Deanna D. Daley Stevens Henager College Abstract This report is about the Woodstock Musical Festival of 1969. It started out as a mere idea amongst friends and newly found colleagues, but quickly and irreversibly spun out of control becoming a nostalgic icon of the 1960s hippie counterculture. It will explore the events of the 1960s that lead up to it, the people that made it possible and an overview of what happened during the festival. Keywords: Hippies, Woodstock, 1969, British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Woodstock: End of an Era The hippie counterculture that made up the population that attended the Woodstock Musical Festival of 1969 was mostly made up of that decade’s younger generation which consisted of those between their late teens to mid twenties. They called themselves “hippies” which derived from the word “hipster”. To be in the “hip” was to be “one who is aware” [ (Demand Media Property, 2011) ] and they believed that they were fully aware of what they wanted, what they believed in and how they perceived the world.
And yet, it is this; the naively innocent and youthful ambitions of an inexperienced generation that would help cultivate and revolutionize the future cultures of America. For the United States (as well as the rest of the world) the 1960s was a decade of change. From the Cuban Missile Crisis to the Vietnam War to the Civil Rights Movement, the country seemed to be in a turbulently perpetual state of confusion. It appeared to the hippies that the world their parents had made for them was a world full of hate and war and they tried to distance themselves from it.
They wanted egalitarianism between races. They wanted peace among men and their countries. And they wanted to be heard without being persecuted by “The Establishment, Big Brother or The Man” [ (Mortal Journey, 2010-2011) ] –which was any sort of government institution that ordered them to fight for a war they did not believe in. In 1964 the draft began for the Vietnam War. The youngest age for the draft was eighteen. It was baffling to those of that decade that at the age of eighteen you were old enough to die for your country, but you could not vote until you were twenty-one.
This led to many antiwar protests, including those that marched on New York, The Pentagon and the Democratic Convention in Chicago, 400,000 strong in one instance. In nationwide anti-draft protest in 1967, 124 protestors had been arrested which included a Woodstock headliner, Joan Beaz. During this time of war and civil rights issues there were also the assassinations of four influential men: J. F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. With all this turmoil going on around them and being caused, in their eyes, by their forefathers, the hippies rebelled.
They turned to music and drugs which leant a voice to their growing concerns, focusing on the ideology of peace, love and personal freedom. Their choice on music consisted of folk music and psychedelic rock and they integrated LSD and marijuana into their lifestyle as a means to explore alternate states of consciousness. [ (Mortal Journey, 2010-2011) ] They implemented the “crow’s foot” peace sign, designed for the CND by Gerard Holtom in the 1950s to protest against nuclear arms, as the symbol for the antiwar movement [ (Mike Evans, 2009) ] and by the end of the decade it had become an internationally recognizable symbol of peace.
Another recognizable symbol the hippies integrated into their way of life was the VW bus. They painted them with brightly colored pictures of flowers, peace signs and written love and antiwar messages. They chose this means of transport because it accommodated their need for mass transit; they could pile many friends and hitchhikers in as they trekked to their next destination, whether that was a festival or a protest.
From the introduction of birth control in the United States in the early 1960s –which helped free the women’s sexual liberation– to the congregation of blacks and whites to the protests against the war and the marches for civil rights and voting, all helped pave the way for what would be the pivotal high for that decade’s youth: Woodstock. One of the co-founders of Woodstock, Michael Lang, age twenty-five, while in New York to promote a band he was managing, met and quickly became friends with fellow Brooklyn native, Artie Kornfeld, whom, at the age of twenty-six, was already the youngest vice-president of Capital Records.
The two self-motivated men came up with the inspirational idea of opening a recording studio/retreat in Woodstock, New York and contemplated having a series of concerts to finance it, but first, they needed capitol, which neither one possessed. This is where John Roberts, a twenty-three year old inheritor of a wealthy family-owned business, and Joel Rosenman, a twenty-seven year old, whom had a background in law, came into play. These two friends had an idea of their own.
They had wanted to write a television series about two men “with more money than brains” who got into nutty business ventures [ (Mike Evans, 2009) ], but they could not think of any plots of their own, so they decided to put an ad in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times which read: Young man with unlimited capitol looking for legitimate investing opportunities and business propositions. They were only looking for ideas and nothing but plots for their television series was ever supposed to come of this scheme.
However, Michael and Artie saw this ad in the Wall Street Journal and after Michael’s attorney checked out the legitimacy of John Roberts, they set up a meeting and the seed that would soon blossom into the Woodstock Musical Festival was sowed. The two straight-suited money men and the two “hippies” formed a partnership they named Woodstock Ventures [ (Mike Evans, 2009) ] and the undertaking of opening a recording studio in Woodstock, by investing in an outdoor concert, soon became an adventure that none of them would ever forget. They named the festival: An Aquarian Exposition, 3 Days of Peace and Music.
The first of many problems they encountered was securing a site for the festival. Their first choice had been Woodstock, New York, but the landowner there, possibly due to the fact that he was unsure of their financial security, backed out. The second choice was Wallkill, New York. However, the landowner there began to receive death threats against himself and his family from other residents of that town and wanted to back out of the contract. Though he never officially backed out, the co-founders reluctantly decided to move the venue.
They had realized that if the residents of Wallkill were unwelcoming then it could not and would not be three days of peace and music. By the time they were introduced to Max Yasgur, the dairy farmer that rented a 600-plus acre natural bowl-shaped cow pasture to Woodstock Ventures for $55,000, they had a measly thirty days to set-up, build and promote their new site. The day the festival was set to begin they were still building the massive stage, the sound system, ticket booths, playground for the children and concession stands. Even with the changes in venues, it did not deter the concert goers.
Hippies began pouring in three days before Woodstock was planned to open. They camped out in hopes to get good spots in front of the stage. Most had not even purchased tickets. This made it difficult to finish constructing the perimeter fencing and as the crowd grew larger it became apparent to the co-founders that they would need to declare it a free concert or risk rioting. They had only planned on 150,000 attending this festival. The multitude of people that came went well over expectations. It was reported that every highway into Bethel was backed up for fifteen miles for three days.
What was normally an hour and half drive from New York to Bethel now took well over eight hours and at some point the well-mannered throng of hippies abandoned their rides alongside the highways and began to hoof it. Nearly 500,000 peaceful, drug-induced, free-loving, music-entranced hippies swarmed the dairy farm for the free three day musical festival. Since the numbers well exceeded the expectations of the co-founders, they hadn’t nearly enough food or water, nor was there enough medical staffing or police presence. There had been torrential down pours, bad acid trips and a lack of shelter for all.
The mud was ankle deep and slippery; many were muddy, head to toe, and yet it did not diminish the mood of the concert goers; it seemed to enhance it. The camaraderie between them all was history-making. It wasn’t unusual to see them share what little they had with those around them who had even less: what is mine is yours whether it was a bag of apples, a bottle of wine or a pipe filled with weed, compassion was what they shared and peace was what was on all of their minds. Friday, August 15th at 5:07pm the festival began with Richie Havens. His performance lasted for nearly two hours.
He hadn’t been scheduled as the first performer, nor was his set supposed to last longer than forty minutes, but due to unforeseen circumstances, he entertained the masses for as long as they needed him to and sung a song that he himself later watched on the movie, blown away by his own performance. Bert Sommer and his band got the first standing ovation with their rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”. [ (Mike Evans, 2009) ] Melanie went on stage at 10:50pm, mesmerized by the sheer number of people she was performing in front of that held lit candles and lighters above their heads as she sang.
Saturday, August 16th began with a very pregnant Joan Baez at 12:55am. She was the only major star to play a forty minute gig to fringe audiences that could not get close enough to the stage to hear the music hours before she even sang on the main stage. [ (Mike Evans, 2009) ] Country Joe McDonald made himself a counterculture hero when he got really bold and turned his normal “Fish Cheer” into another four-lettered “F” word when he began with “Give me an ‘F’, give me a ‘U’, give me a…”. The unknown band, Santana, captivated the audience with their hypnotic rhythm and style, instantly making them famous.
The Grateful Dead finished the day out, calling their performance the worst they have ever done with their guitarist, Bob Weir, claiming that they spent the next twenty years making up for it. [ (Mike Evans, 2009) ] Sunday, August 17th 1:30am, Creedence Clearwater Revival began this day’s performances by following the Grateful Dead’s lulling performance where most of the crowd had fallen asleep and where John Fogerty was quoted as saying “…a quarter mile away in the darkness, on the other edge of the bowl, there was some guy flicking his Bic, and in the night I hear, ‘Don’t worry about it, John.
We’re here with you. ’ I played the rest of the show for that guy. ” [ (Mike Evans, 2009) ] Janis Joplin was supposed to have performed the night before, but was unable to get to the stage until the early morning hours, therefore performed under the influence of a lot of alcohol. The Who performed that day as well, the guitarist hitting activist, Abbie Hoffman, over the head after he hopped up on stage to incite the unjust jailing of a fellow activist, John Sinclair.
Monday, August 18th, 12:00am, Johnny Winter was the first to take the stage for the final day of Woodstock singing “Johnny B. Goode” and “Tobacco Road. ” Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young played their second live concert here at Woodstock and was well received by those who were left to see them perform. Jimi Hendrix was the last performer on the ticket and he took the remaining 40,000 people on an amazing ride with his guitar rendition of “The Star-spangled Banner” and his LSD elicited “Purple Haze. ” In the end, it was the largest, peaceful gathering in America to date.
Being compared to the size of a small city it had the remarkable statistics of only two deaths: one was a heroin overdose and the other had been run over by a tractor during clean up. There were no drug-related or violence-provoked arrests. There were two births and four miscarriages. Due to the fifteen mile traffic jams in every direction every performer had to be flown in by helicopter. There were only 600 portable outhouses available for the nearly 500,000 attendees. By the time Woodstock was over Woodstock Ventures had accrued $2. 7 million in expenses.
They estimate that the initial loss on this venture was at $1. 3 million. The emergency expenses for the helicopter rental, medical supplies and food was $600,000 of this. After buying out Michael and Artie’s share of Woodstock Ventures it took John and Joel until 1980 to break even. [ (Mike Evans, 2009) ] Though the founders of Woodstock had not made out financially as they had originally planned and had, instead, lost a great deal of capital, they brought together half a million people in what was the greatest gathering the country had ever seen.
Woodstock had been more than just a musical festival. To many it represented what could be, what should be: peace. There truly was a spirit of humanitarianism that flowed through everyone’s body and soul. It wasn’t about justifying the use of drugs or freeing sexual inhibitions –not that those things weren’t going on, but rather, in the grand scheme of things, it was the innocence of their youth, their naivety and their optimism for a better, peaceful existence among one another that brought the world to its knees and begged the question: how?
Bibliography Demand Media Property. (2011). 60s Hippie Culture. Retrieved July 8, 2011, from ehow. com: http://www. ehow. com/about_6324209_60_s-hippie-culture. html Mike Evans, P. K. (2009). Woodstock Three Days that Rocked the World. New York: Sterling Publishing. Mortal Journey. (2010-2011). The 1960? s Hippie Counter Culture Movement. Retrieved June 25, 2011, from Mortal Journey: http://www. mortaljourney. com/2011/03/1960-trends/hippie-counter-culture-movement