It was on this day in 1969 that a concert kicked-off in upstate New York that rewrote the history books. Reports indicate about half a million young Americans descended on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethe l , New York for an event that what would end up being symbolic of an entire generation – “The Woodstock Music and Art Fair.” The mythology surrounding the “3 Days of Peace and Music”, has over the years, muddied the real story behind the festival. Its conception had absolutely nothing to do with promoting peace, love or art. No, the idea stemmed from good old fashioned capitalism, with a couple of music promoters, Michael Land and Artie Kornfeld, gained financing from two venture capitalists, John Roberts and Joel Rosenman. The four found each other through an advertisement run by Roberts and Rosenman in the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal seeking “interesting, legitimate investment opportunities.” They originally planned to build a recording studio in Woodstock, NY, but that somehow morphed into an outdoor music festival. That idea almost died as well, until they finally signed a major act, Creedence Clearwater Revival, which prompted other performers to jump on the bandwagon. Despite their relative inexperience, the young promoters managed to sign a roster of other top acts, including the Jefferson Airplane, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Canned Heat, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Santana, Joe Cocker and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and many more. While the organizers were putting together the lineup, they were also busy looking for a location that would be okay with 50,000 dope-smoking hippies being on their property for three entire days. When the town of Wallkill, New York blocked them from using a location they’d booked earlier, they were eventually introduced to Max Yasgur, who agreed to host a festival that would have NO MORE than 50,000 people in attendance, although by that time the promoters had already sold over 170,000 tickets. The last minute venue change created some unexpected challenges for hosting a crowd of any size – they had inadequate security to make sure only ticket holders were allowed in. As the crowd began descending on the farm and the fences and gates keeping them out were pushed down, it suddenly became a “free concert”. It’s estimated between 400,000 and 500,000 people showed up, but heavy rains and only enough food, water and port-a-potties to accommodate 50,000 led to a lot of folks not sticking around for the entire festival. In fact, they ran out of food the first day, and by the time it started raining on Saturday, the port-a-potties were overflowing, leading to a not very pleasant mixture of mud and human waste. What’s worse, rain delays meant the Jimi Hendrix, who was quite possibly the most anticipated act, didn’t play until Monday morning, a day after the festival was originally supposed to end. Nonetheless, Hendrix played a two hour set, including one of the most famous and controversial renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner” ever performed. Ironically, the image of him dressed in red white and blue and playing that song is one of the most iconic symbols of Woodstock and the 1960’s as a whole. You can watch a cool video titled, “35 Woodstock Photos that Will Take You Back To 1969” by Clicking HERE. Below are a few other interesting facts:
Richie Havens opened the Woodstock festival, even though he wasn’t scheduled to go on until later in the evening. Heavy traffic had prevented the opening acts from arriving at the festival, and festival organizers convinced him to take the stage around 5:15 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The other acts were still stuck in the traffic, so Havens performed several encores, playing “every song he knew.” Searching for another song to sing, he began strumming, getting into a groove, when the word “Freedom” came to mind. He sang his now-famous song “Freedom” for the first time, on stage at Woodstock, making the words up as he played. He later told the story of having to see the movie “Woodstock,” so that he could hear how the song went so he could perform it again.
Into the Morning Hours: Many folks don’t realize it but many performers played during some crazy hours. The first night Joan Baez played until2:00am. On Saturday, Credence Clearwater Revival didn’t take the stage until after midnight. Janis Joplin followed them up by playing until 3:00am. The Who was took the stage that Saturday night and played a 25 song set that lasted until 6:05am in the morning. Jefferson Airplane, the scheduled main event for Saturday night, didn’t stop playing until about 9:30am in the morning. Similar type off thing happened Sunday night, with Johnny Winter not taking the stage until after midnight, followed by Blood, Sweat & Tears and then Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young who played until 4:00am. Jimi Hendrix took the stage three groups later, was the final performer off the event, and played until 11:00am Monday morning.
Two bands were scheduled to play Woodstock but were unable to make the festival. The Jeff Beck Group (featuring Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, and Aynsley Dunbar) broke up only weeks before the festival. Iron Butterfly were stuck at LaGuardia Airport in New York and couldn’t get to the festival by ground transportation, so they demanded the festival promoters send a helicopter for them. As the story goes, the promoters sent the band’s manager a telegram, the first letter of each line spelling out the words “F*** You.” Iron Butterfly never arrived at the festival.
No official Woodstock merchandise at the festival. It’s hard to comprehend such an event today without t-shirts, hoodies, coozies, and a thousand other logo items for sale at every turn, but the only official souvenir of the festival was the 8-1/2 x 11 festival program, which went largely undistributed, many of them being thrown away still in their boxes after the festival. Security, stagehands, and other crew members were issued t-shirts and windbreakers with the Woodstock logo on them, and they have become the lasting, iconic souvenirs of the festival, as well as numerous bootleg items sold by enterprising festival attendees from their trunks or from booths in the woods.
No reported incidents of violence among the half-million people in the audience. Perhaps the only recorded incident happened on-stage, as Abbie Hoffman rushed the stage during a break in The Who’s set. Hoffman took the mike and began a semi-coherent rant about freeing John Sinclair from jail, when Pete Townshend turned, yelled at Hoffman to get off “my stage,” and hit the activist in the head with the neck of his guitar. Hoffman left the stage, and The Who proceeded with their set.
What is Bethel Woods Center for the Arts? The venue opened in 2006 at the site of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair. The historic hill on which the festival audience sat and enjoyed three days of music has been preserved, and Bethel Woods beautiful outdoor concert pavilion and museum campus is situated on the hill overlooking the festival field. The Pavilion hosts outdoor concerts in the summer months, and the Museum is open from April through December. Several of the original Woodstock performers have played at Bethel Woods, including Santana, Joe Cocker, Hot Tuna (Jefferson Airplane), Starship (Jefferson Airplane), Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald, Richie Havens, Melanie, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Levon Helm (The Band), Arlo Guthrie, John Sebastian, Leslie West (Mountain), The Family Stone, and Furthur, Phil Lesh & Friends, and Ratdog (all Grateful Dead spinoffs). Many of these performers have enjoyed the museum and walked the historic site at Bethel Woods.
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