was a legendary festival that lasted from 15-17 August, 1969. The "free" concert (it ended up costing $2.4 million) was sponsored by four very different men: John Roberts
, Joel Rosenman
, Artie Kornfeld
and Michael Lang
John Roberts was the rich kid, he supplied all the money. Joel Rosenman was also a rich kid, they each met on a golf course. Artie Kornfield was the Vice President at Capitol Records. His earlier claim to fame was writing Jan and Dean's "Dead Man's Curve". Michael Lang was a huge hippie, he managed a band called Train (no, not today's Train) and came to Artie hoping to get them signed. They became friends, discovering they were on the same sort of path, and also that they grew up in the same neighbourhood.
So how were these two groups of men brought together?
Lang and Kornfield wanted to host a big rock festival, gathering money from the revenue to build a recording studio. However, they needed seed money. Their lawyer recommended Roberts and Rosenman.
The four met in February 1969. "We met with them in their apartment on 83rd Street in a high-rise," Lang recalls, "They were kind of preppy. Today, I guess they'd be yuppies. They were wearing suits. Artie did most of the talking, because I think they seemed puzzled by me. They were curious about the counterculture, and they were somewhat interested in the project. They wanted a written proposal, which we had but we didn't bring with us. We told them that we would meet again with a budget for the festival."
By the end of their third meeting, the "little party" they had planned in Woodstock had turned into a concert for 50,000 people, the world's biggest rock 'n' roll show ever. The four partners made a corporation in March 1969. Each held 25 percent. The company was called Woodstock Ventures, Inc., after the Ulster County, New York town where Bob Dylan lived.
Now they needed a venue to host "the biggest rock concert ever." For $10,000, Woodstock Ventures had leased a tract of land in the Town of Wallkill, New York. Cornfield and Lang advertised the festival as an "Aquarian Explosion", and by April 1969, Woodstock was being advertised in the underground cultural papers, like the Village Voice, and then to Rolling Stone. In May, ads began to run in the New York Times. By then, the slogan had been decided as "Three Days of Peace and Music", hoping that the vibe of peace would...well...be peaceful, and keep order.
After booking acts such as The Who and Janis Joplin, everything seemed to be going along smoothly. However, the Wallkill Zoning Board of Appeals officially banned Woodstock on July 15, 1969. With less than a month until the festival, the promoters literally went around in a helicopter, searching for sites. Elliot Tiber tried to help out by renting out his land, but then realised it was too small and swampy. So, he and Lang went to Max Yasgur, a local farmer, to see about his land.
This time, Lang liked the lay of the land. "It was magic," Lang said. "It was perfect. The sloping bowl, a little rise for the stage. A lake in the background. The deal was sealed right there in the field. Max and I were walking on the rise above the bowl. When we started to talk business, he was figuring on how much he was going to lose in this crop and how much it was going to cost him to reseed the field. He was a sharp guy, ol' Max, and he was figuring everything up with a pencil and paper. He was wetting the tip of his pencil with his tongue. I remember shaking his hand, and that's the first time I noticed that he had only three fingers on his right hand. But his grip was like iron. He's cleared that land himself."
With everything in order, on August 15, 1969, at about 5:00, Richie Havens, the first performer at Woodstock, took the stage. He had to stay on for more than he expected, because there was NO ONE else there! It didn't go off without a hitch.
The film crew, on the first day, began running out of film. The second performer, Melanie, was very unknown and had to be let onstage by singing to security!
It started raining lightly around midnight as sitarist Ravi Shankar was playing. By the time Joan Baez finished "We Shall Overcome," a warm thunderstorm was pounding Yasgur's farm. In three hours, 5 inches of rain had fallen.
The second day, the music was supposed to start at 7 PM, but many felt that was too late, and people would get restless. On top of that, the management of The Who, Janis Joplin, and The Grateful Dead refused to put their acts on without advance payment.
Also, there were many bad drugs out there. A sixteen year old boy had pounds of marijuana, and was selling it, and eventually got busted. There was also many bad acid trips, many by accident. Lots of people would drink what was available, they had no choice. Little did they know that there was acid in their Kool-Aid.
One man, obviously under the influence of something, felt like Janis Joplin was in love with him. "I knew that if I could just make passionate love to her, everything would just be all right and she would fall in love with me forever." he said. He rushed the stage, and policeman dragged him away.
The stage was still wet from the rainstorm (not to mention the mud EVERYWHERE), and during the Grateful Dead's set, they were all getting shocked as they played their guitars.
Now, the Who, who had just released the album Tommy, were performing right after midnight. Abbie Hoffman, head of the Yippies, and Michael Lang, sat on the side of the stage as the Who played. They had been taking acid all night, trying to stay awake. At the end of "Pinball Wizard", Hoffman stormed the stage, taking a mic, proclaiming "I think this is a pile of shit, while John Sinclair rots in prison!" John Sinclair had been busted for being in the possession of two marijuana joints. Pete Townshend, the Who's guitarist, not knowing who Hoffman was, proceeded to yell "FUCK OFF my fucking stage!" and hit him in the head with his guitar. Following Hoffman's departure, Townshend remarked "I can dig it."
Day three began at sunrise, with Grace Slick's vocals on "White Rabbit" filling the air. Jefferson Airplane played, and the promoters found yet another problem. People were hungry. And all there was mush with peanuts. Wavy Gravy, the leader of the "Hog Farm", who was suppling the food, called it "Breakfast in Bed for 400,000 people," Even though it wasn't very filling.
Joe Cocker played his songs as it rained torrents.
drownzsurf was there! He says:
"We hiked out through mud, losing my sandals, and soaked. We tried to stay dry under trash bags."
"We hiked in many miles from the site. My friends left the night before. I was pumped up on some psychedelicatessan and made it there in time for "Feelin' All right" It was something..millions all grooving, buzzed, nothin' but
By noon, as rock group The Band played, it was hot, and people were worried about heat stroke. Other concerns were pneumonia, since many concert-goers had been drenched for two days. Iron Butterfly, a pioneer of heavy metal, was scheduled to play, but Lang and the other organisers worried that the band's type of music might be dangerous under the circumstances. And so, they did not play.
A short but thunderstorm began in the late afternoon, making some people leave early. One attendee, Leo O'Mara, noticed a guy wearing a muddy raincoat and a huge smile. O'Mara wondered why this guy was so happy in such miserable weather. "Then I noticed that there were three other sets of legs under that poncho," O'Mara said.
Well, at least someone had fun.
Meanwhile, headliner Jimi Hendrix was roaming around in the crowd, talking to girls and being part of the crowd. He even spent some time in the "freak-out" tent, before roadies carried him off, as he was being a nuisance.
Three people died at Woodstock, one of them drug freak-outs and overdoses. Drugs were everywhere, they were unavoidable. Even the promoters took drugs while at the festival. Artie Kornfield was given a pill, which he figured was Dexedrine (speed), but it ended up being a sort of mushroom.
He began hallucinating that the not-present National Guard was shooting into the crowd. His experience was written about in Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock":
"And I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes
riding shotgun in the sky,
turning into butterflies
above our nation"
"I was dosed. It was my first psychedelic, and it happened at Woodstock," Kornfeld said. "I never would have chosen that place deliberately, never to do it at Woodstock...I decided that we needed help. It was 12 hours before Hendrix," Kornfeld said. "I was Thorazined out of it. That's why I missed Hendrix."
The next casualty came that day, also. John Pinnacaia, an 18 year old attendee, stepped on what "must have been some kind of bottle," and became the second Woodstock casualty when he bled to death.
At 9 am, Monday, 18 August, 1969, after playing 12 songs, Jimi Hendrix launched into the Star Spangled Banner, waking up many who decided to stay. After playing four more songs, Jimi left the stage, and Woodstock was over.
Although faced with many legal battles, many were settled out of court.
Six weeks after the festival, Rosenman and Roberts bought out Lang and Kornfeld's part of Woodstock Ventures for $31,240 each. The two groups of men severed friendships. Two years after the festival, "Woodstock: The Movie" came out. It was a surprise hit.
Woodstock has been remembered for the past thirty plus years as the ultimate consummation of the Hippie counterculture's way of being. "If you were part of the culture," noted one attendee, "You had to be there."
"To dance like at Woodstock, you would be sunburned, have a Chianti bottle in hand, and waving both hands loosely in the air, with head bobbing sideways in rhythm with more than a quarter of a million happy souls."
Country Joe McDonald
Incredible String Band
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Sly and The Family Stone
Country Joe & The Fish
Ten Years After
Blood Sweat And Tears
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Sha Na Na
thanks to: Woodstock: The Movie, Vh1 Behind The Music: Woodstock, Once Upon a Time at Woodstock, and drownzsurf.
we are stardust
we are golden
and we've got to get ourselves
back to the garden