Woodstock Music and Art Fair, held in the Catskill Mountains of New York's
Sullivan County, showcased a veritable who's who of the top performers of
rock, folk, and progressive popular music during the Sixties era. To this
remote location was attracted an audience estimated at between a quarter
and a half-million mostly young people from all over the country. For the
three summer days over which it was held, the Festival site was said to
constitute the Empire State's second most populous city. The site itself
had been selected by the Festival's organisers because it comprised a natural
amphitheatre that afforded decent acoustics and unobstructed sight views,
plus plenty of space for camping on the grounds.
festival was supposed to have begun at 3:00 p.m., but Sweetwater (left),
the first band scheduled to go on, was stuck in traffic with all of its
equipment. A helicopter was dispatched to find them and airlift them to
the stage. Various means were used to amuse the crowd in the meantime. One
of the Hog Farmers, Tom Law, sat in the lotus position on the centre of
the stage and led those who were willing, among the 100,000 gathered in
front of him, through a series of yoga exercises.
When the festival started a few hours later, the first performer on stage was Richie Havens. He greeted the crowd by loudly observing, "We've finally made it! We did it this time -- they'll never be able to hide us again!" He later wrote in his memoirs: "We were there because we felt good about ourselves, happy to be in the same place with so many brothers and sisters who shared this common bond. We were there to look at each other, meet each other, identify our support for each other. We were there to celebrate. We would share this experience the rest of our lives".
was the notable lack of violence among the festival-goers. Because nothing
had been organised on this scale before, the Woodstock Festival took on
the aspect of a high stakes experiment where both the organisers and those
in attendance grasped the need to improvise solutions to the many challenges
they were faced with. Festival-goers reported feeling a sense of accomplishment
and exhilaration that together they found solutions to these challenges.
Later festivals tended to be better organised because of the Woodstock experience
and, when they were not, crowds tended to be much less willing to put up
with conditions they found wanting.
In 1969 rock critic Ellen Sander appraised the impact of the Festival this way: "No longer can the magical multi-coloured phenomenon of pop culture be overlooked or underrated. It's happening everywhere, but now it has happened in one place at one time so hugely that it was indeed historic .... It was major entertainment news that the line-up of talent was of such magnificence and magnitude (thirty-one acts, nineteen of which were colossal). These were, however, the least significant events of what happened over the Woodstock weekend. What happened was that the largest number of people ever assembled for any event other than a war lived together intimately and meaningfully and with such natural good cheer that they turned on not only everyone surrounding them but the mass media and, by extension, millions of others, young and old, particularly many elements hostile to the manifestations and ignorant of the substance of pop culture."
Woodstock was the culmination of a transformation in American popular music that had begun with Monterey. The Monterey Pop Festival introduced the emerging acid rock bands of the San Francisco Bay Area to a wider audience estimated at 50,000 people as well as to influential record executives and producers from New York and Los Angeles. Woodstock introduced the same wide diversity of talent, albeit on an expanded scale, to a truly mass audience and not just to those who attended the Festival. A subsequent documentary film (the Academy Award-winning 3-hour long Woodstock, directed by Michael Wadleigh and released in March 1970) and several sound recordings helped establish what had, only two years before, been underground or avant-garde musical styles and ushered them into the mainstream.
What is apparent is that, although the original Festival can never be duplicated, the very notion of Woodstock retains an enduring grip upon many people's imagination. Woodstock as an idea is portable. Indeed, the 1969 Festival had been shifted from place to place in search of a site, before landing in Bethel. While festivals bearing the Woodstock name may continue to be held elsewhere and succeed by drawing on the cache of the original 'Aquarian Exposition', the Yasgur Farm site will no doubt maintain its vaunted status as the authentic location of one of the Sixties' most celebrated events.
All the above text is edited from the longer and more informational 'Statement on the Historical and Cultural Significance of the 1969 Woodstock Festival Site' authored by Michael Wm. Doyle Ph.D., Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana for Allee King Rosen & Fleming, Inc., on behalf of the Gerry Foundation, Inc.
The original in full (also in .pdf format) and much, much more on the event, history and culture of Woodstock is available on the amazing and truly interesting site: The Woodstock Preservation Alliance Archives
dedicated to the Historic Preservation of the Site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, The Woodstock Site, Hurd & West Shore Road, Sullivan County, Bethel, NY
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