Woodstock Was A Crowded, Muddy Mess. So Why Did People Love It?

Eight-track tapes of the Woodstock documentary soundtrack. Source: Facebook

The 1969 Woodstock music festival was the peace-and-love generation's defining event. But as an event, it was far from a success -- traffic was a nightmare, the venue was overcrowded, it lacked facilities and infrastructure, food was scarce, the rain and mud were intense. How does this moment, despite the physical hardships endured by the crowd, live on in their minds as the hippie dream come true?

The initial idea was to have a festival that would be called “Woodstock Music and Art Fair; An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Music”. The fair, more commonly known as “Woodstock,” was slated to be a small scale controlled concert to generate revenue. This would prove otherwise as the artists drew larger-than-anticipated crowds of followers, most of which were hippies. As ticket sales soared, estimated attendance was near 200,000 but was later found to be double that; the festival’s peak attendance was about 400,000.

Despite The Odds, Woodstock '69 Happened

The festival which would go on to be named as one of the most pivotal moments in Rock and Roll history was not shy of its problems. Initial hindrances stemmed from the securing of a suitable location due to mass crowd permits and sanitation regulations, as well as heavy resistance from residents. Despite all the hurdles, the final resting place of the festival fell amongst the 600 acre dairy farm of New Yorker Max Yasgur, near its namesake of Woodstock, New York. Other obstacles included the procurement of performers who were famous enough to draw in a crowd as well as feel the musically hungry souls of the critical audience. Coming off of their newly found success, the first group to join the line-up was Creedence Clearwater Revival, and with that many other acts followed suit.

A Disastrous Event Became A Bonding Experience

Woodstock was a far cry from the deluxe music festivals that occur today. So many people converged on the area that the New York State Thruway became a parking lot, with traffic snarled for miles and miles. The 98-mile trip from New York City to the festival site could reportedly take up to eight hours. Here's how the New York Daily News described the conditions on the first day as crowds kept rolling in:

Unprepared for the monstrous throng that converged here, the sponsors of the festival were unable to meet the needs of the thousands of youths... Food, already scarce, became scarcer as the crowds grew during the afternoon.

In some places, the wait for a drink of water was more than a half-hour, and toilet facilities were critically overtaxed. Anyone trying to make a phone call could expect to stand in line from 10 minutes to an hour. ... Bivouacked on the grassy knolls, in cemeteries, and on the margins of mosquito-infested marshes, the bizarrely attired youths cheerfully made the best of the poorly planned camp-in.

But 200 yards off the center stage, a group of shaggy males and bra-less females erected a tent city commune where free milk and honey, and a gruel made of peanuts, oatmeal, raisins and sunflower seeds were served to anyone brave enough to partake.

Woodstock's legendary status has something to do with all of these shortcomings and hassles -- more specifically, how the crowds chose to react to them. The people who showed up bonded over their shared plight.

Misery Loves Company -- And The Rain Brought The Misery

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Though it was hot as blazes as many festival-goers were arriving on Friday (or attempting to make progress on the Thruway), the event was plagued by sporadic rainfall. On Sunday, in particular, the skies opened up and the attendees, who were generally damp the whole time, got soaked. One eyewitness who took shelter under a tarp told History.com what he saw when he looked out at those less fortunate:
It was not only mud, but cow manure and it was so dark it looked like chocolate syrup. I had a view of the field and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Waves and waves of torrential water hitting hundreds of thousands of people who had nowhere to go. It was pathetic. ‘Drowned rats’ doesn’t even come close to describing it.

And again, despite the misery they were no doubt feeling, the people took solace in their shared experience. They chanted, they danced in the mud, they made the best of it.

The 1969 Woodstock Lineup Was Unprecedented

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead at Woodstock. Source: rocksceneauctions.com

Who played Woodstock in 1969? Who didn't? Here's the list of acts in the order they took the stage:

Day 1: Friday, August 15 1969

Richie Havens
Bert Sommer
Tim Hardin
Ravi Shankar
Arlo Guthrie
Joan Baez

Day 2: Saturday, August 16 1969

Country Joe McDonald
John B. Sebastian
Keef Hartley Band
Incredible String Band
Canned Heat
Grateful Dead
Leslie West & Mountain
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Janis Joplin
Sly & The Family Stone
The Who
Jefferson Airplane

Day 3: Sunday, August 17 1969

Joe Cocker
Country Joe & The Fish
Ten Years After
Johnny Winter
Blood Sweat And Tears
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Day 4: Monday, August 18 1969

Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Sha Na Na
Jimi Hendrix

The Music Lived Up To Expectations

From the rock and roll to the funk and soul which was belted out day after day, the crowd was kept in a constant state of euphoria as each performer brought something that the other did not. The easy going, fun and summery atmosphere added a serene feel to what was an extremely packed event. Hippies dressed in the original bohemian chic apparel or admirers dressed in muscle tees of their favourite performers provided a new wave of dress which had just began in the United States. Since the original Woodstock, five namesake events have been held with the biggest being in 2009 to commemorate the 40th anniversary, and a number of acts from the original festival graced the stage. 

Woodstock Will Never Be Forgotten

Hippie icons Wavy Gravy, Abbie Hoffman, and Paul Krassner at Woodstock. Source: Twitter

The legacy of Woodstock has been cemented not only into the surroundings of it birth place, but also into the minds of all those who attended and performed. Thanks to technology, many are able to experience the wonder that was Woodstock ’69 in the present day, through the production of numerous documentaries dedicated to preserving the memory of such a highly memorable event.