Woodstock began as a recording studio, but then spiraled into what we now know today as one of the defining factors of the 60’s. Two men, Michael Lang and Artie Kirnfeld had the idea to slap a recording studio in Woodstock, New York, but their business partners John Roberts, the man with the trust fund, and Joel Rosenman expanded that idea into a music festival. Although the event could have gone terribly based on the extreme left turns it took on many different occasions during that weekend, it was held together by the attendees who advocated for peace and proved themselves to a nation full of uncertainty and violence.
Despite the fact that Woodstock was founded as a capitalistic enterprise, the organizers, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Michael Lang, wound up 1.3 million dollars in debt (about 9 million dollars today). They started out by immediately searching for a venue and found one in Wallkill, New York, but local officials were spooked by the idea of a rock n’ roll music festival invading their town, so they passed a local legislation banning gatherings over 5,000 people, leaving these four entrepreneurs looking for another site. Once they found one in Bethel, New York, they weren’t left nearly enough time to finish the operation. Although the festival garnered over 400,000 attendees, most of them did not pay and since thousands of kids showed up days early for the festival, the coordinators had no choice but to prioritize the stage construction rather than the fences. This inevitably let in hundreds of thousands of young adults who didn’t have tickets, but regardless of the amount of people Woodstock remained peaceful and a perfect symbol of the counterculture of the 60’s.
It all started a week before the festival when young adults started showing up and camping on the unfinished construction site that was supposed to be Woodstock. They were nowhere near finished, ultimately deciding to finish the stage instead of the fence, which may have led to their financial downfall, but ultimately led to “An Aquarian Experience: 3 Days of Peace and Music,” which is what the festival was originally advertised as. Although Woodstock was ultimately a success in terms of pop culture and the goodness of humanity, the odds were definitely not in their favor as almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong at the festival, from traffic jams on day one to food shortages, to a raging storm on Sunday, but despite these things, or maybe even because of these things, attendees, workers, and even locals banded together to keep this thing on its feet and keep everyone safe.
It seems that every curve ball thrown at the festival ultimately turned into a home run. On day one Richie Havens went up first even though his set wasn’t scheduled until later that night, simply because he just showed up first. His bass player wasn’t even there. He did about four or five encores and created his hit song “Freedom” right there on the stage because he had nothing else to sing. From that point on the music didn’t stop. Bands were playing until dawn, Jefferson Airplane even performing at 6:30 on Sunday morning to a crowd of sleeping hippies. One of the most memorable performances had to be Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the National Anthem on Monday morning. Although most of the crowd had cleared after the storm on Sunday evening, those who stuck around were in for a treat as Hendrix captivated the crowd by encapsulating the divide the country was going through over the war in Vietnam. As one of the festival organizers said, “It was the devastation and the brutality and the insanity (of Vietnam).”
Everything about Woodstock was just inherently outlandish and unfortunate, but they made the most of it, as they say. After losing their first property in Wallkill, they also lost all legitimate options for food caterers and security detail. Because of this they hired Food for Love as their caterers (essentially just three guys making hotdogs) and the Hog Farm commune as security. By Saturday the food was scarce and the festival organizers were worried that the peace they had been witnessing would not last long if they didn’t have food. The locals from Bethel actually banded together though, taking food from their pantries, making sandwiches, hard boiling eggs, and flying the food to the festival grounds to feed to starving festival goers. The Hog Farm also did it’s part in maintaining peace and helping festival goers through bad trips in designated “Freak-Out Tents.” The leader of the commune, Wavy Gravy, did a great job keeping the peace and embodying what the festival was all about.
Although Woodstock was expected to be a massive failure, and in fact even looked like a massive failure to the outside world, it upheld it’s end of the deal and in the words of Max Yasgur, the man who owned the dairy farm Woodstock took place at in Bethel, New York, “I think you people have proven something to the world… The important thing that you’re proving to the world is that half a million kids… can get together and have three days of fun and music. And God bless you for it.” There were many trials and tribulations at Woodstock 69’ that fed into the idea that it was going to be a disaster, but what these things really did was symbolize the unity the festival unintentionally embodied. This festival proved, after many music festival disasters in the 60’s, that people could band together and help one another in times of need.