by Amy Gold
The festival at Woodstock of 1969 remains one of the pivotal moments in the history of rock and roll music as well as the climax of a controversial decade. The 1960s had seen everything from the Vietnam War to the burgeoning hippie movement to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was a tumultuous time in America, so it is ironic that one of its most notable events focused on peace, love and harmony.
The notion of a music festival in upstate New York was the brainchild of Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman and Artie Kornfeld. The four would combine their knowledge of promotion and their financial resources to front a festival featuring some of the top acts in pop music. They saw it as an opportunity to bring people together to appreciate music in a setting drawing on the peace-loving ideals of the hippie movement.
Unfortunately, the hippies weren’t very popular with middle America and so the notion of a hippie style gathering turned a lot of people off. The promoters had difficulty finding a location for their festival until a dairy farmer by the name of Max Yasgur offered his 600-acre property in the heart of the Catskills. The setting, in the little town of Bethel, not far from the village of Woodstock, proved to be ideal.
With a venue secured, the next job became finding talent to play at the festival. When contacting some of the biggest names in music, the promoters were often asked, "what is Woodstock?" Their answer could have a direct effect on the artist’s response. Hearing "a concert at a pig farm in New York" made acts like Tommy James and the Shondells and the Byrds shy away.
But fortunately, many others agreed to come. The first group to sign was Creedence Clearwater Revival, and once they were on board, others soon followed. The Who, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix were all among the bands and artists who would take the main stage during the three-day event. It promised to be an event to remember and it led to a record response from potential concertgoers.
Originally anticipating an audience of around 100,000, tickets sales soon began to dwarf that number. Offered at record stores in the New York Metropolitan area and through the mail, tickets for the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival soon became the hottest commodity in the state. Eventually, 500,000 people would descend on Yasgur’s farm for the festival.
While many who heard the plans for Woodstock of 1969 worried about the crowd getting out of hand, the festival actually became known for its peaceful sense of community. Afterward, Max Yasgur himself spoke of how the world could be a better place if more people could come together the way they had on his farm.
Fortunately, the defining moment known as Woodstock was captured for future generations in both a documentary film and several albums. A memorial plaque was erected at Yasgur's farm and the Museum At Bethel Woods, commemorating the historic union of peace, love and rock ‘n roll, opened in 2008. It is a moment that will live forever in the hearts of those who attended and the pages of this country’s history books.