The History Of Woodstock

Held August 15th to the morning of the 18th, 1969, the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair is one of the finest and most important moments in the history of rock and roll. Problems plagued the event from its inception: unwilling townspeople, weather, sanitation issues, and more were all obstacles to overcome. But prevail they did, and the result was spectacular. Today, the site is marked with a plaque commemorating the festival that has never since been successfully recreated. In this video, WatchMojo.com learns more about this momentous event, by discussing its planning, execution and, of course, its music.
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The History of the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival


There are many events emblematic of hippies and the counterculture of the 1960s. One of the most important and well-known was the Woodstock Music & Arts fair. At the time of the event, the United States was steeped in racial discord and military conflict overseas. Woodstock was not simply a music and arts festival; it morphed into a counter-culture microcosm.

At the outset, hippie rock promoters Michael Lang’s and Artie Kornfeld’s vision was for an isolated recording studio planted in the middle of a forest. John Roberts and Joel Rosenman were instrumental in the evolution of the idea from studio to outdoor concert, but were also the moneymen behind the event. Since Woodstock cost well over two million dollars to put on, these venture capitalists were important.

The event was held on a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur in Bethel, New York, from August 15th to the 18th, 1969. The land was a perfect natural venue – the stage was set at the bottom of a hill, allowing viewers sitting far away to at least catch a glimpse of the performers. At the bottom of the slope was a pond, which became a popular place for skinny-dipping.

While the event was opposed by local townspeople from the get-go, eventually legal problems were solved and planning went ahead.

Engineering a sound system for the event was another huge hurdle. Finally a solution was set in place for a potential crowd of one hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand. Little did the organizers know actual attendance numbers would more than double their estimates.

Massive crowds descended on rural New York the day of the festival, causing huge traffic jams. Even some of the acts scheduled to play the festival were caught up in the traffic, and ended up being unable to play.

Originally, Woodstock was not meant to be a free event. One hundred and eighty six thousand tickets were sold beforehand, and organizers only anticipated about 200,000 people would show up in total. When it became apparent they were way off in their estimations, the fence surrounding the event was ceremonially cut down. This step helped solidify the event’s vibe of peace, love and inclusiveness – and also caused a lot more concert-goers to show up. In total, about a half million people were in attendance at Woodstock.

Meanwhile, mainstream media wanted to report the worst about the festival – the event took place on an extremely hot weekend, torrential rain transformed the event site into a giant mud puddle, drug use was rampant, and the presence of unsanitary conditions and food shortages were all angles they wanted to play up. Ironically, many sources today cite the amount of drugs consumed at the event as the reason for a lack of violence. And, considering the massive amount of people in attendance at the three-day event, there were remarkably few serious problems. No violent crime was reported, and only a few deaths took place, all of which were accidental. However, on a happier note, Woodstock is also said to be the setting for two births.

And then there was the music. Despite the four promoters’ relative inexperience, they were able to book some of the most important acts of the day. Thirty-two musicians and groups played at the event, including legendary performances by The Who, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker and Jimi Hendrix, to name only a few. This took a great amount of money, and the promoters were virtually bankrupted by the event. However they retained the movie rights and the 1970 documentary Woodstock more than made their money back.

The Woodstock Music & Arts Fair is considered by many a symbol of the age of innocence, when young citizens from all walks of life and varying political associations got together and simply enjoyed music. It has gone down in the annals of rock, and is arguably a turning point in the twentieth century. There is some debate as to its place in history books, but some will simply remember it as the party of a lifetime.
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