millions of others, young and old, particularly many
elements hostile to the manifestations and ignorant of the substance
of pop culture."34
was the culmination of a transformation in American popular music
that had begun with Monterey.
The Monterey Pop Festival introduced the emerging acid rock
bands of the San Francisco Bay Area to a wider audience estimated at
50,000 people as well as to influential record executives and
producers from New York and Los Angeles. Woodstock introduced the
same wide diversity of talent, albeit on an expanded scale, to a
truly mass audience.
And not just to those who attended the Festival.
A subsequent documentary film (the Academy Award-winning,
3-hour long Woodstock,
directed by Michael Wadleigh and released in March 1970) and several
sound recordings helped establish what only two years before had
been underground or avant-garde musical styles and ushered them into
Participating musicians, industry insiders, and rock critics and
historians concur that Woodstock changed the way that popular music
was programmed and marketed.
Festival promoters noted the large numbers of fans who were
willing to put up with often inadequate facilities and the number of
festivals for a time increased after Woodstock. Promoters saw
opportunities to improve their profit margin by more efficiently
organizing festivals, including by placing stringent controls over
the collection of tickets at the gate .. They also understood that
increased ticket prices would need to be offset by offering better
sanitation and protection from inclement weather.
By the mid-1970s these ends were realized by moving the
festivals from pastoral settings into sports arenas and convention
centers and limiting the shows to a single-day or evening.36
From the audience's standpoint, the provision of fixed seats,
and assigned and price-segmented locations fundamentally altered the
festival-going experience, diminishing the egalitarianism that had
been a hallmark of the outdoor festivals.
Likewise, the shift from multi-day festivals where fans
camped on the site to one-day concerts limited the amount of bonding
between fans and thereby diminished the sense of community that many
commentators considered the
sine qua non of the Woodstock experience.37
development of "arena rock" marked the end of the rock "vaudeville
circuit," and led to the demise of the smaller concert hall venues
(those having a capacity of a few thousand people) that had been the
incubator of new musical styles. Several of them closed in
1970-1971, including the Boston Tea Party and Bill Graham's
Fillmores’ West and East, in San Francisco and New York
The arenas also gave the upper hand to the style of music
called heavy metal, represented by loudly amplified guitar based and
blues-inflected bands composed almost entirely of white male
musicians, whose aggressive style of playing was ideally suited for
filling the audible space in arena settings.
After Woodstock, musicians apprehended the seemingly insatiable demand for their music and began commanding higher fees. It thus soon proved to be no longer economically feasible to book several major bands on the same bill and keep ticket prices within an acceptable range while maintaining profitability. This in turn led to the segmentation of the fan base. At Monterey and Woodstock, the programming of groups representing numerous genres, exposed audiences to many different musical styles at the same time, thereby giving them a keener appreciation of American popular music in all its diversity. In the years fol1owing Woodstock, however, fans were channeled into attending concerts that featured fewer acts, typically representing one or two musical styles.
the Woodstock Festival's enduring legacy is the continuing efforts
to counteract this trend by replicating the multi-performer/genre
Over the past three decades various parties have staged or attempted
to stage successors to Woodstock, either by that name at different
sites or else on or near the original site under a different name.39
On the commercial side, the first festival held in homage to
Woodstock occurred around the tenth anniversary date in 1979 at Parr
Meadows in Long Island. It was reportedly a flop.40
The next for-profit attempt to organize a Woodstock Festival was in summer 1989, this time under the auspices of Woodstock Ventures. It ultimately fell through when John Roberts and Joel Rosenman were unable to reach an agreement with Warner Brothers, described in the press as "the owner of most of the rights to the festival and its name." That did not stop others from trying to cash in on the anniversary commemorations: night club owner Steven Gold bought the rights to sell original festival memorabilia, including about 800 posters and 50,000 tickets to the original event. MTV and VH-l broadcast the concert film Woodstock and were promoting their own line of merchandise in conjunction with Warner Brothers.41 On the non-commercial side, the Center of Photography in Woodstock, N.Y., sponsored a series of events to mark the anniversary, and members of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a loose association of counter culturists who traced their origins of the group to the original Festival, sponsored a free-form gathering on the former site of Yasgur's Farm which reportedly attracted several thousand people.42 Much had changed in the preceding decade. Enough time had passed for nostalgia to have bloomed among the Woodstock generation, and for various entities to emerge who catered to that sentiment.
twenty-fifth anniversary in 1994 two competing commercial concerts
were planned. Only the
one billed as Woodstock' 94 (or "Woodstock II"), organized by
Woodstock Ventures took place.
It was held in Saugerties, a Hudson River town just east of
Woodstock, N.Y., coincidentally at the Winston Farm, the same
location that Woodstock Ventures had first considered holding the
1969 festival on. It
was promoted as the Woodstock that would make money, in part through
corporate sponsorship, better security, and advance sale of audio,
film, and broadcast rights.
Despite these preparations a crowd numbering at least 200,000
overwhelmed the gates on the first day and managed once again to
turn it into a free festival by default.43
A different festival had been planned at the original Yasgur
Farm site, sponsored by June Gelish, the current owner.
Ms. Gelish had leased the property to the Multiple Sclerosis
Society, whose New York State chapter head, Robert Gersch, undertook
the promotion with the expectation that all proceeds would go to his
It was, however, soon superceded by a different proposed
concert known as "Bethel '94," this one produced by Shea
Entertainment with Sid Bernstein Ltd., which, after obtaining a
lease from Ms. Gelish, won the approval of Bethel officials in
January 1994. It was
canceled in early August when only 1,650 tickets had been sold. More
than 25,000 fans showed up for the weekend of 13-14 August anyway,
and were freely entertained by musicians who had played at the first
Festival, including Richie Havens, Country Joe McDonald, Arlo
Guthrie, Canned Heat, Sha Na Na, and Melanie.45
mid-August 1998 the present site Owner, The Gerry Foundation, a
tax-exempt charitable organization, through its wholly owned entity
GF Entertainment LLC, held the first commercial concert at the site
since 1969. Known as "A
Day in the Garden," it featured Ten Years After, Pete Townsend,
Richie Havens, Melanie, and John Sebastian, all veterans of the
original Woodstock festival, plus Don Henley, Lou Reed, Joni
Mitchell, and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame as headliners.
Alternative groups such as the Goo Goo Dolls and Third Eye
Blind also played to an audience that cumulatively numbered 79,000
over the three days.46
The Gerry Foundation followed up this concert the next
summer, marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Festival with a
one-day show that featured nine performers, five of whom had played
the 1969 Festival.
Attendance, however, fell below the 10,000 mark.47
The previous month Woodstock '99, organized by Michael Lang
and John Scher, was held at the former Griffiss Air Force base in
Rome, N.Y. Despite high ticket prices and a setting that was the
antithesis of Yasgur Farm, the festival managed to attract more than
220,000 young people who were treated to a stellar line-up of
primarily alternative rock and pop groups on three stages,
A summer heat wave coupled with what many festival goers
considered gouging prices ($4 for bottled water), the festival ended
with widespread rioting and arson. At least two women were reported
raped. Nearly all of
the sensationalized news coverage contrasted this debacle with the
more pacific, although equally stressed crowd at the original
What is apparent through this survey of the various gatherings, commercial and otherwise, is that although the original Festival can never be duplicated, the very notion of Woodstock retains an enduring grip upon many people's imagination. Woodstock as an idea is portable. Indeed, the 1969 Festival had been shifted from place to place in search of a site, before landing in Bethel. While festivals bearing the Woodstock name may continue to be held elsewhere, and succeed by drawing on the cache of the original Aquarian Exposition, the Yasgur Farm site will no doubt maintain its vaunted status as the authentic location of one of the Sixties' most celebrated events.
Michael Wm. Doyle, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor and Director of the Public History Internship Program History Department
Ball State University
1. So begins the essay, "The Message of History's Biggest Happening," Time magazine's four-page coverage, complete with several color photographs, of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in vol. 94, (29 August 1969), 32-33.
It has been repeatedly asserted that the size of the audience
attending Woodstock made the Festival site itself "the second
largest city in New York" for those three days in mid-August 1969.
Others have referred to it as the "third largest city" in the state.
Which is accurate? The
answer depends on which estimate one uses for the number of people
present. If the largest number usually given -- 500,000 -- is
accepted, then the first claim is true; if the smaller estimates
(300,000-400,000) are to be believed, then the latter claim
pertains. The 1970
federal census enumerated 462,783 people in Buffalo, the state's
second most populous city, and 296,233 in Rochester, the next in
size. Edward P. Morgan, The
60s Experience: Hard Lessons About Modern America (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1991), 194; U.S. Department of Commerce,
Bureau of the Census, County
and City Data Book 1972 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing
Office, 1973). It is
impossible to know how many people actually attended the Festival.
Lower estimates may not have taken into account that some people
left after the first day's rain, but were immdeiate1y replaced by
others who continued to flock to the site until the final day.
Hence varying estimates made at the site might be considered
"snapshots" of the crowd's size at the moment of observation.
They also do not take into consideration how many people were
stuck in traffic on their way to the Festival, but were turned back
by the clogged roads.
The stamp was issued as part of the "Celebrate the Century"
series, which included stamps honoring "the most significant people,
places and trends of each decade of the 20th century."
The Woodstock stamp was one of fifteen representative of the
1960s that was selected from a larger number of prospective subjects
by popular balloting conducted via the Internet. See the Associated
Press reports "Woodstock, Civil Rights among '60s Stamp Subjects,"
[Muncie, Ind.] Star Press
(23 April 1998), 3D; idem,
"Woodstock Makes Its Way onto New Stamp," (13 Sept. 1999), 1D.
"Woodstock," in The
Dictionary of Cultural Literacy ed. E.D. Hirsch, Joseph F. Kett,
and James Trefil (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993),432.
5. This sense of agency accorded the land recurs in eyewitness accounts. A fish-eye lens photo of the festival underway, shot from within the crowd at the rim and looking toward the stage, is captioned this way: "From the stage a 35-acre field sloped upward to form a natural bowl that almost held everybody." In John Dominis and Bill Eppridge, "The Big Woodstock Rock Trip; Hundreds of Thousands of Kids Mob a Catskill Mountain Farm," Life magazine vol. 67, no. 9 (29 August 1969), 14B-23 at 16-17.
6. The first of these terms was coined by counterculture activist Abbie Hoffman as the title of his book Woodstock Nation: A Talk-Rock Album (New York: Random House, 1969) [reissued by (New York: Pocket Books, 1971) with a new epilogue]. Hoffman convinced the festival organizers (although extorted would be closer to the truth) to allocate $10,000 to develop and equip a "Movement City" tent on the site that would be staffed by political organizers who were hopeful of radicalizing those in attendance. Unsatisfied when the Movement City compound was situated at a considerable distance from the performance site, Hoffman bounded on stage while the Who were performing. He seized a microphone and began berating the crowd for enjoying themselves while fellow cultural revolutionary John Sinclair was languishing in prison for the crime of furnishing two marijuana cigarettes to an undercover agent. Musician Pete Townsend promptly whacked Hoffman with his guitar and drove him off the stage, to the evident approval of the audience. Joel Makower, Woodstock: The Oral History (New York, etc.: Tilden Press/Doubleday, 1989), 107-111,235-239; Bob Spitz, Barefoot in Babylon: The Creation of the Woodstock Music Festival, 1969 (rev. ed.; New York and London: W.W. Norton, 1989), 164-168,462-463.
7. Michael William Doyle, "Be-ins," in The Sixties in America ed. Carl Singleton (Pasadena, Cal.: Salem Press, 1999), vol. I, 66-67.
John Glatt, Rage &
Roll: Bill Graham and the
Selling of Rock (New York: Birch Lane Press/Carol Publishing
Group, 1993), 138.
Classified advertisement in the
New York Times (22 March
1967), p. 54. It is reprinted in. Joel Rosemnan, John Roberts, and
Robert Pilpel, Young Men with
Unlimited Capital (New York and London: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1974), 15.
"Rocky Road to Fame, If Not Fortune: Young Impresarios Drop a
Bundle in Staging Biggest Rock-Music Festival, But Win a Place in
the Business Scene," Business
Week no. 2086 (23 August 1969), 78-80 at 79.
Various sources offer conflicting accounts as to how much
land was leased from Max Yasgur.
Reports differ as to whether 600 acres was leased from
Yasgur's total holdings or whether the festival occurred on a
portion of his farm that totaled 600 acres. Woodstock Venture's
600-acre lease from Max Yasgur is claimed in Rosenman, et al.,
Young Men with Unlimited
Capital, 96, 99, 148.
The same amount of acreage is cited by Lacey Fosburgh, "346
Policemen Quit Music Festival,"
New York Times (Fri., 15
August 1969), sec. 1, p. 22; Barnard L. Collier, "300,000 at
Folk-Rock Fair Camp Out in a Sea of Mud,"
New York Times (17 August
1969), sec. 1, pp. 1, 80; "Farmer with Soul: Max Yasgur,"
New York Times (Mon., 18
August 1969), sec. 1, p. 25; "Max Yasgur, Woodstock Patron,"
Rolling Stone no. 130 (15
March 1973), 10. A much
larger figure is given in a contemporary article on the Festival in
Newsweek, where it states
that the event took place on "over 1,000 acres of rolling pasture
land leased from a local dairy farmer." "Age of Aquarius,"
Newsweek vol. 74, no. 8
(25 August 1969), 88.
In a phone conversation with Michael Lang on August 21, 2001, Lang
stated that a total of 600 acres was leased for the festival site,
but that not all of these were leased from Yasgur. What is
consistent through the various sources is that the officially leased
festival grounds totaled 600 acres.
Richard F. Shepard, "Pop Rock Festival Finds New Home,"
New York Times (Weds., 23
July 1969), sec. 1, p.30.
A photograph of the sign published in the Middletown, N.Y.
Times Herald-Record, is
reprinted in Elliot Tiber,
Knock on Woodstock: The Uproarious, Uncensored Story of the
Woodstock Festival, the Gay Man Who Made It Happen, and How He
Earned His Ticket to Freedom (New York: Festival Books, 1994),
156. Miriam Yasgur
later confirmed that this sign convinced her and her husband not to
break their newly signed lease. Joel Makower,
Woodstock: The Oral History
(New York, etc.: Tilden Press Doubleday, 1989), 120; Bob Spitz,
Barefoot in Babylon: The
Creation of the Woodstock Music Festival, 1969 (rev. ed.; New
York and London: W.W. Norton, 1989), 290-292.
13. Lacey Fosburgh, "346 Policemen Quit Music Festival," New York Times (Fri., 15 August 1969), sec. 1, p.22.
14. Quoted in Wavy Gravy [pseudo Hugh Romney], "Hog Farming at Woodstock," in The Sixties: The Decade Remembered Now, by the People Who Lived It Then ed. Lynda Rosen Obst (New York: Rolling Stone Press, 1977), 274-279.
Andrew Feinberg, "Wired Promoter,"
Forbes [Supplement] (27
All information in this section is derived from Bob Spitz,
Barefoot in Babylon: The
Creation of the Woodstock Music Festival, 1969 (rev. ed.; New
York and London: W.W. Norton, 1989).
Ibid., 425-426. The free stage was situated in a wooded
clearing just south of West Shore Road and due east of Crystal Pond.
See the map drawn by Paul J. Pugliese, GCI, in ibid., [xviii-xix],
which also shows the location of the playground, "Indian Pavilion,"
and puppet theater.
Ibid., 400-401. Music critic Jerry Hopkins claims that
"thousands washed and swam in the nude" at Woodstock and discusses
the apparent liberatory effect it had on participants'
Festival! The Book of American Music Celebrations (New York:
Macmillan, 1970), 136-137.
At Woodstock, with the hot temperatures and rain and mud,
nude bathing was a practical way to cool off and get clean.
However, festival goers elsewhere, even when the weather was
temperate and dry, still doffed their clothing and thus continued a
controversial trend that had begun with Woodstock.
"This year there will be ... plenty of other 'Woodstocks' to
keep the controversy crackling among both young and old. Festivals
this summer are popping up everywhere ....
Each one flaunts anew all the Woodstock hallmarks, from drugs
to nudity, and each again raises the hackles of an alarmed adult
Woodstock, drug use and nudity have become barometers of a
festival's success .... For instance, much of the disrobing at
Woodstock was impromptu -- a response to the hot sun, pelting rain,
and omnipresent mud. Two weeks later, a Texas festival [the Texas
International Pop Festival in Lewisville.
J was held in cool, dry weather -- and people took their
clothes off anyway." Edwin Kiester, Jr., "Woodstock and Beyond __
Why?" Today's Health vol.
48, no. 7 (July 1970),20-25,59-61 at 23 and 59. Public nudity was
also reported at the Isle of Wight Festival in England and the Sky
River Rock Festival in Tenino, Wash., held over that same Labor Day
weekend in 1969. "Youths Jam 4 Rock Fairs,"
New York Times (Mon., 1
September 1969), sec. 1, pp. 1, 12; "Sons of Bethel,"
Time magazine vol. 94 (12
September 1969), 81; Robert Santelli,
Aquarius Rising: The Rock
Festival Years (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1980),222. The
trend continued in the 1970s with the Powder Ridge Music Festival
near Middlefield, Conn. See "Peace and Pot on Powder Ridge,"
Time magazine vol. 96 (10
August 1970), 11; "When the Music Stopped: A Festival of Life Dies
at Powder Ridge," Life
magazine vol. 69, no. 7 (14 August 1970), 34-37. It even led to the
formation of a third political party in Woodstock, N.Y.: "Nude
Swimming Issue Leads to 3d Political Party in Woodstock,"
New York Times (Tues., 2
November 1971), sec. 1, p. 40. Not to be outdone, revelers at
subsequent Woodstock festivals have similarly shed their clothing
and cavorted in the altogether. A 23-year-old man named Goat Bendez,
who hitchhiked from Idaho to attend Woodstock '94, explained to a
reporter, "I came to be
nude. I saw the
[Woodstock] movie and
there were plenty of people nude." "Splendor in the Morass,"
People Weekly vol. 42,
no. 9 (29 August 1994), 102-103.
A photo taken of a nude man at this festival by
photojournalist Kenneth Lambert even won first prize at the White
House News Photographers Association in 1995, even though it was
almost removed from exhibition because of its subject matter. Debra
Gersh Hemadez" "No Nudes Is Good Nudes,"
Editor and Publisher vol.
128, no. 6 (11 February 1995), 9-10. For controversial nudity at the
1999 festival, see "Not All Peace and Love; Bonfires Get Out of Hand
at Woodstock '99," [Associated Press Report]
Star Press [Muncie, Ind.]
(Mon., 26 June 1999), 6A; Jim Sullivan, "Woodstock on TV: The Bare
Maximum;' Boston Globe
(Tues., 27 July 1999), C6; "Nudestock: Troopers Probed for Posing
with Naked Rock Fans," New
York Post (Weds., 28 July 1999), i, 3.
21. Richie Havens and Steve Davidowitz, They Can't Hide Us Anymore (New Y ark: Spike/Avon, 1999), 126- 127.
22. A complete list of the Festival's thirty-one performers follows, in alphabetical order: Joan Baez; The Band; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Paul Butterfield Blues Band; Canned Heat; Joe Cocker; Country Joe McDonald and The Fish; Creedence Clearwater Revival; Crosby, Stills and Nash [and Neil Young]; The Grateful Dead; Arlo Guthrie; Tim Hardin; The Keef Hartley Band; Richie Havens; Jimi Hendrix [and the Gypsy Sun and Rainbows]; The Incredible String Band; The Jefferson Airplane; Janis Joplin; Melanie; Mountain; Quill; Santana; John Sebastian; Sha Na Na; Ravi Shankar; Sly and the Family Stone; Bert Sommer; Sweetwater; Ten Years After; The Who; and Johnny Winter. Spitz, Barefoot in Babylon, xv-xvi; Woodstock '69 website, www.woodstock69.com/performer/htrn. accessed 20 August 2001.
23. In her essay "Voodoo Child: Jimi Hendrix and the Politics of Race in the Sixties," in Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and 70s ed. Peter Braunstein and Michael William Doyle (New York: Routledge, 2001), critic Lauren Onkey has characterized Hendrix's searing performance this way:
The image of Hendrix playing the national anthem has become symbolic of the counterculture .... Hendrix began his instrumental version of the song by flashing a peace sign to the audience. Then accompanied only by Mitch Mitchell's psychedelic jazz drumming, he played the first few verses of the song, adhering closely to its familiar form. When he got to the line "and the rockets red glare," Hendrix let loose with a carefully orchestrated sonic assault on the audience in which his shrieking, howling guitar riffs, modulated and distorted with feverish feedback, attained the aural equivalent of Armageddon. The bombs bursting in air and ear transformed Yasgur's placid cow pasture into the napalmed and shrapnel battered jungles of Vietnam. As the song drew to a close, Hendrix solemnly intoned a few notes of "Taps," memorializing not just the slain, but perhaps his own former pro-war stance which dated back a few years to his hitch in the Army. The crowd was struck dumb by this bravura deconstruction of our national hymn, which managed to simultaneously evoke chauvinistic pride for and unbridled rage against the American way of life. These seemingly incompatible feelings found a tenuous resolution in the early morning air of a day in late summer during the Nixonian denouement. When asked a few weeks later why he played the song at, of all places, the Woodstock Festival, billed as "3 Days of Peace & Music," Hendrix responded, "Because we are all Americans .... When it was written it was very nice and beautifully inspiring. Your heart throbs and you say, 'Great, I'm American.' Nowadays we don't play it to take away all the greatness that America is supposed to have. We play it the way the air is in America today. The air," he continued in an understated fashion, "is slightly static." Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" signified a proud and revolutionary voice at the end of this successful, cooperative festival."
"Woodstock Pop-Rock Fete Hits Snag,"
New York Times (Thurs.,
17 July 1969), sec. 1, p. 56; Richard F. Shepard, "Woodstock
Festival Vows to Carry On,"
NYT. (Fri., 18 July 1969), sec. 1, p. 16;
idem., "Pop Rock Festival
Finds New Home," NYT (Weds., 23 July 1969), sec. 1, p. 30.
Michael T. Kaufman, "Generation Gap Bridged as Monticello
Residents Aid Courteous Festival patrons; Clinic Is Set Up in Town's
School; Park Thrown Open for Use as a Sleeping Place,"
New York Times (Mon., 18
August 1969), sec. 1, p. 25. Despite accounts stating that two
births and two deaths occurred at the Festival, only one person
actually died on the site; a young man was accidentally run over by
a tractor while curled up in his sleeping bag.
The second fatality was suffered by a festival goer who
overdosed on heroin; he passed away, however, in a neighboring
hospital. As for the
births, both babies were born to women who were attending the
festival, although neither delivery occurred at the site itself.
One woman delivered her baby in a car trapped in traffic on
Route 17B near the site, the other in a hospital after being
evacuated there from the site by helicopter.
Four miscarriages were also reported. Barnard L. Collier,
"200,000 Thronging to Rock Festival Jam Roads Upstate,"
New York Times (Sat., 16
August 1969), sec. 1, pp. 1,31; William E. Farrell, "19-Hour Concert
Ends Bethel Fair; Producer Says Town Has Asked Festival to Return,"
NYT (Tues., 19 August
1969), sec. 1, pp.
26. Barnard L. Collier, "Tired Rock Fans Begin Exodus from Music Fair," New York Times (Mon., 18 August 1969), sec. 1, pp. 1,25.
27. "Woodstock Festival Costs Bethel Official His Post," New York Times (Thurs., 6 November 1969), sec. 1, p.38.
28. The Bethel ordinance was adopted not long after the Festival had ended. See Brady, "An Afternoon with Max Yasgur,"34. The New York Legislature passed a statute requiring a licensed physician be present to provide emergency medical care at commercial functions expecting to draw 10,000 persons or more and to last more than twenty-four hours. When the bill was signed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, it was described as "the latest in a series of laws that were passed following the 1969 Woodstock Festival, which ... resulted in severe strains on local medical facilities." "Cut-off Notice Is Required of Utilities; Doctor-in-Crowd Law," New York Times (Tues., 6 June 1972), sec. 1, p. 35. See also James Lawrence Semoe, "Woodstock: 'History's Biggest Happening'," and "Fallout from Woodstock: Legal Actions in Fall 1969," in "'It's the Same Old Song': A History of Legal Challenges to Rockand-Roll and Black Music," unpublished Ph.D. thesis in mass communications, University of Iowa, 2000, 163-169.
Norman, "The 'Holy Ground' of the Woodstock Generation."
Dr. Abruzzi recorded treating 985 persons suffering from "bad
trips," at the three-day Powder Ridge Festival near Middlefield,
Conn., held in early August 1970. But these were from a crowd
estimated at between 20,000-35,000. (The situation was aggravated by
the fact that none of the eighteen top bands had been allowed to
perform: local officials successfully filed an injunction against
the festival on the grounds that it would constitute a public
nuisance.) William Abruzzi, "The Rock Doctor Tells About 985
Freakouts," Life magazine
vol. 69, no. 7 (14 August 1970),37; "When the Music Stopped: A
Festival of Life Dies at Powder Ridge,"
ibid., 34-36; "Youth:
Peace and Pot on Powder Ridge,"
Time magazine vol. 96 (10
August 1970), 11-12.
To date there has been but a single scholarly study of this
topic. It usefully surveys the theoretical literature on myth, and
analyzes a sample of the vast array of primarily journalistic
sources on the Festival itself before reaching the conclusion that
"the Woodstock festival had become a myth," which was created and
perpetuated as such by the news media. Jo Raelene Sorrell,
"Woodstock: The Creation and Evolution of a Myth," unpublished M.A.
thesis in mass communications, University of Nevada, Las Vegas,
These words are from the famed song "Woodstock," Joni
Mitchell's paean to the Festival. The lyrics may be found in
Voices of the 70's: The
Eloquence of Protest ed. Harrison E. Salisbury (Boston: Houghton
The first account in the literature describing "pilgrims" to
the Bethel site was written less than a year after the festival by
journalist John Brady, who was prevented from attending the Festival
himself due to the traffic clogged roads.
He finally visited the site in June-July 1970 and there
recorded conversations with several individuals who had been at
Woodstock the previous summer.
Nearly all of them refer to being attracted to return there
because of being "drawn by the vibes." See John Brady, " An
Afternoon with Max Yasgur,"
Popular Music and Society vol. 3, no. 1 (1974),24-40. Other
similar accounts may be sampled in Michael Norman, "The 'Holy
Ground' of the Woodstock Generation,"
New York Times (Thurs.,
16 August 1984), sec. 2, p. 1; David Blum, "The Woodstock Wars: The
Creators of the Defining
Moment of the '60s Want to Try Again 25 Years Later. But a Rival
Plans to Use the Original Site. So Who'll Show the Way Back to the
Garden?" New York Times
(Sun., 5 September 1993), sec. 9, pp. 1, 10; Douglas Martin, "Ideas
& Trends: For Today's Pilgrims There Is No End of Holy Grails,"
NYT (Sun., 21 August
1994), sec. 4, p. 5; and Richie Havens and Steve Davidowitz,
They Can't Hide Us Anymore
(New York: Spike/Avon, 1999), 119-120,287.
Ellen Sander, "Woodstock Music and Art Fair: The Ultimate
Rock Experience," Saturday
Review vol. 52, no. 39 (27 Sept. 1969),59,65-66. Rock critic
Ellen Willis concurred with Sander about secondary importance of the
music to many of those who experienced the Festival first-hand: "As
for the music, though rock was the only thing that could have drawn
such a crowd, it was not the focal point of the festival but,
rather, a pleasant background to the mass presence of the hip
community." Willis, "Rock Etc.: Woodstock,"
The New Yorker vol. 45,
no. (6 September 1969), 121-124 at 122. Sander's assertion about
Woodstock being "the largest number of people ever assembled for any
event other than a war," a much repeated claim, was subsequently
disputed by Thomas Barry, who noted that "that distinction belongs
to a three-week religious festival on the Ganges attended by five
million Hindus in 1966." Barry, "Why Can't There Be Another
Woodstock? After a Year, the Music Business Learns How Hard It Is to
Restage a Legend," Look
magazine 34: (25 August 1970),28,30.
According to an industry insider, Wadleigh's film
Woodstock (1970) is one
of the most financially successful documentaries in history, having
grossed $75 million by 1995. Newman, Melinda, "Woodstock '94: Mixed
vol. 107, no. 33 (19 August 1995), 1,88+. Bob Weir in "Woodstock
Remembered: The Artists,"
Rolling Stone no. 559 (24 August 1989), 67.
Jeff Samuels, "Another Woodstock Unlikely as Coin, Civic
Problems Squeeze Promoters,"
Variety vol. 258, no. 12 (6 May 1970), 85, 88; "Rock Festivals:
Groovy, But No Gravy,"
Business Week no. 2136 (8 August 1970),20-21; Thomas Barry, "Why
Can't There Be Another Woodstock? After a Year, the Music Business
Learns How Hard It Is to Restage a Legend,"
Look magazine 34: (25
August 1970),28, 30; Simon Frith,
Sound Effects: Youth,
Leisure, and the Politics of Rock 'n' Roll (New York: Pantheon
Books, 1981), 100; Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield,
Bill Graham Presents: My Life
Inside Rock and Out (New York, etc.: Doubleday, 1992),289; John
Glatt, Rage &
Roll: Bill Graham and the
Selling of Rock (New York: Birch Lane Press/Carol Publishing
Group, 1993), 138; Alice Echols,
Scars of Sweet Paradise: The
Life and Times of Janis Joplin (New York: Metropolitan
Books/Henry Holt and Co., 1999),264-265.
37. Rollo May, "An Opinion: On Bethel and After; The Catskillian Love Feast on the Couch," Mademoiselle vol. 70 (November 1969),28,40; Margaret Mead, "Woodstock in Retrospect," Redbook Magazine vol. 124, no. 3 (January 1970), 30, 32.; David Bouchier, "Hippies, Communitarians and the Cultural Revolution," in his book Idealism and Revolution: New Ideologies of Liberation in Britain and the United States (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978), 139- at 151.
38. John Glatt, Rage & Roll, 138-139.
The "Woodstock" name was trademarked by Warner Brothers in
conjunction with Woodstock Ventures and can only be used under
license. Mary Huhn, "Woodstuck?,"
Mediaweek vol.3 (14 June
40. Jorma Kaukonen in "Woodstock Remembered: The Artists," Rolling Stone no. 559 (24 August 1989), 75. Critic John Morthland noted archly, "In 1979, some of the principals tried to stage a commemorative festival. They scouted from town to town in upstate New York, seeking a site by offering huge sums of money in the most cavalier show-biz fashion, but failed to find a taker. Eventually, a concert was held one afternoon on Long Island; the turnout was small and the performers (all veterans of the original event) were decrepit; if any proof was needed that rock festivals were a thing of the past, surely this was it." Morthland, "Rock Festivals," in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll ed. Jim Miller (2nd ed.; New York: Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1980), 336-338 at 338. Landon Jones reflected at the time (i.e., 1979) that more than a decade seemed to have passed since the first Festival had been held. The Sixties appeared as a dimly remembered era: "In 1979, on the tenth anniversary of Woodstock, most commentators mulled it over with the kind of archaeological interest usually reserved for pre-Columbian digs." Jones, Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation (New York: Ballantine Books, 1980), 135. Earlier, in summer 1974, the promoters of the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Rock Festival, which during the previous summer had established the standing attendance record of 600,000 people, sought permission (evidently without success) to hold a festival at the Sullivan County airport around the five-year anniversary date of Woodstock. "Rock Festival Sought at Airport," New York Times (Sun., 9 June 1974), sec. I, p. 58.
Steven Dupler, "MTV, WB Join to Celebrate Woodstock 20 years
Later," Billboard vol.
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