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How Woodstock Got Its Start

Music | October 24, 2021

Source: (Pinterest).

Woodstock was not created by individuals who had an expertise in music festivals or organizing large events. Putting on this historical music festival wasn’t even their original goal.

John P. Roberts, the heir to the Polident/Poli-grip denture adhesive fortune met Joel Rosenman at a golf course in 1966 and became roommates by 1967. The pair initially wanted to pitch a story for a television series in which two flush with money but short on ideas are involved in weekly antics that get them into trouble. To create the series, they needed to do research, and posted an ad in The Wall Street Journal. In the ad, they said they were "young men with unlimited capital" looking for business ideas to invest in. And they were young, as the eldest of the group working on Woodstock was only 27 at the time. 

The organizers of the event. Source: (Pinterest).

They Planned To Make Money From The Venture 

Michael Lang and Artie Kornfield were two of the 5,000 respondents; the pair proposed building a music recording studio in Woodstock, New York to draw in the local musicians, specifically Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and The Band. Rosenman and Roberts had other ideas though, suggesting an outdoor concert which would feature these local artists. Roberts and Rosenman thought that they would be able to make a profit because of the ticket sales. Things did not go as planned.

Yasgur's farm in 1968. Source: (Wikipedia).

Changing Venues

The concert, which was held in Bethel, NY, was originally planned for a 300-acre industrial park in Wallkill, NY, but they couldn’t get a permit as town officials said that they were not equipped to handle the anticipated 50,000 people; on July 2, 1969, they passed a statute which essentially banned the festival. The organizers of Woodstock only had a little more than a month to locate another site and complete preparations. The 600-acre farm that did host it was owned by Max Yasgur, who had studied real estate law at New York University and then started the dairy farm, which became the largest in the region. At that time, after securing the location, it became the Bethel Rock Festival and the Aquarian Music Festival; it would become known as Woodstock later. 

Source: (LittleThings.com).

Other Things They Didn't Anticipate

With the original plans for the festival to be held in Wallkill, they began printing and selling tickets at $7 for one day, $13 for two days and $18 for three days. The tickets were sold via mail order or in select stores. Once Wallkill refused to allow the concert to take place in their town, the stores stopped selling tickets and the timeline to plan for the festival was set back. They had to draw up contracts to rent Yasgur’s farm, acquire permits from the town, and start construction of the stage and performer’s pavilion as well as the children’s playground, parking lots and concession stands. With the setbacks, as they struggled with developing everything they needed, they were unable to create ticket booths, fences, and a secure barrier. Another challenge began to become apparent as the projected attendance jumped from 50,000 to 200,000. Then the organizers had to try to find more toilets, water, and food to accommodate the larger anticipated crowd. To add to the difficulties, the people they hired had no experience in concessions, leading to even bigger difficulties with feeding the crowd. Because of the lack of fences and gates, people started to walk into the festival, and so it became a free event. Once it was known that it was a free event, the crowds increased to the point that it has been estimated that half a million people attended, the now-free event.

The Woodstock traffic jam. Source: (IndulgeExpress/AP).

The Cost Of Being Unprepared

A few days before Woodstock, Artie Kornfield had entered into a deal with Warner Brothers to film Woodstock and create a potential documentary. Martin Scorsese, who had recently graduated from NYU, was part of the crew that Michael Wadleigh assembled; they would shoot more than 120 miles of footage and win an Academy Award for what would become one of the most profitable films of all-time. Unfortunately, the money made from the film did not completely offset the debt the organizers had accrued; by the end they had over $1 million in debt and there were over 70 lawsuits filed against them. The money that the film made left them only $100,000 in the red. By the early 1980s, Rosenman and Roberts were finally able to pay off what they owed.

Tags: Bob Dylan | Jimi Hendrix | The Band

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Linda Speckhals

Writer

When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.