The original Woodstock music festival is the stuff of legends. It defined a generation and triggered a shift in culture for at least a decade after the 1969 festival. Originally billed as “three days of peace and music,” the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair lasted for four days. It consisted of 32 acts and attracted the attention of more than 400,000 mostly young music fans. Despite being well-documented in an Oscar-winning film, there are some lesser-known facts about Woodstock you might be interested to know.
Woodstock Didn’t Actually Take Place in Woodstock, NY
The festival was named for the town where it was supposed to have occurred. However, there wasn’t a site big enough to hold it there. The search for a venue led to the town of Wallkill, NY. Local townsfolk got wind of the plans and didn’t want a bunch of “trouble-making hippies” invading their town. An ordinance was quickly passed that made it difficult to get a permit. Finally, about a month before the scheduled event, dairy farmer Max Yasgur volunteered the use of his property in Bethel, NY.
Richie Havens Wasn’t Scheduled to Be the Opening Act
Richie Havens was the first to perform because many other bands were stuck in the massive traffic jam caused by the influx of attendees. His iconic song “Freedom,” which closed his set, was actually improvised by necessity, as he was trying to fill time. When Havens died in 2013, his ashes were scattered over the original Woodstock site, on what would have been the 44th anniversary of the last day of the festival.
The Festival Wasn’t Supposed to Be Free
Initial tickets sold for Woodstock were $6 per day, or $24 for all three days if purchased on-site, and $18 if ordered in advance. The festival became free after flower children invaded in droves. There wasn’t even any official merchandise sold. Some people did leave with programs and some attendees sold stuff “on the down-low.”
It Was the Traffic That ‘Closed’ the Thruway
Folk singer Arlo Guthrie announced to the crowd that the New York State Thruway was closed; but that wasn’t exactly true. The main road to the farm appeared to be closed due to the massive number of people trying to get there. However, some exits were closed to discourage more people from clogging the thruway. At one point, New York’s governor considered calling in the National Guard, but was convinced not to do so. Some performers had to be airlifted in and out of the venue due to the traffic mess.
Many Concertgoers Missed Jimi Hendrix’s Set
Hendrix closed the show with a memorable set that included his iconic rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Yet, by the time he started his set on the unplanned fourth day at 8:30am, the crowd had significantly thinned out. Those who stuck around, however, were treated to classics like “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady.” He closed his set with an improvised performance and an encore of “Hey Joe.”
The site of the iconic festival remains almost the way it appeared back in 1969. The field and stage area have been preserved. The fields of the Yasgur farm still attract visitors. But there won’t be another Woodstock on the actual site since town rules were changed the year after the event to prevent such a gathering from ever happening again! Woodstock inspired similar concerts in 1994 and 1999 that coincided with anniversaries of the original festival. Even so, it’s the one and only 1969 Woodstock that is legendary.