October 16, 2009
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Woodstock: Forty years later

by Zachary Chay-Dolan, staff writer

Just a little more than 40 years ago, the plugs were pulled out of the amps, the stage was being pulled down, the garbage was being picked up, all right by a tiny little town in the Catskills. The clean up had taken over $150,000, and all the producers owed over $1 million. The traffic was blocked off for miles around, with 500,000 people trying to find their cars. The Woodstock festival marked the end of the 60’s and the culmination of the most influential counterculture movement in the history of the U.S., the hippies. Forty years ago, Woodstock happened.

Planing for Woodstock began in early 1969 when John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Michael Lang, and Artie Kornfeld sat together in a flat in New York. They discussed the possibility of a small music festival near the town of Woodstock, famous for being Bob Dylan’s adopted hometown. They began to search for an area to hold the festival but public opposition was difficult to overcome. They eventually settled on a large dairy farm near Bethel, New York, run by Max Yasgur, a conservative Republican in favor of the Vietnam War.

The producers began to put on a search for bands, which became much easier after Creedence Clearwater Revival agreed to play at the event. Eventually the producers would sign on such big names as Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, and The Band. The work soon began on forming a stage on the 15 acres of land they had received in Bethel.

Stage work happened at the absolute last minute, as the switch to the new farm venue had been decided only weeks before the actual festival. The producers were given a choice during the last few days prior, build a fence and expand security or finish the stage on time. The decision was soon taken out of their hands however, when the Up Against the Wall tore down the fence surrounding the festival and thousands of fans soon crowded in. Over 500,000 people were estimated to have attended, and traffic was blocked up for more than 10 miles all along New York Route 17B.

Jimmy Hendrix by Elise Polentes
illustration by Elise Polentes
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The concert finally began at 5:07 p.m. on Friday, August 15, with Richie Havens playing for an almost three hour set while the producers waited for bands to arrive. The traffic jam had caused logistical problems, so the festival producers had to find a fleet of helicopters in order to bring the bands to the festival. The second act, Sweetwater, was brought in by a U.S. army helicopter.

After the first day of folk music, the stage remained filled with bands through the whole night and into the next day. Woodstock’s producers lengthened the time of almost all the sets in order to make sure that the stage always had a performer, as they were afraid that the audience would riot if the stage was empty. Saturday was filled with some of the most popular psychedelic bands of the time, and went deep into the next morning. The Who performed 25 songs, includi ng a complete play of their album, “Tommy.”

The music continued into Sunday and Monday, finishing with Jimi Hendrix’s performance of “Hey Joe.” By the end of Hendrix’s set more than 420,000 people had already left, 2 people had died, and at least 2 babies had been born.
Woodstock had, overall been a staggeringly successful concert, considering that no rioting had occurred, no murders had happened, and there was only one drug overdose. The communal food system that was set up was able to easily expand to accommodate the huge number of new fans. The security force had little problems, besides the widespread drug usage, which they had no chance of stopping. By the end of Woodstock, the entire area smelled of marijuana, and thousands had taken acid over the weekend. Woodstock had established a mini-city where there were essentially no rules.

The real success of Woodstock was that it proved that the hippie movement’s goal was possible, that 500,000 people could get together and listen to music, feed themselves, all while on an exorbitant amount of drugs. It proved that peace and love were concepts that could actually happen. Woodstock changed what was possible and defined the most powerful youth counterculture movement ever.



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