The festival that changed music forever
Last week in 1969, over 400,000 hippies, rockers, and music lovers descended on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York. There were tailbacks for miles as everyone tried to get to the festival of three days of peace and music. Woodstock was about to open, for the first and last time.
Joan Baez, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker – all these acts and many more took to the stage to play to enormous crowds. The festival closed with an iconic performance of the Star-Spangled Banner from Jimi Hendrix. His fringed jacket and red headband became a lasting symbol for the festival, if not the whole of the 1960s.
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How about these Woodstock facts?
- What could have been… artists who turned down invitations to play at the festival include: Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, Led Zeppelin, Free, and Procol Harum. Many of these were for scheduling conflicts and family commitments but Jethro Tull famously declined because of Ian Anderson’s hatred of hippies and nudity.
- From turning down Woodstock to Woodstock turning down you, when Iron Butterfly were stuck at LaGuardia airport waiting to be picked up, they allegedly received a telegram that read: ‘For reasons I can’t go into / Until you are here / Clarifying your situation / Knowing you are having problems / You will have to find / Other transportation / Unless you plan not to come.’ A quick look at the first letter of each line is all it takes to see the real message.
- There were only 600 toilets provided. At the festival’s highest capacity that was one toilet per 666 people.
- Although there were around 80 arrests on drug offences, several miscarriages, and 3 accidental deaths, there are no reported incidents of violence from fans occurring during the entire festival…
- … although there was one incident with the talent. Pete Townshend of The Who smacked 60s radical, Abbie Hoffman, with his guitar when he wouldn’t get off the stage.
- Charles Schulz named a character in the Peanuts strip, Woodstock, in tribute to the music festival. Prior to 1970 the little, yellow bird who was friends with Snoopy had no name.
- Although Jimi closed the show, most of the crowds had gone by then, an early Monday morning. Even free-loving hippies have a working week it seems. Only about 25,000 people heard the rock version of the Star-Spangled Banner.
What happened next?
Unlike most music festivals, Woodstock was a one-time event that hasn’t been repeated in the forty-nine years since. Max Yasgur had no intention of bringing the festival back to his farm. But if he did, the citizens of Bethel would have done everything in their power to stop it. A few months after, the town supervisor that allowed the festival to take place was ousted out of office in an election and mass gathering laws were passed to prevent further events. In the following years, locals would prevent Woodstock fans from revisiting the site with roadblocks and animal manure. Things have calmed down in recent years with both towns of Woodstock and Bethel embracing their link with the 1969 festival.
Now everyone is looking towards 2019 with the 50th anniversary looming closer. Original organiser, Michael Lang, has hinted at plans for a big event to mark the occasion. But if you want to reserve your tickets, there still aren’t any definite plans as of yet.
Still, there will always be those three days of peace and music in a muddy field in upstate New York.