When the organizers of Woodstock envisioned an outdoor concert, they wanted to go big and break a record set in Miami, Florida, that drew 40,000 concertgoers. They pre-sold 186,000 tickets, but more than double that amount showed up. Little did they know that their event in a tiny N.Y. town would become the most iconic music festival of all time.
A Girl & Her Pet Monkey Posing For A Photo
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair took place Aug. 15-17, 1969, in Bethel, New York, located in the Catskills Mountains. It was held on a 600-acre farm owned by dairyman Max B. Yasgur. Between 400,000 and 500,000 people attended. Peace and love was the theme, and despite so many people crowding into one area, no incidents of violence were reported.
Police did end up arresting 80 people; however, their offenses were largely drug-related (LSD, amphetamines, and heroin were popular ways to get high). Most of the concertgoers enjoyed smoking marijuana, but they were not apprehended for the act.
The Who Performed, But Bob Dylan Did Not
The original idea was not to have a music festival but to build a recording studio in Woodstock, New York. Several investors got together to create one in the community, which was known for the arts as well as famous musicians Bob Dylan, The Band, Jimi Hendrix, and more.
The investors switched course and planned a huge, outdoor rock concert instead. The name Woodstock was used because of its link to Bob Dylan, who didn’t actually play there. It’s unclear exactly why, but one of his children reportedly got sick and he may have gotten irritated after several hippies started congregating around his home in Woodstock.
Roads Were Blocked For Miles
Organizers of the festival were not prepared for the influx of people who attended. Many abandoned their cars after waiting too long in traffic and walked the rest of the way to the farm. Some people picked up hitchhikers and drove them in (and on top of) their vehicles. Woodstock Ventures, Inc. lost $1 million in revenue after spending $2.5 million for the festival but only collecting $1.5 million through ticket sales.
Organizers made their money back through film and music recordings. Thirty-three acts performed, including the Grateful Dead, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Joan Baez, The Who, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Even The Featured Acts Got Stuck In Traffic
Max Yasgur loaned his farm to festival organizers for $75,000. Local residents tried to persuade Yasgur to pull out of the event, but he refused. When the festival started on Friday, Aug. 15, the first scheduled performer, Sweetwater, was late due to traffic.
Richie Havens took to the stage instead at 5 p.m. He played for several hours and wasn’t allowed to leave until another musical act arrived to replace him. When he ran out of original songs, he did some Beatles covers and made up the song “Freedom.” Organizers used an Army helicopter to fly in other performers and finally relieve Havens.
Santana Performed, But The Rolling Stones & Joni Mitchell Opted Out
The Rolling Stones were asked to perform at Woodstock, but they couldn’t make it for a couple of reasons. Mick Jagger was in Australia filming a movie called Ned Kelly, and Keith Richards and his then-girlfriend Anita Pallenburg had just welcomed a son in London.
Joni Mitchell’s manager, David Geffen, persuaded her not to perform because he wanted her ready for an upcoming appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. Ironically, she performed on the program with guests David Crosby and Stephen Stills, who did end up at Woodstock. Stranger still, Mitchell wrote the song “Woodstock” based on her boyfriend Graham Nash’s experiences there.
Attendees Didn’t Have Enough Food
Because organizers had no idea so many people would show up, they ran out of a lot of essentials, including food. Fortunately, many people chipped in to help each other. A New Mexico-based commune called the Hog Farm attended the festival to “keep the peace” but quickly learned they were needed to supply food. They organized volunteers to help cook and serve the crowd.
A local Jewish Community Center also pitched in when they heard that concertgoers were going hungry. With the help of a nearby air force base, members transported thousands of sandwiches to anyone who needed sustenance.
A View From Above Shows The Enormous Crowd, Many Of Which Entered For Free
After hordes of people unexpectedly showed up to the festival, organizers were left with no choice but to let non-ticket holders enter for free. They lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. Organizers spent a massive amount hiring helicopters to drop off food, supplies, and transport the musical acts.
Another problem was that some artists were promised twice their typical pay to play at Woodstock. On Saturday night, many threatened not to perform if they weren’t paid in cash right then and there. Afraid of what would happen if the music stopped, organizer John Roberts used money from his personal trust fund to pay the bands and singers.
Grace Slick’s Iconic Woodstock Look
Grace Slick, the lead singer for Jefferson Airplane, is shown here enjoying the festival with a friend. A Forbes article commemorating the 45th anniversary of Woodstock reported that Slick greeting the crowd by shouting, “Morning, people. You’ve seen the heavy groups. Now you’ll see some morning maniac music.” It was 8:00 am and Slick wore a white fringed leather outfit.
Jefferson Airplane performed “The Other Side of This Life,” “Somebody to Love,” and “The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil,” among other hits.
Attendees Congregated Near ‘The Free Stage’
This photo shows a handful of men hanging out in front of a school bus used by the Hog Farmers near what was known as the “Free Stage.” The stage was an area for scheduled artists to jam and for attendees to use for open mic purposes. At one point during the weekend, the sky turned dark and stormy.
Trying to will the rain away, the crowd started chanting, “No rain, no rain, no rain.” But their efforts went unheeded. Five inches of rain fell in just three hours, and the place became a muddy mess. At one point during the deluge, Joan Baez sang, “We Shall Overcome.”
People Hugged It Out During ‘The Greatest Peaceful Event’
With an estimated 500,000 people on the farm at one time, Bethel turned into the third largest city in New York State that weekend. As we’ve already mentioned, festival-goers lacked basic amenities such as food, water, and access to bathrooms. As a result, NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller declared the place a disaster area.
There were a reported 5,162 medical cases during the event. Yet people took care of one another the best that they could, and some were very affectionate, like these three people hugging it out. Time magazine labeled Woodstock “The greatest peaceful event in history.”
Suspended Gongs Entertained Festival-Goers Near The “Free Stage”
In addition to listening to music, people entertained themselves in various ways at Woodstock. They hung out and relaxed, did controlled substances, and played with instruments such as the gongs set up near the “Free Stage.” But not everyone had a great experience at the upstate New York event.
Renowned Sitar player Ravi Shankar was one of the only Indian musicians to perform at the festival. Unlike most of his fellow musicians, he didn’t have a good time. In fact, he thought it was terrifying. He looked at the hordes of people covered in mud and likened them to water buffaloes in India.
Even Tractors Served As Resting Spots
Today, music festivals are as much about merchandising as they are about the artists. Everywhere you look there are t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other items for consumers to pay way too much for to remember an event. Woodstock had no such paraphernalia. The sole official souvenir were the programs, many of which were simply trashed following the festival.
People who worked at the event, including security and stagehands, wore t-shirts and jackets that featured the Woodstock logo. These are worth a few thousand dollars today because they’re really the only souvenirs from the event, unless you count bootleg items festival-goers sold on the sly.
Neither Rain Nor Traffic Nor Fear Of Electrocution Deterred Festival-Goers Or Performers
The Grateful Dead from San Francisco, California, bravely took the stage even though the festival experienced intense rain and flooding. The band performed while standing in ankle-deep water. Water mixed with electricity is never a good thing, and they felt some shocks when touching their guitars and microphone.
Performers were warned of the electrical problem, yet many of them played anyway, including Alvin Lee of Ten Years After. At worst, he thought being electrocuted would make him famous, and he reportedly said: “Oh come on. If I get electrocuted at Woodstock, we’ll sell a lot of records.” He wasn’t electrocuted.
People Died & There Weren’t Enough Bathrooms
With up to 500,000 people in attendance, it’s amazing that there weren’t more fatal accidents. Just three people died at Woodstock. Two of them overdosed, and one of them, who was just 17 years old, was killed after a tractor collecting trash ran over him while he slept in a sleeping bag.
Another issue at the festival was the lack of restrooms. Organizers set up only 600 toilets because they didn’t expect a crowd that large. That comes down to approximately one toilet for every 666 people. You can imagine how many people elected to do their business in other places instead.
Festival-Goers Watched From Various Vantage Points
It must have been an incredible feeling for the performers to get on stage and look out to see hundreds of thousands of people watching them. A Scottish folk quartet called The Incredible String Band said their appearance on the Woodstock stage was something they would never forget.
They recalled: “It was incredibly high and three out of the four of us had vertigo. Little flimsy dresses on the girls, acoustic guitars out of tune, the drums damp from the tent, it was like playing off the Forth Bridge to this sea of people cooking beans in the mud.”
An Oscar-Winning Film About The Festival Was Edited By Martin Scorsese
This photo depicts a man named Michael Lang riding his motorcycle through a camping area. Festival organizer Artie Kornfeld had the foresight to make a deal with Warner Bros. Studio to film the festival for a documentary. Recent NYU film graduate Marin Scorsese was tapped to help with the editing.
A whopping 120 miles of footage was shot over three days. Scorsese and a team of others successfully chopped the footage down into a three-hour film. It ended up winning an Academy Award and was extremely profitable; however, Scorsese and the filmmakers didn’t make much money off of the project.
The Theme Was Anti-War
Many festival-goers were against the Vietnam War. The man in this photo drove a Ford Mustang that he covered in antiwar rhetoric (such as “War is not healthy”) as well as messages of peace. While most protested America’s involvement in Vietnam, attendees would have struggled greatly without the U.S. military’s assistance.
The Army airlifted in food, medical teams and performers to the farm to help all the hippies with their needs. The crowd was told: “They are with us man, they are not against us. Forty-five doctors or more are here without pay because they dig what this is into.”
Blue Jeans Sold For $5, And A Food Stand Was Set On Fire
Some of the festival-goers were entrepreneurs. They sold a variety of items, from food to clothing. The man and woman in this photo were selling jeans for $5 as well as shirts, vests, tank tops, hats and other things–perfect hippie attire. It’s estimated there were 10 million yards of blue jeans and striped tees at the festival.
At one point, the Food For Love concession stand started running out of hamburgers. They increased the price from 25 cents to $1, and chaos ensued. People thought the capitalistic move was contrary to the festival’s purpose and burned it down.
Tents Were A Luxury
Thanks to the rain, mud, and overall uncleanliness of Woodstock, having suitable accommodations was a luxury for many people. That being said, most festival-goers hitch-hiked their way to see the bands, not caring if they slept under the stars or in the rain. some people even slept in the trunks of their cars!
This lady was lucky, and seemed to have a tent she was able to sleep under when the weather turned.
Many Festival-Goers Left Before Hearing Jimi Hendrix
This picture shows two shirtless men sitting in a van painted like the American flag. Most festival-goers headed home before Woodstock’s most iconic star took the stage — Jimi Hendrix. He was promised $200,000 (adjusted for inflation) to play. As the headliner, he was contracted to be the final performer.
By Sunday, the schedule had been completely upended, and acts wound up playing much later than planned. It was too late for Hendrix to play on Sunday, so his performance was bumped to Monday at 9 a.m. At that point, most attendees had left, and they never heard his legendary version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Festival-Goers Left A Mess Behind
Following the popularity of the 1969 event, many people pushed for the event to recur the following year. However, Yasgur had absolutely no interest in renting out the property again (and by the look of this photo, you can see why). The town of Bethel also put its foot down by enacting a law to prevent another Woodstock from taking place.
For the 25th anniversary, Woodstock ’94 was held in Saugerties, New York, about 10 miles from Woodstock. About 550,000 people attended, more than organizers predicted.