Fifty years ago today a music concert occurred in upstate New York in the small town of Bethel. This concert was of course Woodstock and it was a lot more than just a concert. In 1969 America was hopelessly divided with the Vietnam War going strong and any young man aged 18-26 was at risk of being drafted and sent to a jungle on the other side of the globe … The country was still reeling from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with riots in more than 100 cities from New York to Los Angeles … Robert (Bobby) Kennedy was murdered while he was running for President on an anti-war platform … The Democratic National Convention in Chicago was filled with protesters … Charles Manson’s cult was in full swing … but a glimmer of light happened a month before Woodstock when Neil Armstrong took “one small step” on the moon.
Woodstock was an occurrence that will never be repeated as 500,000 young people converged on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm for three days of music. Just think about a half-million young people in the hot August heat, mixed in with torrential downpours of rain, thrown together in a field with no parents, no police and drugs of all kinds … what could possibly go wrong?
Woodstock could have been a major disaster as roads (including the New York State Thruway) were forced to close, there were shortages of food, water and porta-potties, there were no hospitals, the weather was terrible with rain every day creating a sea of mud and the rain caused electrical problems on the stage. It’s believed that three people died: one from a heroin overdose, one from a burst appendix and one was accidentally run over by a tractor while sleeping. It’s also said that a baby was delivered during the weekend. Remarkable statistics considering a crowd of 500,000!
Concert promoter Michael Lang was hoping for a maximum crowd of 50,000 and was shocked at the turnout. Time Magazine called Woodstock “One of the significant political and sociological events of the century” … the New York Times said, “Woodstock was a phenomenon of innocence and a welcome ray of light”.
The concert featured 32 different music acts led by established artists like: Sly & The Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who and Jimi Hendrix. Woodstock also created superstars including: Richie Havens, Joe Cocker, Mountain, Crosby,Stills, Nash & Young and Ten Years After.
Despite all the problems and the fact that the festival itself was a financial disaster (saved only by the documentary Oscar-winning film by Michael Wadleigh and platinum record album) Woodstock will go down in history as the ultimate expression of the counterculture, the ideals of flower power and a symbol of peace and togetherness.