The concert was the brain child of promoter, Michael Lang, and was named for the town that was originally planned as the site. Tickets were priced at $18 ($6 a day) and made available only by mail and in record stores in the Northeast. The venue had to be changed only weeks before the concert due to the town refusing to grant a permit for the concert. When dairy farmer, Max Yasgur, made his 600 acre property available, the upcoming concert was not popular among locals. The thought of 50,000 hippies descending on the community upset the local people. Yes, the original planned number was that small, one tenth the size of what was to become reality.
The last minute change in location assured that they would not be ready for even the expected number, let alone the 500,000 that would show up. There would not be enough food, water, toilets or anything to handle the crowds. It was Friday night that Arlo Guthrie, a musician, declared:
“Well, the New York Thruway's closed. Isn't that far out?”
People were driving as far as they could and then just abandoning their cars to hike the rest of the way in to be part of the scene. It became apparent that there was no way to collect tickets and keep people out, so it was declared a “free concert.” Those three days in the summer of 1969 (August 15-17) were seminal ones in the history of rock music and defined a generation. The acts included some of the greatest names among Rock & Roll royalty. So great was the event that 500,000 people attended, but it is estimated that close to ten million people claim they were there, a testament to how defining the event was.
It can’t be denied that the festival goers and performers were protesting the war in Vietnam as one of their issues. It is interesting to learn that it was the US Army who came in to save Woodstock. Richie Havens was the first performer to take the stage because he was the only performer available. Joan Baez, the scheduled opener, along with other acts, was unable to get to the concert from nearby accommodations due to the jams. Havens was told that he would have to stall until other performers could get there. His song, Freedom (Motherless Child), was really an impromptu performance as he was continuing to be told to stall for time. Finally, it was a US Army helicopter, according to Havens, that landed with additional acts. The Army and the helicopters continued to assist through the weekend by bringing in supplies, airlifting medical cases and other needed services. The Army and the hippies worked hand in hand all weekend without incident.
At Woodstock, 500,000 people came together under some of the most taxing conditions. There was not a single reported act of violence the entire weekend. There were three deaths at the concert, a ruptured appendix, a heroin overdose and a tractor accident. On the upside, two babies were born at the Festival.
Twenty-five years later, there was the first of several reprisals, Woodstock 94. I was at this event for all three days and got a taste of what it must have been like at the original concert. There was one moment that weekend that I swear we were back at the original in 1969. Joe Cocker had been announced, “Would you please welcome, for a return engagement, live on stage, the one, the only, Mr. Joe Cocker!” He was back for a “return engagement” because he had played the original concert twenty-five years earlier. That magic moment where time slipped back came during his set. I was seated in the field, maybe eighty yards/meters from the stage in the sunlight. The opening notes for With a Little help from My Friends filled the air and the crowd went wild. We all stood and swayed back and forth singing along with Joe Cocker. No one was sure if it was 1994 or 1969.
During my set at AWT today I will play two hours of highlights from the 1994 concert and maybe share some of my memories.
So, were you at Woodstock in August of 1969? Wish you were? While we can’t turn back time, maybe in the virtual world of Second Life we can do the next best thing. Through the decades, I have collected much of the concert in recordings. This weekend, on the 44th anniversary of the concert, my daughter, Destiny, and I are going to host 17 hours’ worth of the original Woodstock. While it is not the entire concert, it is a lot of it, as much as you will probably ever hear and it will be presented in its historically correct order.
So pack up your car or micro-bus. Drive as far as you can down the SL Thruway, then abandon your car and hike the rest of the way to a Woman’s Touch. When you get here, the chain link fence is down on the west side of the concert field. It’s a free concert. Roll out your sleeping bag and enjoy the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, an Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music.