1969’s Woodstock Almost Didn’t Happen

Woodstock 50 was going to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the original Woodstock Music & Art Fair held in Bethel, New York. But after multiple setbacks—including venue relocations, production issues, and artist cancellations—the entire event was canceled two weeks before it was supposed to begin. The hindrances that prevented the 2019 event from coming to life are reminiscent of what happened 50 years ago, as the original festival almost didn’t happen either.

Fisheye view of a portion of the audience, which includes several photographers, during the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, Bethel, New York, August 1969. The festival ran from August 15 to 18.
Ralph Ackerman/Getty Images
Ralph Ackerman/Getty Images

The first Woodstock music festival was the brainchild of John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfield, and Michael Lang. They had hopes of building a recording studio and a rock-and-roll retreat, coming up with the idea of a festival in order to raise funds for it. The artsy town of Woodstock, New York was where the likes of Bob Dylan and other musicians of the time flocked to, so it was the perfect location. Top acts including Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, the Who, and many more were signed on to perform.

Though the promoters were inexperienced at what they were doing, signing all those big performers to the roster really got the ball rolling—but that’s when they ran into issues. The town of Woodstock and the nearby town of Wallkill refused to let them host the event in their areas. Woodstock might’ve been canceled if it hadn’t been for dairy farmer Max Yasgur, who at the last minute gave the promoters access to the 600 acres of land that he owned in Bethel, around 50 miles away from Woodstock.

200,000 people were expected to attend but when the gates opened on August 15, 1969, more than 400,000 festival-goers showed up. Eventually, the festival became a free event when organizers could no longer control the crowds, as people without tickets were simply walking in through gaps in the fences. Despite the overwhelming crowds, lack of bathroom facilities, first-aid tents, inclement weather, and traffic, Woodstock has set a standard for festivals that came after it.

In January 2019, co-creator Michael Lang confirmed that a fourth three-day Woodstock festival was going to happen the following August. But it wasn’t long before they encountered many roadblocks, primarily in getting permits and an official venue to host the event. The projected line-up was also controversial, as it included the likes of Miley Cyrus and Jay-Z performing alongside classics like Robert Plant and Santana. Regardless, it appears that “Three Days of Peace of Music” will remain a thing of the past.