Here’s a throwback to where it all began – 42 bands and 40000 beautiful people coming together for three days of peace, love and music.
It’s been exactly 46 years since the world’s most iconic festival took place in the quaint countryside of Bethel Woods, New York. A festival so famous and important that it has often been referred to as a turning point in the counterculture revolution of the 60’s.
On August 15th, 1969 Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel Woods, New York transformed into the venue for what will be later be known as the ‘A moment that changed Rock’n’Roll history’. Initiated through the efforts of the enterprising and young Michael Lang, John Roberrs, Joel Rosenman and Artie Kornfeld – Woodstock was hardly the ideal and well organised music festival that we’re accustomed to today. However, one must understand that it was one of the first efforts ever made to organise an event that large. Bringing together 42 bands to play on the same stage, over three days for little or no pay, was no walk in the park.
The festival was ideally supposed to be a money making project, as attendees were initially asked to pay an entry fee. However, as the festival progressed gates were crashed and fences were broken to the point at where the organisers had to officially deem the festival a free-for-all event.
The moments :
Great musical moments were the glue that kept people sane and together amidst the water and food shortages, hot and mucky weather and overall chaos. Oddly enough, industry bigwigs and so-called champions of the hippie movement like Bob Dylan and The Beatles declined to attend the event. This, in turn lead to the exposure of some other talented artistes like Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Joe Cocker.
Jimi Hendrix and The Star Spangled Banner
Jimi Hendrix’s electrifying version of The Star Spangled Banner was one of those defining moments. You have to understand people’s mindsets, the time and the place when Jimi Hendrix decided play what he did. There was much dissolution and rage against the war in Vietnam, which Hendrix fed off as he dived into the literally ‘electric’ version of American national anthem. His version was made to feel like you’re hearing machine guns and bombs exploding quite similar to what teenage soldiers in Vietnam were dealing with. As performance that perfectly encapsulated and defined what Woodstock stood for, even today, it is remembered as one of the most historic moments in rock music.
Country Joe & The Fish – I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag
Country Joe & The Fish went on stage right after a massive downpour, that left the audience muddy and drenched thus proverbially dampening the mood of the festival. However, Country Joe managed to lift their spirits with a pretty cheery crowd chant of F-U-C-K that gave way to ‘I Feel Like I’m Fixin To Die Rag’ – an antiwar tune that really got the crowd to sing along. This reflected the American youth’s disenchantment with what was happening in Vietnam. Just watch how he commanded that crowd.
Joe Cocker’s cover of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’
The Beatles didn’t show up, but Joe Cocker and his band played one of the most iconic and soulful covers of “With a Little Help From My Friends” effectively capturing the attention of every single person at the festival.
It was crazy, dirty and yet unbelievably peaceful :
It truly was a magical festival. During the three days of constant music and love with around half a million people at the venue, there were no reported incidents of violence. Pot, hashish, hallucinogenic drugs and drug paraphernalia were available to buy which lead to around 400 reported bad LSD trips. There were a few arrests, the traffic jams were particularly hellish, there was a shortage of food and yet still no crowd violence.
Apart from the fact that little hippie families brought their little kids along to join the madness, there were various reports of heavily pregnant women being rushed to nearby hospitals to deliver. John Sebastian, vocalist of Lovin’ Spoonful even announced from stage, “Some cat’s old lady just had a baby, a kid destined to be far out!”
Apart from the amazing moments, some pretty humane and incredible things took place at Woodstock. When the event was forced into being deemed a free event, thousand of people descended upon the 600 acre farm, for which food and drink provisions obviously hadn’t been accounted for. So when we say there was a shortage of food at the festival, that would be quite the understatement. The festival ran out of food on the very first day, leaving people hungry enough to resort to drinking milk straight out of cows they found on the farm. After appealing to neighbourhoods around the venue, members of the Monticello Jewish Community handed out sandwiches made out of 200 loaves, 40 pounds of meat & two gallons of pickles. This was quite a heart-warming moment between the neighbouring conservative towns and the so-called dirty and debauched hippies who made the festival.
How Woodstock ’69 is remembered :
There have been various failed attempts to recreate the magic of Woodstock, one of which turned out to be a riot-filled debacle i.e. Woodstock 99.
However, Woodstock ’69 was well documented in the various photographs, books, movies (Taking Woodstock) and a brilliant documentary as well.
Photographs by Rolling Stone magazine’s first photographer Baron Wolman were perhaps the best at capturing the spirit of the festival. Little did he know that the festival he was taking pictures of would eventually become a legendary event, pictures that offered insight for generations to come into this extraordinary gathering of people.
(There’s lot’s more to learn about this wonderful gathering. Heading over to The Sherp’s special Celebrating Woodstock category for pictures, themed posters and much much more!)