It was a time when Rock and Roll music became a phenomenon; an event that became historical!
Summer of 1969 is considered to be the defining moment for the Rock and Roll industry. This music genre, then popular in hippies, was not well liked by an average American along with its fan following – the hippies. The idea of a festival celebrating these two very factors was not well received by “normal and regular” Americans. But the even did happen; history was created and it was rather a glorious sight when nearly half a million floral clad, bell-bottomed druggies entered the Woodstock and celebrated three days of music, love and peace.
The Woodstock Festival was held from August 15 to 18 back in 1969 and many rock artists displayed their talents at the event. More or less, 32 artists and an audience of around 400,000 people made this event historical. Its poster stated it as An Aquarian exposition: 3 days of peace and music.
Michael Lang, John Roberts, Artie Kornfeld and John Rosenman were the masterminds behind the event with Roberts and Rosenman managing the finances as well. The estimated number of audience at first was 10,000; however the total number that eventually attended the event was astounding and caught the organizers by surprise.
The famous Rock magazine Rolling Stone has described this event as “one of the 50 moments that has changed the history of Rock and Roll”.
In his book ‘The Road to the Woodstock’, Michael Lang, one of the founder’s of Woodstock said,
“For me, Woodstock was a test of whether people of our generation really believed in one another and the world we were struggling to create. How would we do when we were in charge? Could we live as the peaceful community we envisioned? I’d hoped we could.”**
Initially Roberts and Rosenman gave an ad in the newspapers that said “Young men with unlimited capital looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities and business propositions.” *Later, the ad was noticed by Kornfeld and Lang.
The first superstar to sign the contract was Creedence Clearwater Revival, who had recently become a known celebrity. Rest followed in his footsteps and the number of performers grew like wild fire. The event was known as the “free concert”, something that drew more and more people to it. The cost of ticket at that time for the three days event was from $18 to $24, which is equal to today’s $120 to $150. Around 186,000 people bought advance tickets either via post mail or by hand. The number of advance bookings made the organizers believe that around 200,000 people will show up.
Initially it was decided that the event would take place in the town of Wallkill, New York at a 300 acre industrial park. However the venue raised a lot of issues such as strong resistance from town residents and the law that prevented any gathering over 5000 people made it impossible for the organizers. Eventually the venue had to be changed due to lack of sanitary arrangements and other basic needs. But this venue controversy worked in favor of the event and helped in its marketing.
It was finally decided that the festival would take place on a dairy farm, owned by Max Yasgur. Max faced much opposition of the natives and had to endure slogans like, “buy no milk, stop Max’s Hippy Musical Festival.”
Initially the organizers told the town authorities that the number of audience might be more than 50,000 people. The sudden change of venue did not give authorities much time to prepare so they had to take down the farm fence to accommodate more people.
Finally the big day arrived. The change of location to the small town Bethel caused a massive traffic jam. The news of this traffic jam discouraged people to attend the festival and rumors started floating that an inter-change was blocked, which in reality, was not. Despite all this 400,000 still people showed up.
The Woodstock Festival proved to be a massive break for the Rock and Roll music all over the world. Jimi Hendrix was among the many performers, but his turn was delayed due to rain. By the time Hendrix came to perform the crowd had dwindled down to 30,000 from 400,000. Hendrix’s psychedelic rendition of the US national anthem was also performed at the festival. Hendrix in his white leather jacket adorned with blue beads created a moment that still lives on.
Owner of the farm Max remembers the event as the presentation of love and peace by half a million people who were fully capable of creating chaos, havoc and catastrophe but instead they proved to be just a peaceful gathering that wanted food for their soul – music.
“If we join them, we can turn those adversities that are the problems of America today into a hope for a brighter and more peaceful future…” states Yasgur, the farm owner.
The Woodstock Festival was not without its share of controversies and unusual news; here are some of the highlights from the event;
• There were two fatalities reported during the event, one because of Heroin overdose and another due to an accident when a tractor treaded upon a sleeping hippy in a hayfield nearby.
• It became even more memorable when two births at the event were reported as well; one during the worse traffic jam and the second at the hospital after the mother was taken out of the crowd in a helicopter.
• Four miscarriages were reported as well.
Only two deaths at the event came as a surprise to everyone because it was believed that a massive crowd full of hippies and drug addicts could never have a peaceful ending.
A documentary on the event was released in 1970. The anniversary of the event is celebrated at the Woodstock venue, which is attended by millions. One of the biggest events in the history of Rock led to the phrase “the Woodstock generation”, which has become common. Later on poems describing the event and giving it tribute were written in different languages.