August 15, 2018 marks the 49th anniversary of the legendary Woodstock Festival.
On an unusually hot August 15, 1969, an estimated 400,000 young people descended on the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in Bethel, NY to hear sets from Richie Havens, CCR, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, Joe Cocker, The Band, and dozens of other acts. By the end of the festival 4 days later, Bethel had unofficially become the 3 rd largest city in the state of New York, and rock n’ roll changed forever.
Nestled in the Catskill mountains of southern New York State, at a quiet dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur, Woodstock was conceived by its amateur organizers as a weekend festival. With no place willing to agree to lease out the required space to hold the festival, and no performers willing to sign on to the event, progress was slow in the beginning stages of organizing the festival to the point where it was almost cancelled before it began.
The first band to commit to Woodtsock was CCR.
Finally, and against the local resident’s wishes, Max Yasgur agreed to lease out his dairy farm to host the event. Creedence Clearwater Revival was the first act to sign onto the festival, which set off a chain reaction, and soon a lineup of 32 acts were booked and ready to perform.
Leading off the festival was Richie Havens who walked out on stage at approximately 5pm on Friday, August 15 th. Following his set was 3 more days of absolute mind blowing rock and roll, mud, rain, and absolute chaos amplified by the rising anti-government, anti-Vietnam war counterculture consuming America’s youth.
As Woodstock went into full swing, it became an unintentional free concert. One-hundred and eighty-six thousand tickets were sold in the greater New York City area (via record stores or by mail), but as concert goers without tickets were denied entry at the gate, they broke into the event with little resistance from the scant security team. Rain created mud puddles across the field where people danced, and concertgoers of all kinds were climbing over sound equipment and more to get a better view of the stage to see the artists perform.
Jimi Hendrix delivered a legendary set.
To close the festival on Monday morning around 9:00 A.M., Jimi Hendrix gave what would become one of the most impressive and iconic moments in rock music history with his psychedelic rendition of the U.S. National Anthem. From there, he broke out into a 2-hour set including “Hear My Train A-Comin’,” “Foxy Lady,” “Red House,” and other now-classics.
While Woodstock wasn’t the first music festival, it was the ultimate demonstration of the power of rock n’ roll to inspire and unite an entire generation. It gave rise to the well-known mega-tours and music festivals we know today like Bonnaroo, Governor’s Ball, and Lollapalooza, with now multi-city tours filling up stadiums from Wembley in London to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
After the concert, Max Yasgur saw Woodstock as a victory for peace and love. After all, half a million people and no security was a recipe for disaster and catastrophe. But it never happened. Instead, they spent three days with music and peace on their minds. He said, "If we join them, we can turn those adversities that are the problems of America today into a hope for a brighter and more peaceful future."
Check out this Woodstock t-shirt from Rocker Rags here.