The Woodstock Music and Art Fair was a music festival which took place in a 600-acre farm located in the town of Bethel, in upstate New York, United States. The festival was declared open on the15th of August 1969. This 3-day festival which attracted over 500,000 people has always been remembered as the festival that defined the 1960 generation and the most important rock festival in history. Till this day, books and movies are still being released about this festival. This article gives insights into why this festival is still remembered till today.
The Most Important Rock Festival in History
Woodstock was started by Joel Rosenman and John Roberts who were in their 20s. They had a large inheritance and decided to promote a rock concert which was later known as Woodstock. Apart from being a successful concert, Woodstock is known as a cultural hallmark that was known all around the musical world.
A wall displays photos of the four creators of the Woodstock music festival (from top L) Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, John Roberts and Joel Rosenman at the Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, in Bethel, New York.(Photo credit EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
The event was not planned properly; no security measures were put in place, the weather and traffic were terrible and coupled with the fact that the number of toilets was not enough. However, this did not put a hold on the concert as people filled with possibilities of crime spent the three days with music and peace on their minds. They were all united to the extent that they shared food, shelter, and drugs.
The Festival Pulled Numbers
Although the planning cost of the festival was $2.4 million, only $1.1 million was raised from ticket sales. This was because Woodstock was planned to be the largest festival ever. However, it turned out to be bigger than expected. The audience was about ten times larger than the organizers anticipated.
1969, Singer Grace Slick performs with the American rock group Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock music festival. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
The crowds were so large that they flew over fences to gain entry into the festival. The producers had no choice than to make the concert free since they couldn’t handle the collection of tickets. The audience had to share food, water, and tents.
During the Festival
The intervals between each musical acts were 40 minutes. During the festival, there were eight miscarriages, three deaths and two births were also registered.
Musician Sly Stone of the psychedelic soul group ‘Sly And The Family Stone’ performs at the 1969 Woodstock Festival on August 17, 1969, in Bethel, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
The deaths were as a result of a heroin overdose, an appendectomy, and a hit. When the rain clouds gathered, the crowds did all they could to stop it. They started shouting No rain, no rain. However, this did not stop the downpour as the festival became a mud fest.
The Baby Boomer Mythmaking
What made the Woodstock Festival significant in America was the baby boomer mythmaking. It became an essential moment of that generation. The Woodstock generation was given birth to at a time when there were challenges in America.
A music fan at Woodstock pop festival in his car covered in anti-war slogans for love and peace. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
The festival gave Americans 3 days of love, peace, and culture. Even till now, glimpses of those changes that happened during those three days are still seen. These glimpses are seen in many green movements, in grass-roots organizations, and what people refer to as a Woodstock moment – the election of President Barack Obama, the first American black President.
Musicians That Graced the Event
A total of 32 musicians performed live at Woodstock. The show which started by 5 pm was headlined by Swami Satchidananda, while six months pregnant Joan Baez ended the show at 2 am the next day.
(Photo by Blank Archives/Getty Images)
Other performers on the first day of the event were: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, and Arlo Guthrie. The 2nd day of the festival featured big musical names like Santana, Quill, Grateful Dead, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe McDonald, John B. Sebastian, The Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Leslie West & Mountain, Credence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone.
Drawing the Curtains
The final day of the show was a befitting closure for the festival as names such as Country Joe, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and Johnny Winter were the significant performers. However Jimi Hendrix and his band Gypsy Sun and Rainbows stole the show as critics say it was the most iconic live musical performances of the 20th century.
Indian musicians Ravi Shankar (center) and Alla Rakha (1919 – 2000) (left) perform on stage at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, Bethel, New York, August 15, 1969. (Photo by Ralph Ackerman/Getty Images)
Jimi Hendrix came on stage around 9 pm on Monday, August 18, 1969. During that time, there were only close to 40,000 people in the audience. Hendrix sang an improvised version of the US anthem – The Star Spangled Banner to the delight of the audience. He played bomb-like and helicopter sounds with his guitar amid the anthem, criticizing the actions of the US in Vietnam.
After the 1969 Festival
Jimi Hendrix’s presentation was a highlight of Michael Wadleigh’s film on the Woodstock Festival. Michael Wadleigh won an Oscar in 1971 for the best documentary. In 2009, the presentation also earned a turbocharged version, in celebration of the festival’s 40th anniversary.
The crowd on day one of the Woodstock Festival on August 15th, 1969. (Photo by Clayton Call/Redferns)
There have also been four attempts to recreate the Woodstock festival in 1979, 1989, 1994 and 1999, but all have been disastrous. Particularly during the 1999 concert, there were cases of rape, fire, looting, and destruction.
Quotes from Musical Acts and Fans of the Woodstock Festival
Woodstock veteran and Sly & the Family Stone bassist/singer Larry Graham, 67 “When we arrived at Woodstock, it was dark and you couldn’t see all the people that were there. We later found out it was half a million. Onstage, you could only see the first few thousand. However, when we stopped playing, we could hear them. It was the loudest roar we’d ever heard in our lives! That response made us better. It made us realize we could tap into a higher musical zone than we had ever done before.”
Spectators sleep at the Woodstock 25th anniversary concert August 13, 1994, at Winston Farm in Saugerties, NY. (Photo by Remi Benali/Liaison)
Woodstock veteran and jazz saxophone star David Sanborn, 69: “It was overwhelming. We (the Paul Butterfield Blues Band) were on the road and had done many gigs. No one had any notion that we’d be playing at what turned out to be a historical event. After the fact, everyone started writing about it as a watershed event. Moreover, it was like, ‘Gee, how about that?’ When to us, it was a congregation of a half a million people in a muddy field in New York.
Woodstock veteran Carlos Santana, 67: “It was a very magical, once-in-a-lifetime thing to be part of. Moreover, there are not that many opportunities to be in front of so many people and connect with that ocean of flesh.”
“Woodstock veteran Country Joe McDonald, 72: “It was a turning point for rock; rock became big time. It was a beginning and an end.”