Did you attend Woodstock? Do you have tons of stories to tell anyone who will listen to your adventures during the three days of peace and music (and mud) August 15-18, 1969, at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York? Are your tickets framed in your home as proof of attendance?
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair was organized by four inexperienced promoters who nonetheless signed a who’s who of current rock acts, including Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, Ravi Shankar, and Country Joe and the Fish.
As an estimated one million people descended on Woodstock, organizers scrambled to add more facilities. Highways and local roads came to a standstill and concertgoers simply abandoned their cars and trekked the rest of the way on foot. Eventually, about half a million people reached the venue.
“As a result, many fans attended without paying for admission — which was $18 for the three-day festival, the equivalent of about $125 today.” That meant festival producers had even less money than expected to pay Woodstock’s performers, several of whom reportedly demanded twice their usual pay rate.
The event was rife with problems: Bands performed hours after they were scheduled (the Who went on at 5 a.m.); an anarchist group tore down the fencing so fans could attend free; two people died (one was run over by a tractor, one of a drug overdose). And there were the near misses: At one point, the main feeder cable supplying the fest with electricity became worn and exposed. With pools of rain drowning Woodstock, it opened the possibility for “mass electrocution.” Although the founders managed to avoid a catastrophe, the festival was one spark away from being remembered in a much darker light.
Rain turned the festival site into a sea of mud, but somehow the audience bonded—possibly because large amounts of marijuana and psychedelics were consumed—and the festival went on.
At least two babies were reportedly born at the festival – one in a car stuck in traffic to the site, and another born in hospital after its mother was airlifted from the site.
As a side note: Peanuts creator Charles M Schulz introduced a new character to the world of Peanuts in 1966 when a mother bird laid two eggs on a sleeping Snoopy’s stomach. One became his friend and companion – even featuring as the mechanic in the beagle’s fantasies about being a World War One flying ace. But it wasn’t until 1970 that Schulz gave the impish little character a name – Woodstock, inspired by the bird which perches on the neck of the guitar on the poster.
If you attended Woodstock, you may recall the opening Act, Richie Havens, played for three hours when other performers were delayed.
Joan Baez performed in the pouring rain while six months pregnant with her son, Gabriel.
Crosby, Stills and Nash performed together in public at Woodstock for only the second time.
John Sebastian, of The Lovin’ Spoonful, was not on the bill, but was enlisted to play Saturday afternoon when performers were running late.
Grateful Dead had their set cut short with stormy weather causing the amplifiers to overload as the band played.
The Who played several songs from their rock opera “Tommy.” Activist Abbie Hoffman famously grabbed a microphone as band members were tuning their instruments and was knocked off stage by guitarist Pete Townshend.
Although Jimi Hendrix was the festival’s headliner, of the half million who attended, only between 30,000 and 40,000 heard his performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at 11 a.m. Monday morning.
With the all-star lineup that did play, did you know which groups did not participate?
- Simon and Garfunkel (Working on new album)
- Led Zeppelin (The band’s manager turned it down; they didn’t want to share the stage with anyone.)
- Bob Dylan (Although Dylan had a home in Woodstock, NY, and famously recorded music with The Band in the area, he didn’t perform)
- The Byrds (Declined because, it is said, they didn’t think it was going to be that influential of a music event.)
- The Moody Blues (Planned to play – on original poster – but pulled out after being booked in Paris for the same weekend
- The Doors (According to Ray Manzerek in 1996, “We never played at Woodstock because we were stupid and turned it down.”)
- John Lennon (Unconfirmed reports said he was interested in playing Woodstock with one account saying he considered heading to New York from Canada but had a tough time getting back to the U.S.)
- Chicago Transit Authority, known later as Chicago (Although originally on the Woodstock bill, but they played a rescheduled show at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Santana took their place. Said one Chicago member in 2008, “We were sort of peeved at him [promoter] for pulling that one.”)
- The Rolling Stones
- Jethro Tull (Declined invitation because of it being touted as a “hippie festival,” with naked ladies, drugs, beer, and mud”)
- Jeff Beck Group (On the schedule, but Beck disbanded the group the night before they were scheduled to take the stage.)
- Iron Butterfly (On the festival bill; got stuck at the airport)
- Procol Harum (Declined because Woodstock fell at the end of a long band tour and guitarist Robin Trower was expecting a child)
- Free with Paul Rogers (Known for it “All Right Now,” asked to play, but band turned down invite)
- Iron Butterfly – demanded a helicopter that never came
- Joni Mitchell (Originally planned to perform, but her manager urged her to cancel so she could appear instead on “The Dick Cavett Show.” Her manager was afraid they’d get caught in Woodstock traffic and miss the TV appearance.)
Mitchell would later make up for it by writing the song “Woodstock” based on what her then-boyfriend Graham Nash said about playing the festival. The song, with the lyrics “By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong,” became a classic for Crosby, Stills & Nash.
- Roy Rogers – the act supposed to be the last on the bill
“Roy Rogers had turned me down,” co-organizer Michael Lang said in 2009 when launching the book, The Road To Woodstock. “I wanted ‘Happy Trails’ to close the festival. We all grew up with Roy Rogers.” Quite what Rogers would have made of it is unknown, however. “He was a Republican, he was pro-Vietnam War, he was the antithesis of everything we stood for,” Lang said.
Stay tuned for Part II, the bands that did play Woodstock, how much they were paid, and all about that couple on the cover of the Woodstock album.