Tuesday, July 5, 2011

1969 Woodstock: 3 Days That Made Music History

Cover of "Woodstock - 3 Days of Peace & M...Cover via AmazonBy Jim Serf

Woodstock was the brainchild of four men. Micheal Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman, and John Roberts. Roberts and Rosenman took care of the financial responsibilities. Lang had the experience as a promoter. He had already organized and promoted the largest musical event thus far on the east coast, 'The Miami Pop Festival'.

The four men had originally envisioned a small recording studio in Woodstock, New York, but the idea evolved into the large outdoor music festival it became. Known as Woodstock, the festival would actually take place 43 miles away in the township of Bethel, N.Y. Exact geography placed the site at at Max Yasgur's dairy farm, a 600 acre piece of land just outside Bethel.

The festival took place on the weekend of August 15, through August 18, 1969. During the off-on rainy weekend, 32 acts performed live in front of a staggering, 500,000 people. It was also the subject of the documentary movie, "Woodstock" released in 1970. Rolling Stone magazine listed the event as one of the '50 Moments that Changed the History of Rock 'n' Roll'.

Signing on the various acts that were to perform on the venue proved to be challenging. Many local small-name bands quickly jumped on board, but the one local big-name, promoters were hoping to get was Bob Dylan. They had their fingers crossed that if they held the concert in his backyard, the renowned musical poet would, 'come out and play', however this never happened. Another dissappointing no-show would be Joni MItchell, who wrote the song 'Woodstock' to commemorate the event.

Creedence Clearwater Revival was the first big-name band to sign on to the event. According to CCR drummer, Doug Clifford, "once Creedence signed on, everyone else fell in line". True or not, the artist in the mainstream of music at the time would eventually sign up for the festival. Acts like Joan Baez, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Arlo Guthrie, and Janis Joplin, along with a host of other headliners, were going to bring in the crowds. This may have worked a little too well, however.

Good intentions aside, promoters were planning on making some dough during all this. Tickets were for sale before the concert at $18 (about $105 in 2009). Tickets were $24 for all three days for attendees who showed up at the event. Tickets were for sale at record stores only or through the mail via a P.O. Box at Radio City Music Hall.

With 186,000 sold beforehand, promoters estimated approximately 200,000 people showing up at the gate. Woodstock famously became 'a free concert' when that estimated number swelled to half a million strong! This sudden influx of people onto this small rural area wreaked havoc on the traffic system. Law Enforcement's only choice had to greatly relax their traffic codes and let things naturally flow until it was back to a normal state.

Another problem was the rain. It had caused the dirt roads and fields muddy and difficult to get around in. Also, because of the gross underestimation of the crowd number, sanitation, first-aid stations, and food vendors found themselves completely unprepared. Facing all of them was a food shortage, unsanitary conditions, and an overcrowding situation that probably would have spelled doom for most concerts and large outdoor shows.

Remarkably, things remained (for the most part), calm and peaceful. Most folks were making the best of it and enjoying the music. Even so, on Sunday morning, Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller called concert organizer, John Roberts and told him he was strongly considering calling up 10,000 National Guardsmen to police the situation. Fearing this may cause violence, Roberts successfully persuaded the Governor to stand down the troops.

Woodstock was unbelievably peaceful and trouble free, however there were a few incidents, including two recorded deaths. One was what appeared to be a heroin overdose and another was a freak accident, when a tractor ran over a festival goer, sleeping in a nearby hayfield. Also, there were two births. One occurred in a car stuck in traffic and the other at a hospital after the delivering mother was airlifted from the festival grounds.

Despite all the craziness and walking the fine line between success and total disaster, Woodstock,for most attendees, did what it was supposed to do, capture the sprit of the '60s. The whole thing must have dumbfounded some, disgusted others, and made the rest wonder at it all.

Afterwards, Max Yasgur, who owned the land, spoke of the event very fondly of the event, saying that the possibilibily of catastrophe was always there but instead it became about peace, love, and music. Finally stating that "if we join them, we can turn those adversities that are the problems of America today into a hope for a brighter and more peaceful future..." I figure at the rate we're going, we need a Woodstock every two years.

Performing artists

Thirty-two acts performed over the course of the four days:

Friday, August 15
Richie Havens
Swami Satchidananda - gave the invocation for the festival
Bert Sommer
Ravi Shankar
Tim Hardin
Arlo Guthrie
Joan Baez

Saturday, August 16
Quill, forty-minute set of four songs
Country Joe McDonald
John Sebastian
Keef Hartley Band
The Incredible String Band
Canned Heat
Grateful Dead
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band
Sly and the Family Stone
The Who began at 4am, kicking off a 25-song set including Tommy
Jefferson Airplane

Sunday, August 17 to Monday, August 18
The Grease Band
Joe Cocker
Country Joe and the Fish
Ten Years After
The Band
Blood, Sweat and Tears
Johnny Winter featuring his brother, Edgar Winter
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Jimi Hendrix

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