It was 53 years ago today when one of the most important music festivals of all time ended.
Far away from the world of lip-synching & auto-tune, there was Woodstock. The initial creators of Woodstock were Joel Rosenman, John Roberts, Michael Lang & Artie Kornfeld. From August 15-18 in 1969, Woodstock painted a picture like no other. It was disorganized, haphazard, and magical all in one. In a last-second promise that only 50,000 people would invade the city of Bethel, New York, reluctant politicians gave the ok for the event. Amazingly before the first act, 50,000 early birds started to enter the gates. It was estimated that over 400,000-500,000 eventually attended.
It was marketed as an Aquarian Exposition: 3 days of Peace & Music. The early posters by Arnold Skolnick go for $2,000-$3,000 depending on the condition.
In all 33 amazing acts ran, walked, and staggered onto the stage that was put together at the last second. They had 2 stages in total. One for the music, and the other for non-musical art forms. The opening act for the 3-day festival was Richie Havens. The final act for that night was Joan Baez who started at 1 a.m. while being 6 months pregnant.
Some bands had major delays like The Grateful Dead. With the rain coming down hard, it flooded the stage and created a dangerous situation after they complained of being shocked by electrical equipment. That along with sound issues made it difficult for them. When they ended Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) finally started their set at 12:30 Sunday morning. Eventually, the Who would start at 5 a.m.
There were so many stars at the festival that it wasn’t funny. Carlos Santana was somewhat unknown at the time but was a fan favorite and rocketed to fame. Some say CCR was one of the best bands of the festival but due to their late hour, they didn’t get the credit they deserved. John Fogerty was very upset at the haphazard setup they had to play in but they came through with flying colors.
The Who wowed the crowd and gave them a wake-up they would never forget. And in the early morning hours in a downpour, Sly And The Family Stone had people dancing and singing. Crosby, Stills & Nash did their amazing set and Joe Cocker cemented his name in music with a performance that included the Beatle's “With a Little Help From My Friends”.
Out of all the amazing talents that were seen though, two seemed to grasp the moment to eternal fame. Janis Joplin was a force of nature leaving some in the crowd listening with their mouths wide open in shock at how talented she was. Few had ever heard such a raw showing of passion and talent. And to end it all, the great Jimi Hendrix showed why many feel he is the greatest rock guitar player of all time. His rendition of the Star Spangled Banner mimicked the feelings of anger, chaos, and social strife that was a big part of the 1960s.
The mainstream media outside of New York famously didn’t cover it much other than to talk about some of the issues they were having. All in all, there were 3 deaths at Woodstock with 2 overdoses and 1 person who was run over by a vehicle. There were 80 arrests with drug use being the main issue. There were no arrests for violence.
Woodstock was a cultural and musical phenomenon. The music created a foundation that fueled groups and genres for decades. The huge sales today of vinyl albums for classic groups of the past sends a message of just how special this era and Woodstock was. In its strange way, Woodstock spread the hope of peace, love, and music that is positive and good for any generation.