On This Day

woodstock, joe cocker woodstock
Associated Press
Concertgoers surround the stage as Joe Cocker performs at the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in Bethel, N.Y., Aug. 17, 1969.

On This Day: Woodstock Music Festival Begins

August 15, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Aug. 15, 1969, half a million people descended on a dairy farm outside Woodstock, N.Y., to celebrate three days of music, marking one of the most important and legendary events of the 1960s.

Defining the ’60s

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The concert was the brainchild of four young New York City entrepreneurs: John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang. When the four had difficulty securing a venue around the town of Woodstock in upstate New York, Elliot Tiber, a resident of Bethel, N.Y., directed them to Max Yasgur, who owned a dairy farm in Bethel.

Yasgur allowed the concert, called the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, to be held on his farm, located about 43 miles southwest of Woodstock. They planned for a crowd of no more than 150,000; almost half a million would eventually show up.

Featuring a lineup of some of the era’s most popular folk and rock groups, the event kicked off early in the evening on Aug. 15 with a performance by Richie Havens, continuing long into the night with a finale by Joan Baez.

Even as the concert began, thousands more than expected made their way toward the farm, with and without tickets, clogging motorways throughout the state. Overwhelmed by the crowds, organizers eventually gave up on collecting tickets after fences were cut away and trampled, encouraging even more to make the journey.

With music starting each day around noon, the event hosted legendary performances by Carlos Santana, Janis Joplin, The Who, Credence Clearwater Revival and, most notably, Jimi Hendrix.

The event soon became as much about the crowd as the performers themselves, as a peaceful gathering of drug-addled music-lovers, hippies and activists, gathered together in the final days of the decade that had defined them.

As the moment when the special culture of U.S. youth of the '60s openly displayed its strength, appeal and power, it may well rank as one of the significant political and sociological events of the age,” wrote Time.

Ill-equipped to host such a crowd, the grounds were plagued by sanitary and food shortage issues, made worse by a series of downpours on Sunday, turning great swaths of the farm into fields of mud. Still, reports show few incidents of violence or death.

“Despite delays, the danger of electrical shocks and general backstage anarchy, Woodstock pulled off the ultimate magic act of the 1960s: turning utter rain-soaked chaos into the greatest rock festival ever and the decade's most famous and successful experiment in peace and community,” writes Rolling Stone.

After the show came to an end with a closing performance by Hendrix, Woodstock would live on thanks to the camera crew who gathered enough footage to create an Oscar-nominated documentary and soundtrack of the event.

The Legacy of Woodstock

Purchased from its original owner, the Bethel dairy farm was transformed into The Bethel Woods Center performing arts center and concert venue celebrating the spirit of the concert that made it famous. Opened in June 2008, the museum and amphitheater now plays host to a variety of performers, including some who played there in 1969.

In the years since, a number of organizers have sought to capture the spirit of the famous concert with smaller events held on the grounds in 1989 and 1999. Hoping to take the idea and brand to a larger audience in 1994, promoters scheduled a massive, multi-day concert under the Woodstock name. Though it was deemed a commercial, if not critical, success by most, a follow-up five years later was plagued by price gouging and violence, leading promoters to abandon other efforts.

Celebrated even today, the next homage to the groundbreaking music festival will come with the release of director Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock,” staring Emile Hirsch, Paul Dano and Liev Schreiber, detailing the events that led up to the concert.

More: Woodstock Remembered and Reassessed on 40th Anniversary
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