Something unusual happened on August 15th, 1969. Something that has become legend in American pop culture. Wrapped in the fantasies of four decades of baby boomer memories and shrouded by the mists of an entire generation of flower children, a simple music festival became a major part of American pop culture history.
Originally billed as "An Aquarian Exposition" and slated for the dates August 15th through the 17th, it turned into four days (ending on the 18th) of free music and free love that became the Music Camelot to peaceniks and hippies the world over. Thirty two bands and singers ended up performing on that stage in Max Yasgur's farm in Sullivan County, New York in what would become the greatest music event ever. We were stardust, we were golden, we were at Woodstock.
Nearly half a million people attended and I accidentally became one of them. The summer of 1969 had already been a memorable year for me, I graduated from high school and then I watched as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I did not consider myself a hippie, I was simply an eighteen year old girl living in "interesting times" and trying to grow up. I was having some difficulties with that and some issues with my parent's vision of my future when a couple of friends invited me to "drop out of all that establishment stress and go to this groovy concert we heard about in New York". With nothing better to do before starting college the next month and never having been to the Big Apple I said, "why not?", packed my duffel bag and hopped into their "Magic Bus" on August 11th, 1969.
All Aboard The Magic Bus
It took us four and a half days to get there and we were late. By the time we arrived the "impromptu" concert was already packed with what looked like half the hippies in the country and they were stoned, dancing, painted up and decked out in feathers, beads, flowers and fringe or just plain naked as a jay bird. The visual experience itself was almost psychedelic and the smoky haze of thousands of joints brought another level of "alternate reality" to the impact. It had also rained and we were standing in mud that promised to suck the shoes off our feet, which is probably why most people were barefoot. Instead of seeing the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty I had landed smack dab in the middle of the biggest, muddiest, most epic party of modern history. I was scared to death and excited at the same time.
Wax nostalgic all you want about it, the fact of the matter was Woodstock was an outdoor concert, held on a rain soaked weekend, on a cow field that turned to mud, with no bathrooms, no food stands and no real emergency facilities that was filled with half a million stoned, cavorting teenagers whose only thoughts were sex, drugs and rock and roll. It also had the best line up of music legends ever assembled in one place at one time. It was a once in a lifetime event and it was phenomenal.
I'm not going to tell you Woodstock changed my life because it didn't. I'm not going to give you a blow by blow of my three and a half days in a hot and cold, muddy, upstate New York cow pasture. Except for the music I was kind of miserable but, as I look back forty years later, I am glad I went. I was a part of history and part of something magical, even though I couldn't see it at the time. I may not have enjoyed the marijuana hazed air, the mud, the lack of decent facilities or the lack of food and I might not have been able to see half the now famous acts (though I did shove my way up for Janis, Jimi, CCR and a few others) but I can say I was there when it happened.
No, Woodstock did not change my life, but it took a good chunk of the "midwestern" out of me. I was never a "merry prankster" or a hippy/flowerchild and attending Woodstock did not turn me into one. But I will tell you this, when I get to heaven and Jimi Hendrix asks me, "are you experienced?" I can answer "Yes."
"By the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong":
Some Interesting Woodstock facts and trivia:
- Rolling Stone magazine listed it in their 50 moments that changed Rock and Roll History
- Woodstock took place in Bethel, New York - not Woodstock.
- Woodstock was not an "impromptu" event - it was planned and the men behind the magic were Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, and Artie Kornfeld.
- Woodstock was planned as a money making event and only became a "free concert" after the crowd grew too large for the originally anticipated and hoped for crowd of 200,000.
- Some people actually paid for this "free concert" - nearly 186,000 tickets were pre sold for $18. The price at the gate was supposed to be $24.
- The UAWMF purposely cut the fence and turned it into a free concert. You might want to click that acronym to find out exactly what UAWMF is - anyone else remember them?
- The massive numbers showing up ended up closing down the New York State Thruway.
- There were two recorded deaths (one from a purported heroin overdose and another from an occupied sleeping bag accidentally being run over by a tractor in a nearby hayfield) and two births at the event.
- The concert was originally planned to take place in Mills Industrial Park. Can you imagine Crosby Stills and Nash singing a song entitled: Mills Industrial Park?
- The original location was chosen partly in hopes of lulling Bob Dylan (who lived nearby in the actual town of Woodstock!) out of seclusion - it didn't work (see below)
The Woodstock Music Acts in order of their appearance:
The Incredible String Band
Keef Hartley Band
Country Joe McDonald
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Janis Joplin and the Kozmic Blues Band
Sly & The Family Stone
Country Joe and the Fish
Ten Years After
Blood, Sweat & Tears
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Sha Na Na
Those you might think were there but weren't:
The Moody Blues
Sign posts at The Haight
Sign posts at The Haight