These days when you hear the words “music festival” what usually comes to mind are events like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Stagecoach. But before all of this, there was Woodstock. In 1969 “An Aquarian Exposition: Three Days of Peace & Music” was set to take place on a farm in upstate New York. During this incredible event over 32 acts performed in front of over 400,000 people. Not only was this moment known as a monumental part of music history (bringing about some of the best live performances ever caught on film), but it also captured the essence of an entire generation and helped bring an entire counterculture to the forefront of society.
The idea for the festival originally came from Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld as they were looking to raise money to build a recording studio in Woodstock, and after residents blocked their plan, organizers changed their location to Bethel, which is where the actual festival took place.
The first act to sign on to the show was a new group called Creedence Clearwater Revival. Promoters originally had a hard time getting other people to sign on, but once Creedence committed to playing, everyone else joined in. The festival drew such big names as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, Joe Cocker, and Jimi Hendrix, just to name a few. Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and the Jeff Beck Group featuring Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood were also all at one point set to take the stage, although in the end they never made it.
During the show, the weather was difficult at best and produced a massive amount of rain. Storm clouds rolled in, the rain poured down, and gatherers danced in the mud in the middle of a thunderstorm as Joan Baez sang “We Shall Overcome.” Throughout the event, artists were even warned there would be a risk of electrocution, yet they took the stage anyway. Performances such as Jimmi Hendrix’s “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” to this day are remembered as some of the most incredible music moments of all time.
There was a great sense of community while crowds surged and the estimated number of festivalgoers topped what was expected. However, the event had its moments of trouble. As concession stands ran low they raised their prices, and there were those in attendance who saw it as going against what the meaning of the festival was all about, so to protest, they burned one of the stands down. At one point a Jewish community center actually stepped in to make sandwiches and showed up to have the food distributed by nuns.
Throughout the years there have been four unsuccessful efforts to recreate Woodstock. One in 1979, one in 1989, one in 1994, and then one last time in 1999 which led to serious violence.
Not only has it proved impossible to recreate the festival, but the sheer magic of the moment and the power of that time is something that can certainly never be duplicated.
It would seem though that the same spirit of Woodstock lives on in some form with other modern-day festivals. One thing as a culture we can all take pride in is how such an event, rooted in creativity and love, helped to define such an important time in history.