The Woodstock Music and Art Festival was the most famous rock festival of its era. It was held on Max Yasgur’s 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York, on August 15, 16, and 17 1969. The festival represented the culmination of the “counterculture” of the 1960s and the climax of the “hippie era.”
The festival was named “Woodstock” because it was originally planned to take place in the town of Woodstock, in Ulster County. The location was changed, however, when the town could not supply a site big enough to host the event. The actual location of the festival was about 40 miles southwest of the town of Woodstock.
Even though the show had been planned for at the most 50,000 people, over half a million would eventually show up. The event was originally supposed to cost $8 per day. This idea did not last, however, as people ended up tearing down the fences. The festival was finally turned into a free event. The highways leading to the concert were jammed with traffic and people who had abandoned their cars and walked miles to the concert area.
Even though the weekend was rainy and facilities were way overcrowded, the festival became the home to a sort of miniature nation for four days. The most noticeable group of people at the event were hippies helping to spread the message of peace, love, and music. Everyone shared food, drugs, alcohol, and “free love.”
The huge festival cost more than $2.4 million and was not originally a money making event as was planned. The real money from the event ended up coming much later in the form of record and film sales.
The promoters of the festival were: Michael Lang, who had produced other rock shows in the past, Artie Kornfield, a vice-president at Capitol Records, John Roberts, the financial backer who supplied the money, and Joel Rosenman, a graduate of Yale Law and lounge guitarist. The original idea was to have a money making festival in the woods more than 100 miles from Manhattan. The actual result was a free festival many miles away. The group selected the slogan of “Three Days of Peace and Music.” Peace was meant to put at ease local officials and to support the anti-(Vietnam) war movement.
The actual festival had some of the biggest rock’n’roll bands in America, but at great cost. None of the acts wanted to sign. Finally, the promoters offered huge paychecks to some of the acts. Jefferson Airplane normally played gigs for around $5,000. They got $12,000 for Woodstock. Creedence Clearwater Revival then signed on for $11,500 and The Who signed for $12,500. The rest then started to fall in.
The final lineup was the most impressive anyone had ever seen. The final list of artists included Ravi Shankar, Credence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker, The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Band, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Canned Heat, Country Joe and the Fish, Tim Hardin, Keef Hartley, Richie Havens, Incredible String Band, Janis Joplin, Mountain, Quill, John Sebastian, Sha-Na-Na, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Bert Sommer, Sweetwater, Ten Years After, The Who and Johnny Winter. The show was headlined and closed by psychedelic guitarist Jimi Hendrix. The concert ran late and many had to leave before it was over. Hendrix did not even begin his set until 9AM Monday morning. He played 16 songs for the 30-40,000 people still left at the festival. Included in his set was a distorted version of “The Star Spangled Banner." The song was somewhat controversial, as the Vietnam War was underway.
The concert was the top news story of the weekend. There were three deaths at Woodstock. Two unconfirmed births also were reported. An amazing fact about Woodstock is that there was no violence observed for the entire life of the festival. The promoters’ idea of three days of music and peace really had happened.