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Woodstock Festival

Woodstock was a music festival, billed as An Aquarian Exposition, held at Max Yasgur's 600 acre (2.4 km²; 240 ha) dairy farm in the rural town of Bethel, New York from August 15 to August 18 1969. Bethel (Sullivan County) is 43 miles (69 km) southwest of the village of Woodstock, New York, in adjoining Ulster County.

The festival exemplified the counterculture of the late 1960s – early 1970s and the "hippie era". Thirty-two of the best-known musicians of the day appeared during the sometimes rainy weekend in front of nearly half a million concertgoers. Although attempts have been made over the years to emulate the festival, the original event has proven to be unique and legendary. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest moments in popular music history and was listed on Rolling Stone's 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.

The event was captured in a successful 1970 documentary movie, Woodstock; an accompanying soundtrack album; and Joni Mitchell's song "Woodstock", which commemorated the event and became a major hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Introduction

Woodstock was initiated through the efforts of Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, and Artie Kornfeld. It was Roberts and Rosenman who had the finances, and who placed the following advertisement in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal under the name of Challenge International, Ltd.: “Young men with unlimited capital looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities and business propositions.”

Lang and Kornfeld noticed the ad, and the four men got together originally to discuss a retreat-like recording studio in Woodstock, but the idea morphed into an outdoor music and arts festival. There were differences in approach among the four: Roberts was disciplined, and knew what was needed in order for the venture to succeed, while the laid-back Lang saw Woodstock as a new, relaxed way of bringing business people together. There were further doubts over the venture, as Roberts wondered whether to consolidate his losses and pull the plug, or to continue pumping his own finances into the project. His decision to continue with the project resulted in one of the most successful events in music history.

Woodstock was designed as a profit-making venture, aptly titled "Woodstock Ventures". It famously became a "free concert" only after it became obvious that the event was drawing hundreds of thousands more people than the organizers had prepared for. Around 186,000 tickets were sold beforehand and organizers anticipated approximately 200,000 festival-goers would turn up. The fence was purposely cut by the UAW/MF family in order to create a totally free event, prompting many more to show up. Tickets for the event cost US$18 in advance (approximately US$75 today adjusted for inflation) and $24 at the gate for all three days. Ticket sales were limited to record stores in the greater New York City area, or by mail via a Post Office Box at the Radio City Station Post Office located in Midtown Manhattan.

Woodstock Ventures made Warner Brothers an offer to make a movie about Woodstock. All Artie Kornfeld required was $100,000, on the basis that "it could have either sold millions or, if there were riots, be one of the best documentaries ever made," according to Kornfeld.

The influx of young people to the rural concert site in Bethel created a massive traffic jam and closed the New York State Thruway. The facilities were not equipped to provide sanitation or first aid for the number of people attending; hundreds of thousands found themselves in a struggle against bad weather, food shortages and poor sanitation.

The festival was held during a time of military conflict abroad and racial discord at home, and participants quickly became aware that the event had taken on a meaning beyond its original intent. The site of Woodstock became, for four days, a countercultural mini-nation. Minds were open, drugs were available and "love" was "free". Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman crystallized this view of the event in his book, Woodstock Nation, written shortly afterwards.

Although the festival was remarkably peaceful given the number of people and the conditions involved, there were two recorded fatalities: one from what was believed to be a heroin overdose; another caused by an occupied sleeping bag accidentally being run over by a tractor in a nearby hayfield. There were also two births recorded at the event (one in a car caught in traffic and another in a helicopter) and four miscarriages. Oral testimony in the film supports the overdose and run-over deaths and at least one birth, along with many colossal logistical headaches.

Yet, in tune with the idealistic hopes of the 1960s, Woodstock satisfied most attendees. Especially memorable were the sense of social harmony, the quality of music, and the overwhelming mass of people, many sporting bohemian dress, behavior, and attitudes.

After the concert Max Yasgur, who owned the site of the event, saw it as a victory of peace and love. He spoke of how nearly half a million people filled with possibilities of disaster, riot, looting, and catastrophe spent the three days with music and peace on their minds. He states that “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...”

Sound for the concert was engineered by Bill Hanley, whose innovations in the sound industry have earned him the prestigious Parnelli Award. "It worked very well," he says of the event. "I built special speaker columns on the hills and had 16 loudspeaker arrays in a square platform going up to the hill on 70-foot [21 meter] towers. We set it up for 150,000 to 200,000 people. Of course, 500,000 showed up." ALTEC designed 4 – 15 marine ply cabinets that weighed in at half a ton a piece, stood 6 feet straight up, almost 4 feet deep & 3 feet wide. Each of these woofers carried four 15-inch JBL LANSING D140 loudspeakers. The tweeters consisted of 4x2-Cell & 2x10-Cell Altec Horns. Behind the stage were three transformers providing 2,000 amps of power. For many years this system was collectively referred to as the Woodstock Bins.

Performing artists and sequence of events

Friday, August 15

The first day officially began at 5:07 p.m. with Richie Havens, and featured folk artists.

Baez Source: Arthur Levy, annotator of the expanded editions of the 12 Joan Baez CDs on Vanguard

Saturday, August 16

The day opened at 12:15 pm, and featured some of the event's biggest psychedelic and guitar rock headliners.

  • Quill, forty minute set of four songs
    1. They Live the Life
    2. BBY
    3. Waitin' For You
    4. Jam
  • Keef Hartley Band
    1. Spanish Fly
    2. Believe In You
    3. Rock Me Baby
    4. Medley
    5. Leavin' Trunk
    6. Sinnin' For You
  • Country Joe McDonald
    1. I Find Myself Missing You
    2. Rockin All Around The World
    3. Flyin' High All Over the World
    4. Seen A Rocket Flyin'
    5. The "Fish" Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag
  • John Sebastian
    1. How Have You Been
    2. Rainbows Over Your Blues
    3. I Had A Dream
    4. Darlin' Be Home Soon
    5. Younger Generation
  • Santana
    1. Waiting
    2. You Just Don't Care
    3. Savor
    4. Jingo
    5. Persuasion
    6. Soul Sacrifice
    7. Fried Neckbones
  • Canned Heat
    1. A Change Is Gonna Come/Leaving This Town
    2. Going Up The Country
    3. Let's Work Together
    4. Woodstock Boogie
  • Mountain, hour-long set including Jack Bruce's "Theme For An Imaginary Western."
    1. Blood of the Sun
    2. Stormy Monday
    3. Long Red
    4. Who Am I But You And The Sun
    5. Beside The Sea
    6. For Yasgur's Farm
    7. You and Me
    8. Theme For An Imaginary Western
    9. Waiting To Take You Away
    10. Dreams of Milk and Honey
    11. Blind Man
    12. Blue Suede Shoes
    13. Southbound Train
  • Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band
    1. Raise Your Hand
    2. As Good As You've Been To This World
    3. To Love Somebody
    4. Summertime
    5. Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)
    6. Kosmic Blues
    7. Can't Turn you Loose
    8. Work Me Lord
    9. Piece of My Heart
    10. Ball & Chain
  • Grateful Dead
    1. St. Stephen
    2. Mama Tried
    3. Dark Star/High Time
    4. Turn On Your Love Light

Grateful Dead's performance was plagued by technical problems, including a faulty electrical ground. Members Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir reported getting shocked every time they touched their guitars.

Sunday, August 17 to Monday, August 18

Joe Cocker was the first act on the last officially booked day (Sunday); he opened up the day's events at 2 PM. His set was preceded by at least two instrumentals by The Grease Band.

Cancelled appearances

  • The Jeff Beck Group was scheduled to perform at Woodstock, but failed to make an appearance because the band broke up the week before.
  • Iron Butterfly was stuck at an airport, and their manager demanded helicopters and special arrangements just for them.
  • Joni Mitchell was slated to perform, but her agent recommended that she appear on "The Dick Cavett Show" on Monday, with its national audience, rather than "sit around in a field with 500 people" Though Mitchell was not present, she wrote and recorded the song "Woodstock" that became a major hit for Matthews Southern Comfort and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
  • Canadian band Lighthouse was originally scheduled to play at Woodstock, but in the end they decided not to, fearing that it would be a bad scene. Later, several members of the group would say that they regretted the decision.

Refused invitations

  • The promoters contacted John Lennon, requesting The Beatles to perform. Lennon said that The Beatles would not play unless Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band could also play. The promoters turned him down.
  • Procol Harum were invited to perform but reportedly declined because the festival was happening at the end of a long tour, and because of the impending birth of Robin Trower's child; the band elected to pass on the festival to be back in England for the birth.
  • The Doors were considered as a potential performing band, but cancelled at the last moment; the cancellation was most likely due to Jim Morrison's known and vocal distaste for performing in large outdoor venues. Doors drummer John Densmore attended; in the film, he can be seen on the side of the stage during Joe Cocker's set.
  • Led Zeppelin was asked to perform, their manager Peter Grant stating: "We were asked to do Woodstock and Atlantic were very keen, and so was our US promoter, Frank Barsalona. I said no because at Woodstock we'd have just been another band on the bill". Instead the group went on with their hugely successful summer tour, playing that weekend just south of the festival at the Asbury Park Convention Hall in New Jersey. Their only time out taken was to attend Elvis Presley's show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, on August 12.
  • Jethro Tull refused to perform. Ian Anderson is reported to have said he "didn't want to spend [his] weekend in a field of unwashed hippies". Another theory proposes that the band felt the event would be "too big a deal" and might kill their career before it started.
  • The Moody Blues declined to perform, because they were booked for another event in Paris at the same time. They were promoted as being a performer on the third day on early posters that listed the site as Wallkill.
  • Tommy James and the Shondells declined an invitation. Lead singer Tommy James stated later: "We could have just kicked ourselves. We were in Hawaii, and my secretary called and said, 'Yeah, listen, there's this pig farmer in upstate New York that wants you to play in his field.' That's how it was put to me. So we passed, and we realized what we'd missed a couple of days later.
  • The Clarence White-era Byrds were given an opportunity to play, but refused to do so but they did perform at the Atlantic City Pop Festival held August 1,2 & 3, 1969, two weeks before Woodstock.
  • Paul Revere & The Raiders declined to perform.
  • Bob Dylan was in negotiations to play, but pulled out when his son became ill. He also was unhappy about the number of hippies piling up outside his house near the originally planned site. He would go on to perform at the Isle of Wight Festival two weeks later.
  • Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention Quote: "A lot of mud at Woodstock. We were invited to play there, we turned it down." - FZ. Citation: "Class of the 20th Century", U.S. network television special in serial format, circa 1995.
  • Free were asked to perform and declined.
  • Spirit were asked to perform but declined and went on a promotional tour.
  • Mind Garage declined because they thought it would not be a big deal and had a higher paying gig elsewhere.
  • Arthur Lee and Love were long rumoured to have declined an invitation, but it was confirmed by Mojo Magazine that it was Monterey Pop Festival that they declined because of inner turmoil with the band.

Media coverage and the New York Times

As the only reporter at Woodstock for the first 36 hours or so, Barnard Collier of the New York Times was almost continually pressed by his editors in New York to make the story about the immense traffic jams, the less-than-sanitary conditions, the rampant drug use, the lack of "proper policing", and the presumed dangerousness of so many young people congregating. Collier recalls: "Every major Times editor up to and including executive editor James Reston insisted that the tenor of the story must be a social catastrophe in the making. It was difficult to persuade them that the relative lack of serious mischief and the fascinating cooperation, caring and politeness among so many people was the significant point. I had to resort to refusing to write the story unless it reflected to a great extent my on-the-scene conviction that 'peace' and 'love' was the actual emphasis, not the preconceived opinions of Manhattan-bound editors. After many acrimonious telephone exchanges, the editors agreed to publish the story as I saw it, and although the nuts-and-bolts matters of gridlock and minor lawbreaking were put close to the lead of the stories, the real flavor of the gathering was permitted to get across. After the first day's Times story appeared on page 1, the event was widely recognized for the amazing and beautiful accident it was."

After the festival was finished, Collier wrote another article about the exodus of fans away from the festival for the New York Times. He speaks of such a peaceful event considering the size of the crowd and listens to Dr. William Abruzzi’s (chief medical officer during the event) opinions that these were beautiful people. The weekend had become an incredible unification of youth. This opinion had seemingly rubbed off on several locals. Bus driver Richard Biccum described them as "good kids in disguise."

The Abbie Hoffman incident

Prior to the festival, poet/activist John Sinclair, the leader of the White Panther Party and manager of the Detroit-based group MC5, had been convicted and sentenced to nine years' imprisonment in Michigan for marijuana possession, after giving two joints to an undercover police officer. The sentencing caused considerable controversy, given the trivial amount of marijuana at issue, and it led to various luminaries of the day taking up Sinclair's cause. Among these were John Lennon, who wrote and performed the song "John Sinclair", and who, along with his wife Yoko Ono, later headlined the Free John Now Rally rally at the Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor.

For his part, Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman decided on a somewhat more spontaneous course of action. In the seconds immediately after The Who concluded "Pinball Wizard", from Tommy, Hoffman, who had ingested LSD after working the past few hours at the medical tent, abruptly walked onto the stage and began addressing the crowd from Pete Townshend's microphone. He shouted, "I think this is a pile of shit! ... While John Sinclair rots in prison ... Alerted to the disturbance, Townshend (who apparently had been too distracted to notice Hoffman ambling onto the platform), snarled at Hoffman, "Fuck off! Fuck off my fucking stage!" He then struck Hoffman with his guitar, sending the interloper tumbling. As the crowd let out an approving roar, Townshend returned to his microphone to add a sarcastic "I can dig it!" Following the conclusion of the next song, the short "Do You Think It's Alright?", Townshend issued a stern warning to those in attendance: "The next fucking person that walks across this stage is gonna get fucking killed, all right? You can laugh, [but] I mean it!"

Townshend later said he actually agreed with Hoffman on Sinclair's imprisonment, though he insisted he would have knocked Hoffman off stage regardless of his message. The incident can be heard in its entirety on unedited Woodstock tapes and bootleg CDs of The Who's performance. Additionally, an edited fifteen-second sound bite of the incident can be heard on The Who compilation set Thirty Years of Maximum R&B (Disc 2). The Woodstock documentary also depicts this event.

In his autobiography, Hoffman, apparently unaware that the confrontation had been captured on audio, attempted to deny that Townshend had been riled into hitting him: "If you ever heard about me in connection with the festival it was not for playing Florence Nightingale to the flower children. What you heard was the following: 'Oh, him, yeah, didn't he grab the microphone, try to make a speech when Peter Townshend cracked him over the head with his guitar?' I've seen countless references to the incident, even a mammoth mural of the scene. What I've failed to find was a single photo of the incident. Why? Because it didn't really happen."

I grabbed the microphone all right and made a little speech about John Sinclair, who had just been sentenced to ten years in the Michigan State Penitentiary for giving two joints of grass to two undercover cops, and how we should take the strength we had at Woodstock home to free our brothers and sisters in jail. Something like that. Townshend, who had been tuning up, turned around and bumped into me. A non-incident really. Hundreds of photos and miles of film exist depicting the events on that stage, but none of this much-talked about scene.

The film

The documentary film, Woodstock, was directed by Michael Wadleigh and edited by Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese, was released in 1970. Warner Brothers agreed to pay $100,000 for the film. So Wadleigh proceeded to round up a crew of about 100 from the New York scene. With no money to pay the crew he agreed a double or nothing scheme in which double pay was received if it went well whereas they received nothing if it bombed. The plot was simple, like a modern day Canterbury Tale, he strived to make the film as much about the hippies as the music, listening to their feelings about the times, the Vietnam War for example, as well as the views of the townspeople. To him this is what would make the film, not just the music.

Artie Kornfeld, one of the promoters of the festival came to Fred Weintraub, an executive at Warner Bros., and asked for money to film the festival. Artie had been turned down everywhere, but Fred Weintraub became his hero and against the wishes of other Warner executives, Weintraub put his job on the line and gave the money. Warner Brothers was about to go out of business and Woodstock saved the company. This is all documented in the book, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls".

It received the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. The film has been deemed culturally significant by the United States Library of Congress. In 1994, Woodstock: The Director's Cut was released, expanded to include Janis Joplin as well as additional performances by Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, and Canned Heat not seen in the original version of the film.

The DVD

New DVD and Blu-ray versions of Woodstock: The Director's Cut are scheduled for release by Warner Home Video on July 28, 2009. The "Ultimate Collector’s Edition" reportedly includes an hour of performances not seen in the film, or not seen in full. Director Michael Wadleigh is overseeing the release, Warner said. Robert Klein's documentary "The '60s and the Woodstock Generation" will be among the extra features. "Woodstock" is being restored and remastered for the release. The previous DVD dates back to 1997, with reviewers on Amazon complaining of its VHS-like quality.

Woodstock today

A plaque has been placed at the original site commemorating the festival. The field and the stage area remain preserved in their rural setting. On the field are the remnants of a neon flower and bass from the original concert. In the middle of the field, there is a totem pole with wood carvings of Jimi Hendrix on the bottom, Janis Joplin in the middle, and Jerry Garcia on top. A concert hall has been erected up the hill, and the fields of the old Yasgur farm are still visited by people of all generations.

In 1997, the site of the concert and 1,400 surrounding acres was purchased by Alan Gerry for the purpose of creating the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The Center opened on July 1, 2006 with a performance of the New York Philharmonic. On August 13, 2006, Crosby Stills Nash & Young performed to 16,000 fans at the new Center — 37 years after their historic performance at Woodstock.

In August 2007, the 103-acre parcel that contains Max Yasgur's former homestead was placed on the market for $8 million by its current owners, Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson. The home, barn, fieldhouse, and acreage, which are listed by Joshpe Real Estate of New York City, have been the site of frequent Woodstock reunions.

The Museum at Bethel Woods opened in June 2008. The Museum contains film and interactive displays, text panels, and artifacts which explore the unique experience of the Woodstock festival, its significance as the culminating event of a decade of radical cultural transformation, and the legacy of the Sixties and Woodstock today.

Gallery

Taking Woodstock

Scheduled for 2009, Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock follows the life of Elliot Tiber, who in 1969, held the only musical festival permit in Bethel, NY and enabled the festival to occur. It also takes place before the Woodstock Festival, in which Tiber was involved with the Stonewall Riots in New York City.

References

See also

External links

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