Woodstock poster
Location(s) United States
Years active Original festival held in 1969; namesake events held in 1973, 1989, 1994, and 1999.
Founded by Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld
Date(s) scheduled: August 15August 17, 1969, but overran to August 18
Genre(s) Rock and folk, including blues-rock, folk rock, jazz fusion, latin rock, and psychedelic rock styles. Alternative rock and rap were played at post-1969 Woodstock festivals.

The Woodstock Music and Art Fair was a historic event held at Max Yasgur's 600 acre (2.4 km²; 240 ha) dairy farm in the rural town of Bethel, New York from August 15 to August 18 1969. Bethel (Sullivan County) is 43 miles (69 km) southwest of the town of Woodstock, New York, which is in adjoining Ulster County.

To many, the festival exemplified the counterculture of the 1960s and the "hippie era." Thirty-two of the best-known musicians of the day appeared during the sometimes rainy weekend. Although attempts have been made over the years to recreate the festival, the original event has proven to be unique and legendary. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest moments in popular music history and was listed on Rolling Stone's 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll [1].

The event was captured in a successful 1970 movie, Woodstock; an accompanying soundtrack album; and Joni Mitchell's song "Woodstock", which commemorated the event and became a major hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.


Woodstock was assembled through the joint work of Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, and Artie Kornfeld. It was Roberts and Rosenman who had the finances, and who placed the following ad in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal under the name of Challenge International, Ltd.: “Young men with unlimited capital looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities and business propositions.” [2]

The stuff was noticed, and the four men got together originally to discuss a retreat-like recording studio in Woodstock, but the idea morphed into the festival as we have come to know it. There were problems among the four: Roberts was regimented, and knew what was needed in order for the venture to succeed, contrasted with the laid-back Lang who saw Woodstock as a new, relaxed way of bringing business people together[3]. There were further doubts over the venture, as Roberts wondered whether to consolidate his losses and pull the plug, or to continue pumping his own finances into the project[4]. His decision to continue with the project resulted in one of the most successful events in music history.

Woodstock was a profit-making venture, aptly titled "Woodstock Ventures". It only became a "free concert" after it became obvious that the event was drawing hundreds of thousands more people than the organizers had prepared for. Around 186,000 tickets were sold beforehand and organizers anticipated approximately 200,000 festival-goers would turn up[5]. The fence was purposely cut by the UAW/MF family in order to create a totally FREE EVENT, prompting many more to show up. Tickets for the event cost US$18 in advance (approximately US$75 [[1]] today adjusted for inflation) and $24 at the gate for all three days. Ticket sales were limited to record stores in the greater New York City area, or by mail via a Post Office Box at the Radio City Station Post Office located in Midtown Manhattan.

The four founders behind Woodstock Ventures made Warner Brothers an offer to make a movie about Woodstock. All Artie Kornfeld required was $100,000. It would appear that it would benefit Warner Brothers, as "it could have either sold millions or, if there were riots, be one of the best documentaries ever made," according to Kornfeld[6].

The festival came amidst military conflict abroad and racial discord at home. It was the biggest bash for the counterculture and is a reminder of the youthful hedonism and excess of the 60s. It was a culmination of what the counterculture meant - the bands appealed to the generation that was questioning the direction of American society. Many of the biggest artists of the 60s were at the Festival, and it was their influence on the youth that brought them together to a farm in Bethel to struggle against bad weather, food shortages and poor sanitation[7]. The site of Woodstock became, for four days, a countercultural mini-nation. Minds were open, drugs were available and love was “free”. It was a festival where nearly 500,000 "hippies" came together to celebrate under the slogan of “three days of peace and music”. At the time, it held the record for the largest music audience in the world until the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen in 1973 drew 100,000 more people. Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman crystallized this view of the event in his book, Woodstock Nation, written shortly afterwards. It also created a massive traffic jam and closed the New York State Thruway[8].

Although the festival was remarkably peaceful given the number of people and the conditions involved, there were two recorded fatalities: one from what was believed to be a heroin overdose; another caused by an occupied sleeping bag accidentally being run over by a tractor in a nearby hayfield. There were also two births recorded at the event (one in a car caught in traffic and another in a helicopter) and four miscarriages [9]. Oral testimony in the film supports the overdose and run-over deaths and at least one birth, along with many colossal logistical headaches. Furthermore, because Woodstock was not intended for such a large crowd, there were not enough resources such as portable toilets and first-aid tents.

Yet, in tune with the idealistic hopes of the 1960s, Woodstock satisfied most attendees. Especially memorable were the sense of social harmony, the quality of music, and the overwhelming mass of people, many sporting bohemian dress, behavior, and attitudes. [10]

After the concert Max Yasgur, who owned the site of the event, saw it as a victory of peace and love. He spoke of how nearly half a million people filled with possibilities of disaster, riot, looting, and catastrophe spent the three days with music and peace on their minds. He states that “if we join them, we can turn those adversities that are the problems of America today into a hope for a brighter and more peaceful future…”[11]

Sound for the concert was engineered by Bill Hanley, whose innovations in the sound industry have earned him the prestigious Parnelli Award. "It worked very well," he says of the event. "I built special speaker columns on the hills and had 16 loudspeaker arrays in a square platform going up to the hill on 70-foot [21 meter] towers. We set it up for 150,000 to 200,000 people. Of course, 500,000 showed up."

ALTEC designed 4 - 15 marine ply cabinets that weighed in at half a ton a piece, stood 6 feet straight up, almost 4 feet deep & a yard wide. Each of these woofers carried four 15-inch JBL LANSING D140 loudspeakers. The tweeters consisted of 4 x 2-Cell & 2 x 10-Cell Altec Horns. For many years this system was collectively referred to as the Woodstock Bins.

Performing artists and sequence of events


A stamp commemorating the original concert

Friday, August 15

The first day, which officially began at 5:08 p.m. with Richie Havens, featured folk artists.

Baez Source: Arthur Levy, annotator of the expanded editions of the 12 Joan Baez CDs on Vanguard

Saturday, August 16

The day opened at 12:15 pm, and featured some of the event's biggest psychedelic and guitar rock headliners.

  • Quill, forty minute set of four songs
    1. They Live the Life
    2. BBY
    3. Waitin' For You
    4. Jam
  • Keef Hartley Band
    1. Spanish Fly
    2. Believe In You
    3. Rock Me Baby
    4. Medley
    5. Leavin' Trunk
    6. Sinnin' For You
  • Santana
    1. Waiting
    2. You Just Don't Care
    3. Savor
    4. Jingo
    5. Persuasion
    6. Fried Neckbones
    7. Soul Sacrifice
  • Country Joe McDonald (without The Fish)
    1. The Fish Cheer
  • Canned Heat
    1. A Change Is Gonna Come/Leaving This Town
    2. Going Up The Country
    3. Let's Work Together
    4. Woodstock Boogie
  • Mountain, hour-long set including Jack Bruce's "Theme For An Imaginary Western"
    1. Blood of the Sun
    2. Stormy Monday
    3. Long Red
    4. Who Am I But You And The Sun
    5. Beside The Sea
    6. For Yasgur's Farm (then untitled)
    7. You and Me
    8. Theme For An Imaginary Western
    9. Waiting To Take You Away
    10. Dreams of Milk and Honey
    11. Blind Man
    12. Blue Suede Shoes
    13. Southbound Train
  • Janis Joplin (Performed two encores: Piece of My Heart and Ball & Chain)
    1. Raise Your Hand
    2. As Good As You've Been To This World
    3. To Love Somebody
    4. Summertime
    5. Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)
    6. Kosmic Blues
    7. Can't Turn you Loose
    8. Work Me Lord
    9. Piece of My Heart
    10. Ball & Chain
  • Sly & the Family Stone started at 1:30 am (3 encores. Actually played just before The Who)
    1. M’Lady
    2. Sing A Simple Song
    3. You Can Make It If You Try
    4. Everyday People
    5. Dance To The Music
    6. I Want To Take You Higher
    7. Love City
    8. Stand!
  • Grateful Dead
    1. St. Stephen
    2. Mama Tried
    3. Dark Star/High Time
    4. Turn On Your Love Light

Grateful Dead's performance was plagued by technical problems, including a faulty electrical ground and members Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir reported getting shocked every time they touched their guitars. Band performance footage was not included in the movie but Jerry Garcia appears in the beginning of the film holding a joint, saying: "Marijuana. Exhibit A."

Original woodstock poster

The Original Woodstock Poster with the Wallkill, New York location

Sunday, August 17 to Monday, August 18

Joe Cocker was the first act on the last officially booked day (Sunday); he opened up the day's events at 2 PM. His set was preceded by at least two unidentified instrumentals by The Grease Band.

  • Neil Young joined Crosby, Stills & Nash, but refused to be filmed; by his own report, Young felt the filming was distracting both performers and audience from the music. Young's "Sea of Madness," heard on the album, was actually recorded a month after the festival at the Fillmore East dance hall.

Cancelled appearances

  • The Jeff Beck Group was scheduled to perform at Woodstock, but failed to make an appearance because the band broke up the week before.
  • Iron Butterfly was stuck at an airport, and their manager demanded helicopters and special arrangements just for them. They were wired back and told, as impolitely as Western Union would allow, "to get lost", but in other words.
  • Joni Mitchell was slated to perform, but her agent informed her that it was more important that she appear on "The Dick Cavett Show" on Monday, with its national audience, rather than "sit around in a field with 500 people" Ironically, David Crosby & Stephen Stills as well as Jefferson Airplane (who all performed at the festival) also made it to the Cavett show. It was believed to have something to do with her breakdown at the Atlantic City Pop Festival two weeks before where she exited the stage in the middle of her third song crying because of the fans not listening to her sing. Though Mitchell was not present, she wrote and recorded the song "Woodstock" that was also a major hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
  • Canadian band Lighthouse was originally scheduled to play at Woodstock, but in the end they decided not to, fearing that it would be a bad scene. Later, several members of the group would say that they regretted the decision.

Refused invitations

  • The promoters contacted John Lennon, requesting The Beatles to perform. Lennon said that he couldn't get the Beatles, but offered to play with his Plastic Ono Band. The promoters turned him down.
  • Procol Harum were invited to perform but reportedly declined due to the festival happening at the end of a long tour, and because of the impending birth of Robin Trower's child; The band elected to pass on the festival to be back in England for the birth. The child arrived two weeks late.
  • The Doors were considered as a potential performing band, but cancelled at the last moment. Contrary to popular belief, this occurrence was not related in some fashion to lead singer Jim Morrison's arrest for indecent exposure while performing earlier that year; the cancellation was most likely due to Morrison's known and vocal distaste for performing in large outdoor venues. [12] There also was a widely spread legend that Morrison, in a fit of paranoia, was fearful that someone would take a shot at him while he was onstage. Drummer John Densmore attended; in the film, he can be seen on the side of the stage during Joe Cocker's set.
  • Led Zeppelin was asked to perform, their manager Peter Grant stating: "We were asked to do Woodstock and Atlantic were very keen, and so was our US promoter, Frank Barsalona. I said no because at Woodstock we'd have just been another band on the bill." "Led Zeppelin: The Concert Files", Lewis & Pallett, 1997, Omnibus Press, ISBN 0.7119.5307.4
  • Jethro Tull refused to perform; there are varying accounts of the reasons for this decision. One claim is that they thought it wouldn't be a big deal[citation needed]; Ian Anderson is reported to have said he "didn't want to spend [his] weekend in a field of unwashed hippies". [13] Another theory proposes that the band felt the event would be "too big a deal" and might kill their career before it started. [14]
  • The Moody Blues declined to perform, because they were booked for another event in Paris at the same time and decided to play there instead of Woodstock, a decision they later regretted. They were promoted as being a performer on the third day on early posters that listed the site as Wallkill.
  • Tommy James and the Shondells declined an invitation. Lead singer Tommy James stated later: "We could have just kicked ourselves. We were in Hawaii, and my secretary called and said, 'Yeah, listen, there's this pig farmer in upstate New York that wants you to play in his field.' That's how it was put to me. So we passed, and we realized what we'd missed a couple of days later."[15]
  • The Clarence White-era Byrds were given an opportunity to play, but refused to do so but they did perform at the Atlantic City Pop Festival held August 1,2 & 3, 1969, two weeks before Woodstock.
  • Paul Revere & The Raiders declined to perform.
  • Bob Dylan was in negotiations to play, but pulled out when his son became ill. He also was unhappy about the number of hippies piling up outside his house near the originally planned site. [16] He would go on to perform at the Isle of Wight Festival two weeks later. At the June 30, 1997 concert at Bethel Woods, the original site of the Woodstock festival, Dylan joked (just before he performed 'All Along the Watchtower' - a song associated with Jimi Hendrix but written by Dylan) "It's nice to be back here. Last time we played here, it was six in the morning. And it was a-raining. And there was mud in the field." [17]
  • Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention Quote: "A lot of mud at Woodstock. We were invited to play there, we turned it down." - FZ. Citation: "Class of the 20th Century", U.S. network television special in serial format, circa 1995.
  • Free were asked to perform and declined.
  • Spirit were asked to perform but declined and went on a promotional tour.

Media coverage and The New York Times


As the only reporter at Woodstock for the first 36 hours or so, Barnard Law Collier of the New York Times was almost continually pressed by his editors in New York to make the story about the immense traffic jams, the less-than-sanitary conditions, the rampant drug use, the lack of "proper policing", and the presumed dangerousness of so many young people congregating. Collier recalls: "Every major Times editor up to and including executive editor James Reston insisted that the tenor of the story must be a social catastrophe in the making. It was difficult to persuade them that the relative lack of serious mischief and the fascinating cooperation, caring and politeness among so many people was the significant point. I had to resort to refusing to write the story unless it reflected to a great extent my on-the-scene conviction that 'peace' and 'love' was the actual emphasis, not the preconceived opinions of Manhattan-bound editors. After many acrimonious telephone exchanges, the editors agreed to publish the story as I saw it, and although the nuts-and-bolts matters of gridlock and minor lawbreaking were put close to the lead of the stories, the real flavor of the gathering was permitted to get across. After the first day's Times story appeared on page 1, the event was widely recognized for the amazing and beautiful accident it was."

After the festival was finished Collier wrote another article about the exodus of fans away from the festival for the New York Times. He speaks of such a peaceful event considering the size of the crowd and listens to Dr. William Abruzzi’s (chief medical officer during the event) opinions that these were beautiful people. The weekend had become an incredible unification of youth. This opinion had seemingly rubbed off on several locals. Bus driver Richard Biccum described them as "good kids in disguise." [18].

The Abbie Hoffman incident

Prior to the festival, poet/activist John Sinclair, the leader of the White Panther Party and manager of the Detroit-based group MC5, had been convicted and sentenced to nine years' imprisonment in Michigan for marijuana possession, after giving two joints to an undercover police officer. [19] The sentencing caused considerable controversy, given the trivial amount of marijuana at issue, and led to various luminaries of the day taking up Sinclair's cause. Among these were John Lennon, who wrote and performed the song "John Sinclair", and who, along with his wife Yoko Ono, later headlined the Free John Now Rally rally at the Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor.

For his part, Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman decided on a somewhat more spontaneous course of action. At a brief lull during the Who's performance of Tommy, Hoffman, who had ingested LSD after working the past few hours at the medical tent [20], abruptly walked onto the stage and began addressing the crowd from Pete Townshend's microphone. He shouted, "I think this is a pile of shit! . . . While John Sinclair rots in prison . . ." [21]. Alerted to the disturbance, Townshend (who apparently had been too distracted to notice Hoffman ambling onto the platform), snarled at Hoffman, "Back off! Back off my fucking stage!" He then struck Hoffman with his guitar, sending the interloper tumbling. As the crowd let out an approving roar, Townshend returned to his microphone to add a sarcastic "I can dig it!" Following the conclusion of the next song, the short "Do You Think It's Alright?", Townshend issued a stern warning to those in attendance: "The next fucking person that walks across this stage is gonna get fucking killed, alright? You can laugh, [but] I mean it!"

Townshend later said he actually agreed with Hoffman on Sinclair's imprisonment, though he insisted he would have knocked Hoffman off stage regardless of his message. The incident can be heard in its entirety on unedited Woodstock tapes and bootleg CDs of The Who's performance. Additionally, an edited fifteen-second sound bite of the incident can be heard on The Who compilation set Thirty Years of Maximum R&B (Disc 2). The Woodstock documentary also depicts this event. (A short video clip of the incident has appeared on YouTube, however the few seconds featuring the actual Hoffman speech and Townshend's subsequent striking of Hoffman is inexplicably missing.)

In his autobiography, Hoffman, apparently unaware that the confrontation had been captured on audio, attempted to deny that Townshend had been riled into hitting him: "If you ever heard about me in connection with the festival it was not for playing Florence Nightingale to the flower children. What you heard was the following: 'Oh, him, yeah, didn't he grab the microphone, try to make a speech when Peter Townshend cracked him over the head with his guitar?' I've seen countless references to the incident, even a mammoth mural of the scene. What I've failed to find was a single photo of the incident. Why? Because it didn't really happen."

I grabbed the microphone all right and made a little speech about John Sinclair, who had just been sentenced to ten years in the Michigan State Penitentiary for giving two joints of grass to two undercover cops, and how we should take the strength we had at Woodstock home to free our brothers and sisters in jail. Something like that. Townshend, who had been tuning up, turned around and bumped into me. A non-incident really. Hundreds of photos and miles of film exist depicting the events on that stage, but none of this much-talked about scene.

The film

Main article: Woodstock (film)

The documentary film, Woodstock, was directed by Michael Wadleigh and edited by Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese, was released in 1970. Warner Brothers agreed to pay $100,000 for the film. So Wadleigh proceeded to round up a crew of about 100 from the New York scene. With no money to pay the crew he agreed a double or nothing scheme in which double pay was received if it went well whereas they received nothing if it bombed. The plot was simple, like a modern day Canterbury Tale, he strived to make the film as much about the hippies as the music, listening to their feelings about the times, the Vietnam War for example, as well as the views of the townspeople. To him this is what would make the film, not just the music[22].

It received the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. The film has been deemed culturally significant by the United States Library of Congress. In 1994, Woodstock: The Director's Cut was released, expanded to include Janis Joplin as well as additional performances by the Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, and Canned Heat not seen in the original version of the film.

Woodstock today


A man points to where the original stage stood in 1969.

In 1997, the site of the concert and 1,400 surrounding acres was purchased by Alan Gerry for the purpose of creating the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. It opened on July 1, 2006 with a performance of the New York Philharmonic. On August 13, 2006, Crosby Stills Nash & Young performed to 16,000 fans at the new Center — exactly 37 years after their historic performance at Woodstock. A new interpretive center dedicated to the Woodstock Festival and its meaning is scheduled to open in Spring 2009.[when?]

In August 2007, the 103-acre parcel that contains Max Yasgur's former homestead was placed on the market for $8 million by its current owners, Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson. [2] The home, barn, fieldhouse, and acreage, which are listed by Joshpe Real Estate of New York City, have been the site of frequent Woodstock reunions.[3]


Woodstock Plaque

A plaque has been placed commemorating the festival. The field and the stage area remain preserved and well kept in their rural setting. On the field are the remnants of a neon flower and bass from the original concert. In the middle of the field, there is a totem pole with wood carvings of Jimi Hendrix on the bottom, Janis Joplin in the middle, and Jerry Garcia on top. A concert hall has been erected up the hill, and the fields of the old Yasgur farm are still visited by people of all generations.

Woodstock backstage

The Woodstock stage area facing sloping field at Bethel Woods.


  • John Sebastian wasn't originally scheduled to perform. He was enlisted to perform when several of the acts were late in arriving because of the traffic going to the festival.
  • Richie Havens's song "Freedom" was totally improvised. He was called back for so many encores that he ran out of songs to sing, so he just picked up his guitar and started singing "Freedom". The song includes lyrics from the Negro spiritual, "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child".
  • Country Joe McDonald wasn't scheduled to perform the first day. He was forced into it because many of the acts that were scheduled to perform that day hadn't arrived yet. He also performed on Day Three with the rest of The Fish.
  • Michael Lang once said that his original idea was to have Roy Rogers close the festival by singing "Happy Trails".
  • The character named "Woodstock" from Peanuts was named after the festival (Woodstock's appearance was also modeled after the bird in the Festival logo).
  • Warren Buffet refers to his annual shareholder's meeting for Berkshire Hathaway as "Woodstock for Capitalists".
  • Billy Joel claims to have been there as a fan—not a performer—and said in an interview: "Rain, mud, b.o. and acid. You didn't miss anything."
  • There is a pub in West Didsbury Manchester which is named in honour of the festival and every summer holds a mini music festival.
  • Steven Tyler and Joe Perry also claim to have attended the festival as fans. They would play the 25th anniversary event with their band Aerosmith.
  • Joan Baez was six months pregnant when she performed at the festival.
  • While The Who were playing "See Me, Feel Me," the climax of the Tommy opera, the sun began to rise. After the final song, "My Generation," Pete Townshend tossed his guitar into the audience.


  2. Robert Stephen Spitz, Barefoot in Babylon, The Viking Press, New York, 1979, pg 13
  3. Robert Stephen Spitz, Barefoot in Babylon, The Viking Press, New York, 1979, pg 100
  4. Robert Stephen Spitz, Barefoot in Babylon, The Viking Press, New York, 1979, pg 113
  9. Barnard L. Collier, Tired Rock Fans Begin Exodus, New York Times, August 18, 1969
  10. Simon Warner's chapter "Reporting Woodstock" in the book Remembering Woodstock, Ashgate Publishing, Andy Bennett, editor, May, 2004.
  11. Robert Stephen Spitz, Barefoot in Babylon, The Viking Press, New York, 1979, pg 489
  12. The Doors decline Woodstock. Digital Dream Door (2007-01-26). Retrieved on 2007-02-01.
  13. Classic Rock Magazine; Issue 109; August 2007; Future Media; pp94
  14. Classic Rock Magazine; Issue 109; August 2007; Future Media; pp94
  15. Liner notes to Tommy James and the Shondells: Anthology (album #R2 70920); compilation produced by Bill Inglot and Gary Peterson; Rhino Records Inc.; pp8&12.
  16. Bob Dylan, Chronicles Volume One, p. 116
  17. Reviews of Dylan concert, June 30, 1997. Bob Links (2007-07-01). Retrieved on 2007-09-01.
  19. Robert Stephen Spitz, Barefoot in Babylon, The Viking Press, New York, 1979 pg 463
  20. Robert Stephen Spitz, Barefoot in Babylon, The Viking Press, New York, 1979, pg 463

See also

External links

Template:Notable Concerts