The Woodstock Music and Art Festival was a rock festival held at Max Yasgur's 600 acre (2.4 km²) dairy farm in Bethel, New York from August 15–August 18, 1969. It is arguably and very widely viewed as the most famous rock festival ever held. For many, it exemplified the counterculture of the 1960s and the "hippie era". Many of the best-known musicians of the times appeared during the rainy weekend, captured in a successful 1970 movie, Woodstock. Joni Mitchell's song "Woodstock", which memorialized the event, became a major hit for Crosby Stills Nash and Young.
The festival bears the name "Woodstock", because it was originally scheduled to take place in the town of Woodstock, in Ulster County; however, the town offered no appropriate site to host such a large event due to their belief that over a million people would attend. A site was found in the town of Wallkill. When local opposition arose, the event was almost cancelled, but Sam Yasgur persuaded his father Max to allow the concert to be held on the family's alfalfa field, located in Sullivan County, about 40 miles southwest of Woodstock.
Although the show had been planned for a maximum of 200,000 attendees, over 500,000 eventually attended, most of whom did not pay admission. The highways leading to the concert were jammed with traffic. People abandoned their cars and walked for miles to the concert area. The weekend was rainy, facilities were overcrowded, and attendees shared food, alcoholic beverages, and drugs. Local residents of this modest tourist-oriented area gave blankets and food to some concertgoers.
The festival did not initially make money for the promoters, although record sales and proceeds from the highly regarded film of the event, it did eventually become profitable.
Two people died at Woodstock: one from a heroin overdose and one from being run over by a tractor while sleeping in a nearby hayfield. Two unconfirmed births reportedly occurred at Woodstock.
Among the stars of Woodstock were The Who and Jimi Hendrix. Due to arguments with the promoters about their pay, The Who did not take stage until about 4:00 in the morning. One highlight of The Who's performance was "See Me, Feel Me", when the sun rose just as lead singer Roger Daltrey began to sing the chorus. At one point during The Who's set, political activist Abbie Hoffman interrupted the show and attempted to rally the crowd with yippie slogans, but was knocked off the stage by the swinging guitar of the band's leader, Pete Townshend, to the delight of the audience. At the conclusion of The Who's set, Townshend slammed his guitar into the stage and threw it into the crowd. This moment helped establish The Who as superstars and boosted their album Tommy to sell multi-platinum.
Jimi Hendrix had a big impact with his performance, including an alternative version of "The Star Spangled Banner". The song was somewhat controversial, as the Vietnam War was underway and the sound effects that Hendrix generated with his guitar paralleled the sounds of the violence of the conflict. These two performances are held by fans as some of the greatest in rock history, though both The Who and Hendrix regarded their performances as sub-par.
Woodstock's promoters were Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, John Roberts and Joel Rosenman. Roberts was the financer, backed by a trust fund bankroll; his friend Rosenman, a graduate of Yale Law, was an amateur guitarist. Their associates were Kornfeld, a vice-president at Capitol Records, and Michael Lang. An unlikely businessman, Lang was a light-hearted hippie who had owned a head shop and hoped to build a recording studio in the Woodstock area to serve artists such as Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin, who had homes nearby. When Lang and Kornfeld presented the idea to Rosenman and Roberts, Rosenman hatched the idea of a rock concert with the same performing artists. After toying with an Age of Aquarius theme, they settled on the slogan "Three Days of Peace and Music", partly as a way to placate suspicious local officials and partly to appeal to anti-war sentiment. They hired commercial artist Arnold Skolnick to design the artwork, which incorporated a catbird design.
Lang would go on to produce successor concerts in 1994 and 1999, but he did not participate in the Woodstock-named concerts of 1979 and 1989.
Drugs were commonly used and available at Woodstock. LSD and marijuana use were prominent throughout the festival.
A young twenty-year old named Stephen Victor Tallarico (aka Steven Tyler of Aerosmith) showed up in the crowd as a fan.
In 1997, the site of the concert and 1,400 surrounding acres were purchased by Alan Gerry and have become the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. It opened on July 1st, 2006 with the New York Philharmonic playing. On August 13, 2006, Crosby Stills Nash & Young wowed 16,000 fans at the new Center -- exactly 37 years after their historic performance at Woodstock.
Myths, realities, and the legacy of Woodstock
Woodstock has been romanticized and idealized in American popular culture as the culmination of the hippie movement — a free festival where nearly 500,000 people came together to celebrate peace and love. Although the festival was remarkably trouble-free given the number of people and conditions involved, the reality was less than perfect. Woodstock did have some amount of crime and other misbehavior, as well as a fatality from drug overdoses, an accidental death caused by an occupied sleeping bag being run over by a tractor, and one participant died from falling off a scaffold. There were also 3 miscarriages and 2 births recorded at the festival as well, and logistical headaches. Furthermore, because Woodstock was not intended for such a large crowd, there were not enough facilities such as toilets and first-aid tents. There was profiteering in the sale of "electric Kool-Aid" laced with random hallucinogens, which made many people ill.
The Abbie Hoffman incident
Abbie Hoffman interrupted The Who's performance during Woodstock 1969 to attempt a protest speech against the jailing of John Sinclair of the White Panther Party. He grabbed a microphone and yelled, "I think this is a pile of shit! While John Sinclair rots in prison ...". The Who's guitarist, Pete Townshend, unhappy with the interruption, cut Hoffman off mid-sentence, snarling, "Fuck off! Fuck off my fucking stage!" He then struck Hoffman with his guitar, sending him tumbling offstage. Townshend later said he actually agreed with Hoffman on Sinclair's imprisonment, though he made the point that he would have knocked him offstage regardless of his message.
According to Hoffman, in his autobiography, the incident played out like this: "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 nonincident really. Hundreds of photos and miles of film exist depicting the events on that stage, but none of this much-talked about scene.
A documentary film, Woodstock, was released in 1970. It received the Academy Award for Documentary Feature, was directed by Michael Wadleigh, and edited by Martin Scorsese. The film has been deemed culturally significant by the United States Library of Congress.
Two albums of the concert have been released. The first was officially titled Woodstock: Music From the Original Soundtrack and More. It sold millions of copies and was based on the documentary film. Due to that album's success, a second album, Woodstock 2, was released about a year later.