Woodstock's 50th anniversary: Three days of peace, music and much more

Woodstock's 50th anniversary: Three days of peace, music and much more

It was fifty years ago today.
Richie Havens was the first to play.
Singing "Freedom" while he strummed his guitar.
To a mass of people who came from near and far.

August 15, 1969. Opening day of the festival of all music festivals. WOODSTOCK!

Billed as "3 days of Peace and Music", the festival was the idea of four men:  Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman and John Roberts. The four of them had different ideas on how to put together a major event. It led to problems almost from the start.

The first issue was finding bands and artists to play. It wasn't until April '69, that the first group signed up. Creedence Clearwater Revival signed a contract to play for $10,000.

Next came finding a place to play. The organizers met with opposition from city governments and residents. No one wanted massive crowds of hippies young people invading their towns. It wasn't until a month before the festival started that they found a location. A 600 acre dairy farm, in Bethel, New York, owned by Max Yasgur, became the site. They still had issues with the Bethel city government. On August 2, all the permits were finally approved. It didn't give them much time to prepare for all that was about occur.

"The New York State Thruway is closed man." ~Arlo Guthrie

While not quite true, it was jammed. It was so jammed that people were abandoning their cars and walking to the festival. They went back a few days later to find their cars. Can you imagine doing something like that today?
It wasn't only the concert goers that had transportation issues. The acts did, too. The band Sweetwater was suppose to open the show. The reason for this was one of their band members had a court date in California the next day. They were caught up in the traffic jam and missed their time. Replacing them was Richie Havens. Sweetwater finally made it to the concert site and did a forty minute set at 7:30 pm.

Sweetwater wasn't the only band with transportation problems. Quite a few groups had to be helicoptered in to avoid the traffic mess. Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian and Melanie did unscheduled emergency acoustic sets because the scheduled performers had not yet arrived.

"Its a free concert from now on! That doesn't mean that anything goes. But, what that means is we're gonna put the music up here for free." ~Chip Monck

Traffic was far from the only problem that weekend. The organizers told the city they were expecting 50,000 people. They really expected 200,000. What they got was close to a half million. There was no way to deal with this many people. Those without tickets crashed the fences. The organizers took a financial beating. It really was a free concert for many.

"Good morning. What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000. Now it's gonna be good food and we're going to get it to you. We're all feedin' each other."~Wavy Gravy

When you put 400,000 into a space planned for maybe half of that, you'll have all kinds of problems. Will there be enough bathrooms? Where will they sleep? How can we keep them safe from inclement weather conditions...and man, did it rain? How can we keep them safe, in general? How can we feed all 400,000?

The organization over concessions at Woodstock was a mess. They didn't have enough food to begin with and what they did have went fast. The residents of Sullivan County stepped up. Considering they were so against their area being invaded, they came through when it was desperately needed. They gathered thousands of food donations to be airlifted to the site, including about 10,000 sandwiches, water, fruit and canned goods.

"This is the second time we've ever played in front of people, man, we're scared shitless." ~Stephen Stills

As for the music, some of the greatest musicians in rock history played over the three days. For many of them it was the event that made their careers. It began with Havens, ended with Jimi Hendrix, with thirty-plus legendary acts in between. Highlights include performances by The Who; Sly and the Family Stone; Santana; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Joe Cocker. The tunes were one thing that lived up to its billing.

When you consider all the conditions and everything that could have occurred, the weekend turned out to really be "3 days of peace and music." There were two deaths. One was an insulin overdose. The other was an accident when a tractor ran over someone sleeping in a nearby hay field. There were also two births. Woodstock had its own circle of life events.

"Woodstock belongs to the people and it always will." ~Michael Lang

To celebrate this fiftieth anniversary, Rhino Records released, "Woodstock-Back to the Garden." It's a thirty-eight disc box set of every single note played at the festival. THIRTY-EIGHT DISCS!

Michael Lang announced that an official 50th anniversary Woodstock concert would be held at Watkins Glen, New York. Among the returning performers scheduled were John Fogerty, David Crosby, Carlos Santana and Country Joe McDonald. In April, the investors pulled out due to lack of faith in preparations. Some things never change. The festival was officially cancelled in July.

"I’m a farmer.
I don’t know how to speak to twenty people at one time, let alone a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world — not only to the Town of Bethel, or Sullivan County, or New York State; you’ve proven something to the world. This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place. We have had no idea that there would be this size group, and because of that you’ve had quite a few inconveniences as far as water, food, and so forth. Your producers have done a mammoth job to see that you’re taken care of… they’d enjoy a vote of thanks. But above that, the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids — and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are — a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and I – God Bless You for it!” ~Max Yasgur

Tomorrow: The music of Woodstock

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