On 16 August 2019 we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock! Woodstock was an American music festival held on 15–18 August 1969, which attracted an audience of more than 400,000. Billed as “an Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music”, it was held at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York, 43 miles (70 km) southwest of Woodstock. It was alternatively referred to as the Bethel Rock Festival or the Aquarian Music Festival. Thirty-two acts performed outdoors despite sporadic rain. It has become widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, as well as the definitive nexus for the larger counterculture generation.
Woodstock was initiated through the efforts of Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman, and John P. Roberts. In April 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival became the first act to sign a contract for the event, agreeing to play for $10,000 (equivalent to $68,000 today. The promoters had experienced difficulty landing big-name groups prior to Creedence committing to play. Creedence drummer Doug Clifford later commented, “Once Creedence signed, everyone else jumped in line and all the other big acts came on.”
Woodstock was designed as a profit-making venture. Around 186,000 advance tickets were sold, and the organizers anticipated approximately 200,000 festival-goers would turn up. However, the event drew hundreds of thousands more people than the organizers had prepared for. Those without tickets simply walked through gaps in the fences, and the organizers were forced to make the event free of charge. Though the festival left its promoters nearly bankrupt, their ownership of the film and recording rights more than compensated for the losses after the release of the hit Academy Award winning-documentary film Woodstock in March 1970.
Jimi Hendrix was the last act to perform at the festival. Hendrix and his new band, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows performed a two-hour set. His psychedelic rendition of the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner” became “part of the sixties Zeitgeist” as it was captured forever in the Woodstock film; Hendrix’s image performing this number wearing a blue-beaded white leather jacket with fringe and a red head scarf has since been regarded as a defining moment of the 1960s.
Woodstock was remarkably peaceful given the number of people and the conditions involved. There was a sense of social harmony, which, with the quality of music, and the overwhelming mass of people, many sporting bohemian dress, behavior, and attitudes, helped to make it one of the enduring events of the century. After the concert, Max Yasgur, who owned the site of the event, saw it as a victory of peace and love. He spoke of how nearly half a million people filled with potential for disaster, riot, looting, and catastrophe spent the three days with music and peace on their minds. He stated, “If we join them, we can turn those adversities that are the problems of America today into a hope for a brighter and more peaceful future…”
Woodstock’s significance was reinforced by an accompanying soundtrack album, and a Joni Mitchell–written song that became a major hit for both Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Matthews Southern Comfort. Starting in 1979, music events bearing the Woodstock name have been planned for major anniversaries including the tenth, twentieth, twenty-fifth, thirtieth, and fortieth. In 2004, Rolling Stone listed it as number 19 of the 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll. In 2017, the festival site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In May 2014, Michael Lang, one of the producers and organizers of the original Woodstock event, revealed plans for a possible 50th anniversary concert in 2019. Woodstock 50 was planned to be held on 16–18 August 2019, at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. However, it was canceled on 31 July 2019, after a series of production issues, venue relocations, and artist cancellations. Just prior to its cancellation, it was announced that the event had been reduced from three days to one day.
What do you think of Woodstock? Tell us!