Woodstock: The 1969 Music and Art Fair
RollingStone described The 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair as one of "50 Moments that Changed the History of Rock & Roll." Ironically, the Rolling Stones were not invited, but the four day event was otherwise known as An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music, or simply The Woodstock Festival. Yet, despite the event's pivotal place in the history of rock and roll music, most people who spoke of the festival when I was a child mentioned it in scathing or hushed tones. This obviously made me initially curious of the event and its true history.
The Woodstock festival consisted of more than three days of free concerting in a natural amphitheater on a 600-acre farm in Bethel, New York. The event officially kicked off just after 5:00 P.M. on the night of August 15 with Richie Havens performing "Freedom," and it continued until about 8:30 A.M. on the morning of the 18th, when Jimi Hendrix ended the festivities with the now-immortalized (and improvised) version of The Star-Spangled Banner. A concert day always consisted of a late night that sometimes stretched into an early morning of continuous concerting. It rained some over the weekend, leaving the area a mud-soaked mess with a complete lack of facilities. Food was also scarce at the festival, because planners had only anticipated a crowd of 200,000 people to show up. This made for some pretty poor concerting conditions, and the "city" had to be saved by National Guard helicopter flights of food and medical supplies. Amazingly, no major unrest or violence was recorded at the event.
The movie and documentary Woodstock was released in 1970, and provides some valuable footage and insight into the experience of the festival. Central to the event and the era was the hippie culture, which used the concert as a platform for their ideas; the central idea of hippie culture was free love, which can be summarized with the following quote: "If it feels good, do it, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else." (Sara Asheroff: 4; Lehigh University, May 2000, http://www.lehigh.edu/~ineng/jac/jac-sara4.htm). This, then, is the idea that provoked decades of hushed grumbling about the rampant sex, and decadent, mud-soaked naked human beings which came together and lost all sense of humanity. But while drugs and sex were obviously present and accounted for at Woodstock, many argue that the event is improperly remembered as a gigantic sexual orgy.
The exact nature of drug use and intercourse engaged in at Woodstock obviously varied with the individual. Those who were interested certainly participated in one or both, but the average Woodstock concertgoer's involvement in sex and drugs is not entirely clear. What is known is that it did happen, and it got people talking about drugs and sex. Woodstock was certainly not the only social change during the 1960's and 1970's, but its role in the revolution of thought regarding sex cannot be ignored. A long-term lens can be applied to this theory: in the 1950's drugs and extramarital sex were taboo, and the national culture's opinion of these activities was strong enough that those who imbibed or engaged in these activities were frequently ostracized. Today, "serial monogamy" (having one sexual partner at a time, without marriage) is a common practice, and while not every American subculture has a high opinion of it, a tolerance of it exists that cannot be ignored. Opinions of drug use have actually been slower to evolve, but an examination of these ideas offers an ability to see Woodstock as one link in a chain of cultural change regarding thinking of drugs and particularly sex.
Reports vary about the exact number who attended Woodstock, but the actual number was believed to be somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000. About 100,000 tickets were sold, but this idea was quickly abandoned as an immense crowd of people piled into the area near Bethel. The road access was so swamped that artists were forced to take helicopter rides from a local airstrip in order to make it to the festival. David Crosby had this to say about the event: "We flew in there by helicopter and saw the New York State Thruway at a dead stop for twenty miles and a gigantic crowd of at least half a million people. You couldn't really wrap your mind around how many people were there. It had never happened before, and it was sort of like having aliens land."
Woodstock was the brainchild of Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang. These two combined their efforts with venture capitalists John Roberts and Joel Rosenman to create Woodstock Ventures in an attempt to create a festival and recording studio near Woodstock, New York. The festival was put on hold when local citizens became angry and exerted political will to force the venture out of town, but was saved by the relocation to nearby Bethel on the now-famous property of Max Yasgur, a White Lake dairy farmer. Notable artists such as Santana, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, and many others performed at the festival. Many who did not perform there expressed regret after they heard about how huge Woodstock was. One artist, Joni Mitchell, even wrote a song about it after she was encouraged by her manager to appear on The Dick Cavett Show instead of going to the festival. The song was appropriately titled "Woodstock."