Max Yasgur: The Man Who Made Woodstock 1969 Possible
American farmer Max Yasgur on the stage during the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair in Bethel, New York, August 17, 1969. Photo by Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
Without a man named Max Yasgur, a dairy farmer based in Bethel, NY, the world would have never seen the most famous concert in human history, the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival. That’s right, Woodstock, the event that inspired countless music concerts, movies, and people was in danger of not even happening until Yasgur stepped forward to provide a venue. In doing so, he spit in the face of convention, irked his neighbors, and invited legitimate economic pressures. This is the unbelievable story of how the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival was saved.
The actual organizers of Woodstock were four young men: Artie Kornfeld, Michael Lang, John Roberts, and Joel Rosenman. They planned to hold their mind-bending music concert at Howard Mills Industrial Park in Wallkill, N.Y., roughly 30 miles from the town of Woodstock.
Unfortunately, a month before the paradigm-altering music festival was to begin, the town succeeded in banning the event. Apparently, the idea of thousands of hippies invading their town for a weekend of fun was unthinkable. They would have gotten their way if not for a stubborn forward-thinking man, Mr. Max Yasgur.
Max Yasgur To The Rescue
Other venues had denied the young organizers and left them with no options until a local resident of nearby Bethel contacted them. Music’s sweet savior, Max Yasgur, then 50, offered to lease his dairy farm for Woodstock. The price? A reported $75,000, a very healthy chunk of change. In today’s money that’s nearly $520,000.
However, Yasgur gave his land to Woodstock for more than money. The man had principles that extended beyond his dairy farm. He told the New York Times, “If the generation gap is to be closed, we older people have to do more than we have done.” Regrettably, his forward-thinking belief would be put to the test.
Yasgur’s Neighbors Rebel
While Yasgur himself believed in closing the generation gap, many of his neighbors vehemently disagreed. Yasgur was bombarded by threats of arson and other attacks of bodily harm to him, his wife, and his farm. His nearby residents even attempted to bury him financially by starting a boycott of his milk. Signs reading “Don’t buy Yasgur’s milk. He loves the hippies,” sprang up all around the sleepy town of Bethel.
Thankfully, for Woodstock and history, the intense pressure and threats only served to dig Yasgur’s heels in deeper. His wife “knew darned well he was going to let them have their festival.”
On The Right Side Of History
With his neighbors doing everything in their power to sink not only Woodstock but Yasgur himself, the principled man thumbed a finger their way and continued with what he thought was right. Naturally, when 500,000 music-loving hippies came around, the same neighbors who threatened Yasgur’s very life began selling water at exorbitant prices.
Of course, Yasgur found the idea of turning water into a cash-cow completely abhorrent. In response, the man who deserves a statue put up a giant sign, offering “Free Water.”
Typically when a crowd of 50,000 is expected but 500,000 show up there will be some issues. In this case, a severe lack of toilets created a literal poop show. The neighbors blamed Yasgur and sued him for $35,000, heaping the large mess squarely as his feet.
Yasgur’s own farm received the bulk of the damages for which he received a $50,000 settlement from the organizers. For many in the community, Yasgur became persona non grata. However, at least a few progressive neighbors threw him a dinner in his honor. Likely they did so just to let Yasgur know that not everyone hated him.
Despite the threats of bodily harm and legal BS, Yasgur never regretted Woodstock. Nevertheless, when talk of Woodstock II began the next year Yasgur replied, “As far as I know, I’m going back to running a dairy farm.”
Yasgur himself was honored in Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and when he passed in 1973, Rolling Stone celebrated him with a full-page obituary, a rarity for a non-musician. His legacy of perseverance in the face violence and legal intimidation all for people he never knew is a lesson we could all learn.
Tags: Max Yasgur | Woodstock
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