In the Summer of '69, a couple of extremely rich young men wanted to create something they could invest in related to entertainment, art and creativity. After initially planning a TV series and an artists' colony, they decided to hold a festival in a field in Upstate New York, with a few big name acts. After a long fight to get it done, they got a deal with farmer Max Yasgur. The festival was called the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
Originally tickets were sold by mail and through magazine ads, with plans to sell more at the door. Over 100,000 tickets were sold, but people started arriving several days early, before the fence and ticket gates were completed; faced with the choice between completing the stage and completing the fence, the promoters decided to get the stage in order and call it a free concert. With such an open invitation in place, over 500,000 people are believed to have shown up. Then it got worse.
Woodstock was a giant catastrophe: The bands couldn't get to the concert and had to be flown in. Food and other facilities were ostensibly planned for 50,000 (even though the aforementioned 100,000 tickets had been sold), but city councilmen and others noted that the provisions weren't even sufficient for that number, leading to the National Guard airlifting in food and water by helicopter. There was lots of rain and a giant storm struck, shutting it down for hours and two people accidentally diednote .
But at the same time the festival was noted for its sense of peace. The crowd was so peaceful over the three days that even the mainstream media like The New York Times praised the event for being so orderly with a well-behaved audience. Two people were born there.note People were getting along and showing love to each other. Not only that, but the roster of bands were great. These included The Who, The Band, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young,note Canned Heat, Ten Years After, Joe Cocker, Sha Na Na, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Baez and Jimi Hendrix, to name a few.
The festival was filmed and turned into a documentary, titled simply Woodstock, which was released in 1970. It was directed by Michael Wadleigh. It is regarded as one of the best documentaries and concert films ever. Not only because of the performances but also because the main focus was the festival itself — the audience. Martin Scorsese got one of his first Hollywood jobs as a film editor for the movie. Most importantly for the producers, the film proved so big a box office hit that its earnings more than paid off the losses from the festival itself.
The festival's original location is currently home to The Bethel Woods Center For the Arts, which not only hosts three performance stages (including an amphitheater just north of the field where the main stage of Woodstock stood) but an honest-to-goodness Woodstock Museum, which gives an in-depth look at the counter-culture that inspired the event, as well as the historical events leading up to it.
There's more background information at The Kind of Complete Woodstock, and at Woodstock Complete which strives to combine all known sources and re-create the Woodstock Festival of 1969 as it took place. An authorized version of the complete original concert — all but four songs are included — was released on Rhino Records for the 50th anniversary in August 2019. It has 38 discs, a Blu-ray of the film, and some gifts, and was priced at $800 in a limited-edition printing of 1,969 copies (it sold out quickly).
"The New York State Thruway is closed, man! Lotta Tropes!":
- Added Alliterative Appeal:
- From Crosby, Stills, and Nash."Lacey lilting lyric, losing love lamenting"
- Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane (who eventually took to the stage at 8am Saturday) describes the band's ensuing set as 'morning maniac music'
- From Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
- The Cameo: None of The Grateful Dead's set got in the movie, but Jerry Garcia does show up smoking dope backstage, and then-keyboardists Pigpen and TC are shown hauling their gear as part of the "look at all these people" montage.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Country Joe and the Fish used the opening to their "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag" for this, getting the audience in on the act. It's since been nicknamed the "Fish Chant" (as the original version on the record does have Joe McDonald spelling out "FISH").Country Joe: Gimme an F! Gimme a U! Gimme a C! Gimme a K! What's that spell?Crowd: FUCK!Country Joe: What's that spell?Crowd: FUCK!Country Joe: What's that spell?Crowd: FUCK!
- Cool Old Guy:
- The local man shown in the very first clip of the movie, who cheerfully relates how he had to eat cornflakes for two days because he couldn't get out of his house to get food, but also says that he really liked all the kids and the movie is going to be big.
- The older man cleaning the port-o-potties is very dignified and generous despite having to deal with the mess left by the event (he mentions he has one kid out enjoying the festival and another one over in Vietnam).
- Max Yasgur, the owner of the farm on which the festival was eventually held after having been let down by two previous sites, gives a brief, slightly stilted speech on stage that nonetheless conveys a very heartfelt if baffled appreciation of the festival-goers' qualities. At 50 years old in 1969 he only really qualifies as an 'old guy' compared to the extremely youthful audience (and in that, sadly, he was nearing the end of his life - he died four years after the event).
- Concert Film: One of the most famous examples.
- Cue the Sun: The Who finished their playlist of their Rock Opera Tommy and they were climaxing it just when the morning sun broke. At such a spectacular coincidence, John Entwistle would quip, "God was our Lighting Man!"
- Epic Movie: At 3 hours and 5 minutes in its original release, with 39 minutes added for the 1994 Re-Cut.
- Fingore: The footage of Max Yasgur briefly shows that he's missing two fingers on his right hand. This was from an accident with farm machinery.
- Follow the Bouncing Ball: The producers must have been in particular agreement with Country Joe and the Fish and their anti-Vietnam War song "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag" ("don't ask me I don't give a damn/next stop is Vietnam") and taken him seriously when he exhorted the audience to sing louder — because for this particular song the bouncing ball appears on the screen for a sing-a-long.
- Fun with Subtitles: For no obvious reason, the film uses subtitles for the interview with the guy emptying the portable toilets, despite the fact that he's a local upstate New Yorker with no accent. Apparently the porta-potty man was so offended that he sued.
- Intermission: Maybe the only one to actually be labeled "INTERFUCKINGMISSION".
- National Geographic Nudity: Hundreds of hippies swimming in a lake? A naked lady throwing a frisbee? Yep.
- Precision F-Strike: A crusty old farmer, asked his opinion of the festival, says "Do you want me to explain it in plain English? A shitty mess."
- Round Hippie Shades: They were very much the fashion in 1969, especially among hippies and beatniks. Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin both wear them.
- Skinnydipping: One scene features a squadron of hippies skinnydipping in a local lake.Random hippie: I think skinnydipping is just beautiful if you want to do it, if you can do it.
- Spiritual Successor: In 2021, Hbo Max released a documentary on Woodstock '99 - although there, the focus is much less on the music than how it culminated in a Powder Keg Crowd.
- Split Screen: This film is one of the renowned uses of this trope in order to capture as much of the action as possible. Supposedly Martin Scorsese's idea.
- The Stoner: Does this need explaining?Jerry Garcia: (holds up joint) Marijuana. Exhibit A.
- This Is a Song: Richie Havens, "Handsome Johnny""Hey, what's the use of singing this song/Some of you are not even listening"
- Time Lapse: Used in a Split Screen in which one half shows a time lapse of the crowd moving around while some hippie in the other half natters about how his father can't understand him.
- Video Credits: The credits include clips from the various artists performing at the show.