In 1969 a monumental festival changed our world. More than half a million people came together and united peace and openness to cultural expression. Today, Woodstock lives on. The original producers of the historic festival continue to carry forward the Woodstock ethos by identifying social, environmental and political causes, organizing communities around them, developing products for those communities, and encouraging creative expression. The original festival was a three day event that actually turned into four days that involved a lot of drugs, sex, music, and mud. The question is, how is the original Woodstock festival compared to the way we have music festivals today? There are many ways in which they are similar but, there are also many things that are different. Woodstock has influenced modern rock festival production by the way the staging is done and the way the concert is put on, anti-war and political statements, and influenced crowd activity at current festivals.
The organizers of the Woodstock festival were four young men named John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Mike Lang. Roberts and Rosenman were looking for a way to make a lot of money so they could invest it in something. Then they met Kornfield and Lang who had an idea to beat a studio and retreat for rock legends to retire up in Woodstock, New York (Rosenberg). The idea turned into a two day rock festival in hopes that it would raise enough money to build the studio. The young men found a location in Wallkill, New York. The first of many things to go wrong was the location. The citizens of Wallkill didn’t want drugged out hippies walking all over their town. On July 2, 1969 the town of Wallkill passed a law that effectively banned the festival from there vicinity. Everyone that was involved with the festival was in a panic. Stores refused to sell any more tickets and some people were even demanding a refund. Luckily, with only a month and half left before the show, Max Yasgur offered up his 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York to be the location for the Woodstock Festival (Rosenberg).
They were very lucky to find a new location, but having to change venues really set some things back for the show. They still had to build a stage, parking lot, play areas for children, and food and drink stands. As the date got closer more problems came about. They estimated about 50,000 people would attend the festival but the new estimate jumped to 200,000 people. They now had to worry about making sure that they would have enough food and water from all the additional people that were going to show up (Rosenberg). Also troublesome was the last minute ban on off-duty police officers from working at the Woodstock Festival. A New Mexico commune known as the Hog Farm were hired as a “Peace Force.” The hog farmers were led by Wavy Gravy. As well as forming the peace force, the Hog Farm was also in charge of catering. They ordered in bushels of brown rice, buying 160,000 paper plates, forks, knives, and spoons and 30,000 paper cups. They fed between 160,000 and 190,000 people at the Hog Farm free kitchen, 5000 at a time (Forty). The Food For Love concession was running low on burgers so it raised prices from 25 cents to $1. Festival-goers saw it as capitalist exploitation, against the spirit of the festival, so burnt the stand down.
On Wednesday, August 13 there were already approximately 50,000 people camping near the stage. The people that arrived early had just walked in through the gaps that were in the fence. There was no way of getting those people out and they couldn’t fix the gate before all the concert was going to start so they were forced to make this a free concert. The news spread quickly that it was free concert and an estimated one million people headed for Bethel, New York. Police had to turn thousands of cars away. It was estimated that 500,000 people actually made it inside. Nobody had planned for this many people to come to the festival so the highway literally became a parking lot as people parked their cars on the side of the road and walked the rest of the distance to the festival. The traffic was so bad the organizers had to hire helicopters to shuttle performers to and from the stage. Despite all of the troubles of Woodstock the festival actually started close to the right time. On Friday evening, August 15, Richie Havens got up on stage and officially started the festival. Sweetwater, Joan Baez, and other folk artists also played Friday night (Rosenberg). With storm clouds approaching the crowd was urged “Let’s think hard to get rid of the rain.” A chant went up, “no rain, no rain, no rain.” But it didn’t help. At about midnight it started to rain, in the midst of Shanker’s set. He continued even though the rain wasn’t letting up, but he eventually had to stop after five songs. Rain continued to fall off and on throughout the event. All of the rain created a sea of mud and delayed many of the performances. Joan Baez famously sang ‘We Shall Overcome’ in a full on thunderstorm (White).
The music started up again on Saturday with bands like Quill and continued on until about 9 a.m. on Sunday morning. The day of psychedelic bands continued with such musicians as Santana, Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, and The Who, to name just a few. By the time Sunday rolled around everyone knew that the festival was winding down. Most of the crowd left throughout the day leaving only about 150,000 people for the last act of the festival, which was Jimi Hendrix. He finished his set early Monday morning with only about 25,000 people left at the festival. Despite all the long lines to get food, water, or use the toilet, Woodstock was a huge success. The organizers hadn’t realized yet that they had created the most popular event in music history, first they had to deal with their huge debt, over 1 million dollars, and the 70 lawsuits that had been filed against them. Luckily the Woodstock movie turned into a hit so the movie profits covered a large profit of the debt. By the time it was all said and done they were only 100,000 dollars in debt (Rosenberg).
Woodstock was an anti-war spectacle, but its message was diluted to the media. It was such a strong anti-war festival because it was during the time of the Vietnam War. Rather than focus on the political statements that were trying to be made the media chose to focus on talking about hippies, long hair, and nudity. Woodstock was a counterculture protest. The festival was known as “three days of peace and love” in contrast to the hatred and killing that was happening in Vietnam. Everyone that was selling tickets would make sure to point out that if you are buying a ticket to Woodstock you are supporting a united front against the Vietnam War. Many people got up on stage and made anti-war speeches, with country Joe telling the crowd that "if you want to stop this fucking war, you'll have to sing louder than that." Many of the movement leaders took the mike and made their anti-war protests and speeches. Some of the young men even destroyed their draft cards during the protests. Even with all of these things happening the media still chose to focus on the rain, the music, nudity, drugs, free love (History).
The festival back then reminded me a lot of the way we put on rock festivals today. The way that all the people and musicians gathered and all they cared about was the music. I feel that’s how we do rock festivals today. There was also a lot of nudity at Woodstock and there is also a lot at all the rock festivals that I’ve been to recently. Another thing that was similar between Woodstock and rock festivals today is people doing drugs. People did a lot of drugs at Woodstock. Marijuana smokers made up the majority of the crowd. There were also a lot of other drugs that were used to like LSD and heroin. Today mostly just marijuana is used at rock festivals. The anti-war and political statements that were made at Woodstock influenced rock festivals today in which there are political and anti-war statements made. Today there are many political movements protesting the war in Iraq.
A big thing that they did back then that really influenced us today was the way the concert was put on. The way that they set up a stage outside and just had a field for all these people to gather in. They really weren’t worried about seats for people. Before Woodstock all the shows that were put on were usually inside, where everyone had a seat and the crowd was usually pretty controlled and nobody got to crazy. At Woodstock there were no seats, everything was outside, and people were pretty much free to do whatever they wanted without consequence. They even went crowd surfing at Woodstock the same way we do at rock festivals today. That is very similar to the way that rock festivals are out on today. We set them up the same way that they did at Woodstock, outside, no seats, and people that go are wild.
Woodstock has now been long gone for over 40 years and yet singers like Richie Havens are still getting requests to sing the same songs that they sang at Woodstock. It’s amazing how one concert really could still have an effect on the concerts, and some of the music that we listen to today. One of the things that makes this festival so great isn’t the music, it’s the way that the crowd acted towards each other. Many people that were there said Woodstock was full of good vibes during a time of unrest during the Vietnam War. Ilene Marder was an 18 year old woman at the time of Woodstock, who hitch hiked all the way from the Bronx for the festival, saw people feeding one another in the crowd. She knew she had found her tribe. “The music was nice, but it was being with so many people who looked like us, who looked like me,” said Marder, who later moved to Woodstock some 50 miles away (40 years). That’s the way I feel when I attend concerts now. I feel like these are the people that get me because they listen to the same kind of music and enjoy the things as me. Almost like were all brothers and sisters. It’s not only these things that make Woodstock so unique, it’s the little things that effect how we go to concerts today. Woodstock showed us how to put on rock festivals. If it wasn’t for Woodstock setting the stages up outside and putting the crowd out in a field we might not have rock festivals today. We could still be inside sitting in a stadium sitting and cheers and just listening to the music calmly.
Even though there were so many similarities at Woodstock, there were also many things that were different. Some of the crowd activity was similar to what we do today but it was also very different. Today there is a lot of mosh pits today. I don’t think they really did that at Woodstock. They kind of just sat on the ground or stood and listened to the music peacefully. Today we are smashed up against each other jumping around, pushing each other, and just going crazy during most of the songs that are played. Pretty much everybody that went to Woodstock stayed there all three days and slept there on the ground or wherever they could find. They also took baths in the lake that was close by to the festival. Today people would get a hotel and stay there and drive to the show and they probably wouldn’t take baths in a nearby lake. They would wait until they got back to their hotel or until they got back home.
There were a lot of similarities at Woodstock compared to rock festivals that we have today. In my opinion none of them will ever match up to Woodstock. It was the greatest event put on in music history. From Lollapalooza to All Points West there have been many that are trying to be like Woodstock but there will always only be one Woodstock. None of the festivals we have today last three days, or have half a million hippies there ready to just listen to music and camp out outside. When you sit back and look at Woodstock you kind of get the chills thinking about Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner as the last song for everyone to listen to. It was a perfect way to end a festival where the main goal was peace and anti-war. Woodstock really was the greatest event in music history and I feel like it will be forever. To this day the field where Woodstock took place still remains for pop culture fans and historians to come stand where some of the greatest music legends of all time and 500,000 of their closest friends stood and changed history. Nothing will ever compare.