Woodstock: Behind The Scenes Of 3 Days Of Peace And Music
Left: John Sebastian plays for the Woodstock crowd. Right: Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane at the festival. Source: IMDB
In August 1969, hordes of hippies descended upon a farm near White Lake, in upstate New York, for a festival billed as "An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music" -- Woodstock, as we now know it. The lineup included Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, the Who, and the Grateful Dead -- with memorable moments from acts like Richie Havens, Country Joe & the Fish, and Ravi Shankar. Photos might not do it justice -- after all, Woodstock achieved a vibe that's never been matched by a music festival -- but they're our best window on to the legendary event as it happened.
The festival attracted an audience of nearly a half million, and the name Woodstock came to symbolize everything the generation was striving for -- be it the "peace and love" billed on the poster or the reality on the ground of great music and plentiful drugs. The event was originally going to be scheduled for two days but was later changed to three days, because of its massive popularity and interest.
So, how did it come to be? Woodstock was the sweet brainchild of Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman and John Roberts. Roberts and Rosenman were entrepreneurs from York City, with incredibly high aspirations. They were hoping to “make it big” with their recording studio, already in the works, in Manhattan, NY. As with any business venture, they had planned to make money, but this idea was a huge leap of faith and a risk. Mainstream resistance was to be expected.
After the planning got underway, snafu after snafu started popping up. First and foremost, there was only so much front money that needed to be creatively spread around for everything from advertising, paying the entertainers and renting a suitable location. Originally, the festival was to be held outside the town of Woodstock in New York.
The original venue that had been leased fell through after resistance from the community. Everyone was up in arms about gathering a few thousand hippies all in one place. Three days prior to the start of the epic festival, organizers were scurrying around trying to find another location suitable to accommodate the plan. By chance, someone had a connection to Max Yasgur, a hard-working dairy farmer with the perfect location. Organizers made him an offer and began scrambling to relocate the entire operation. Tickets had been sold in advance, so canceling was not an option.
In the beginning, organizers were finding it difficult to sign bands. They only had so much money to work with and had decided on a figure that each band would receive for their performance. That figure didn’t appeal to everyone, so negotiations began. Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) was the first group to sign a contract to perform. Prior to that, promising musical prospects to participate in the festival were grim. After CCR signed, other groups fell in line and got on board. As you probably know, the festival ultimately bragged 32 talented groups at the festival, including The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Jefferson Airplane.
After nailing down the new location, word got out that Yasgur had contracted to rent his property for the festival, he was definitely not the man of the hour. The community was doing everything in their power to shut the operation down. Yasgur, being a “good ole boy,” suggest paying off an official to push the deal through… money talks! The town went as far as to try to initiate a boycott against him in retaliation. Signs posted around town encouraged people not to buy milk from him. Signs read, “Buy No Milk. Stop Max’s Hippy Musical Festival.” People also attempted to put a last-minute stop to the show by creating a human road barricade to block entry. In the end, though, he laughed all the way to the bank!
Organizers of Woodstock had said that they were expecting no more than 50,000 people to attend. The number they had in mind was much higher, but they didn’t want to risk being refused. On the first day of the festival, people poured onto the property in droves; tens of thousands more than they had ever dreamed of. Many of the people showing up did not have tickets and because of the sheer number of attendees, it was impossible to collect money from everyone. People were sneaking in through gaps in fences and festival just didn’t have enough manpower to keep up. At that point, the only option was to declare it a free concert, although Woodstock had been originally planned as a money maker. This late change-up left the concert’s investors almost bankrupt. Fortunately, a movie deal was struck just prior to the festival, which more than made up for loss.
From the beginning, organizers knew that gathering that many people in one place could present a crowd control nightmare. Because of this, a campaign slogan of, “Three Days of Peace and Music,” was adopted in hopes that would persuade everyone to keep the peace. During the three-day music festival, and despite almost a half million people in attendance, there was not one reported incident of violence.
When it was all said and done, Woodstock ended up costing $2.4 million and was a moment in time that validated hippies across the country! There was something in the air for that three-day event. It will forever go down in history as one of the greatest moments of rock and roll and the counterculture era.
The event ultimately culminated in a four-hour film, “Woodstock,” that won an Oscar Award for "Best Documentary" in 1970. The film was also listed as one of the 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll by Rolling Stone magazine. All of this accomplished by 4 aspiring businessmen; the oldest of which was only 26 years old at the time. It was regarded as a pivotal moment in the town, as well as in music history. The festival is largely responsible for the furtherance of the counterculture generation and humankind as well.
Tags: A Brief History Of... | Behind The Scenes | Free Love | Hippies | Jerry Garcia | Rare Photos From... | The 1960s | Woodstock
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