The end of the 1960s was a tumultuous time: the Vietnam War under the presidency of Nixon fueled outrage among American citizens, and two major heroes of the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, tragically lost their lives just years before. There was something that gave much of the country hope, however, and that just happened to be music.
The unifying power of music gave way to Woodstock, a festival that took place August 15th, 16th and 17th, 1969, in Woodstock, New York. There is much to the history of Woodstock that shaped the future of music festivals. Woodstock was a stimulating event that marked the end of the 60s with an emphasis on the power of music to connect people together, especially in difficult times.
1967 was widely known as the Summer of Love, when nearly 100,000 people gathered in San Francisco (and many elsewhere) to spread peace both through music and the advocacy of free love. The following year unfortunately became known as the Summer of Hate, on the other end of the spectrum; bitterness and intolerance spread as Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down in his prime, and the chaos of anti-war protests broke out amidst the election campaign. Hope finally returned during the year after that.
When Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, and Artie Kornfeld got together to plan the Woodstock festival, they weren’t sure how to go about it. What began as an unsure business venture to build a recording studio in Woodstock, New York, eventually grew into one of the largest music events ever held. The idea was that by holding a three-day concert in nearby Wallkill, they could raise enough money to build the studio. Max Yasgur offered his dairy farm as the location for the festival, and much to their surprise, 50,000 people showed up two days before the festival even began. Because the early arrivals didn’t pay for tickets and could not be pushed away to purchase them, the festival became a free event.
News of a free festival spread fast. Around 500,000 people showed up, many needing to park in the middle of the highway and make their way on foot to the festival when traffic got out of control. Also due to the traffic, many of the artists booked to perform had to hire helicopters to get them from their hotels to the event space!
The Many Musicians of Woodstock
Amidst the chaos, the festival began on time. The first night of the festival on August 15 began with Richie Haven, followed by performances from artists like Joan Baez and Streetwater. Many other folk artists took the stage that night, including Arlo Guthrie.
The next day hosted many more bands and musicians, both famous and not-yet famous names such as Santana, The Who, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Jefferson Airplane.
Sunday’s performers included Joe Cocker and The Grease Band, The Band, Country Joe, and the Fish and Ten Years. Monday several more acts took the stage, such as Johnny Winter, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Blood, Sweat & Tears. Last but certainly not least (though at that point only many of the concertgoers had already left), Jimi Hendrix played his famous rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
The Musical History of Woodstock and the Future of Music Festivals
In spite of the debt the organizers faced, alongside almost a hundred lawsuits, Woodstock was seen as a success. Over 30 musicians were able to fit all of their acts in a tight schedule, and the event showed that music really could bring about unification among people. Woodstock made history with the collaboration of many artists for future profitable (and non-profit) events promoting peace and harmony through music. Many artists who were invited to perform but didn’t attend, such as The Doors, regretted not taking up the offer to perform, only magnifying the festival’s impact.
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