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 an outdoor festival in a field, with a few big-name acts. After a long fight to secure a venue, they made a deal with dairy farmer Max Yasgur for the use of his 600-acre property in Bethel, New York. The festival, held on the weekend of August 1517, 1969, 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.
In many ways, Woodstock was a giant catastrophe. The various artists couldn't get to the concert site 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 thunderstorm struck, shutting things down for hours, and two people accidentally diednote .
But, at the same time, the festival was noted for its sense of peace and community. The crowd was so well-behaved over the three days that even mainstream media like The New York Times and Time magazine praised the event for being so orderly. People were getting along and showing love to each other. Not only that, but the roster of musical artists was impressive, including The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joe Cocker, Santana, The Band, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Baez, Ravi Shankar, and Sha Na Na to name a few.
The festival was filmed and turned into the documentary of the same name, which proved so big a box office hit that its earnings more than paid off the losses from the festival itself. Besides the famous original three-record vinyl album and the followup two-record set Woodstock Two, there have been several CD box sets, several DVD releases of the film, and the independent, unauthorized Woodstock Complete project. The latest version is 2014's which includes interviews, radio coverage and art.
In August 2019, Back to the Garden, an authorized complete version of the 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Fair, was released on Rhino Records. The product of painstaking research and audio production, it had 38 audio discs plus a Blu-ray of the film and cost $800.
The festival's original location is currently home to The Bethel Woods Center For the Arts. When visiting, be sure to check out its honest-to-goodness Woodstock Museum, which gives an in-depth look at the '60s counter-culture that birthed the event, as well as the events leading up to it.
Woodstock performers (in order of appearance):
- Friday night (mostly folk-oriented acts to ease the crowd into the festival)
- Saturday afternoon/night into Sunday morning (mainly a showcase for big-name acts from San Francisco)
- Sunday afternoon/night into Monday morning (a mix of headliners and acts who got moved after the schedule was reshuffled)
References in fiction:
- The 2009 film Taking Woodstock tells a fictionalized version of the story behind the concert.
- A Walk on the Moon is set in the summer of 1969, against the backdrop of the moon-landing and Woodstock.
- Woodstock, the bird in Peanuts, was named after the festival.
- In the Stargate SG-1 episode "1969", SG-1 is accidentally sent back in time to the titular year. They hitch a ride with a couple of hippies named Michael and Jenny, who are headed to "upstate New York, some big concert."
- In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Death Wish", it is revealed that, after receiving a lift from a member of the Q Continuum later known as Quinn, the tower three spotlight operator Maury Ginsburg noticed that an extension cord had been disconnected and reconnected it. Had he not noticed it, the festival would not have been able to go ahead as the entire sound system had failed.
- In the Weird Science episode "By the Time We Got to Woodstock", Lisa attends the festival as she is suffering from amnesia and believes that she is a hippie. Gary Wallace, Wyatt Donnelly and his brother Chett see her on television and manage to restore her memory when they get to Woodstock. Lisa then returns the four of them to 1996.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "School Hard", Spike mentions that he fed off a flower person at Woodstock and spent the next six hours watching his hand move.
- In the Taxi episode "Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey", Reverend Jim mentions that he was at Woodstock. ("Half a million people. Hey, you know, if I hadn't been there, there'd only have been... 499,999 people. Lucky thing for them I went.")
- In the Animaniacs short "Woodstock Slappy", Slappy Squirrel and her nephew Skippy go to spend a quiet weekend in a tree in the country in 1969, not knowing that it's on the Woodstock concert site. Awoken by the cacophony, an incredibly-annoyed Slappy tries to end the concert, memorably getting into an extended Who's on First? argument with Skippy over the names of The Who, The Band and Yes (who Skippy kept pointing out weren't even at the festival). Besides The Who, it also features No Celebrities Were Harmed versions of Joe Cocker, Country Joe McDonald and Melanie (and a very brief appearance of a Jimi Hendrix caricature).