Little did John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Michael Lang know that their idea of making a music festival on a dairy farm some 50 miles from New York to make money for a music studio would arguably become the greatest music festival in the world. In 1969, a three-day festival brought together 500k people to attend performances of great artists of the music scene. I will try to put together things that made Woodstock a perennial music festival that is remembered and discussed even today.
The Audience and The Artists
This year, we will mark 50 years since the first Woodstock music festival that labeled a generation of people. The organizers initially expected around 200k people in attendance, only to realize metal fences and checkpoints wouldn’t help much against rivers of men and women dying to hear virtuosos such as Janis Joplin, Arlo Guthrie, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and others perform.
The congregation of 500k people had a chance to listen to inspirational performances by artists that up till that moment belonged to the underground music scene and who reached true stardom in the aftermath of Woodstock. The energy that accumulated only swelled with the pouring rain and thunder clouds that covered the field of a 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York.
Following that line, it is worth mentioning that the organizers had experienced a nightmare concerning the arrangement of the whole event. The first venue that had been planned had to be changed, so they relocated everything. Poor sanitation, shortages of food and water, especially with the abundant use of drugs would have otherwise been an insurmountable issue, had it not been for that remarkable energy and the transcendental experience of the crowd which the rain and wallowing in mud could only reinforce.
The Hippie Movement
The year 1969 was a tumultuous area, mainly due to the Vietnam War and other oppressions that the people experienced. The birth of the Hippie movement signaled the birth of a peace-loving group that urged the authorities to stop the entire war campaign. The symbols of love, happiness, and mutual understanding radiated throughout the festival, and the artists used their voices and music to plead with the government to stop the destruction and return the soldiers home. With such strong messages and views, it is no wonder no skirmishes or other major scuffles occurred during the festival, despite the traffic jams and the lack of necessities. People were seen walking naked, having sex and smoking drugs freely, without feeling any restrictions.
The entire sentiment and euphoric feelings of Woodstock were described in an award-winning movie “Woodstock” that focuses on the culture and sacrosanct spirit of the Woodstock festival. There were attempts to recreate it on the 25th anniversary, with the performances of Green Day, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and others. Even though the feat was successful money-wise, it didn’t have the appeal and resonance of the original one. However, more than 300k people attended, which is still worth calling it a success.
As a cultural touchstone, Woodstock will forever symbolize the possibility of complete unison of people of different backgrounds, color, and creed. It signifies the ability to share and care for others, spreading love and positive energy. These aspects of Woodstock stand bequeathed to the planners of the 50 anniversary taking place in August 2019, and hopefully, they will live up to the expectations and give us a Woodstock of our time.