As we’ve written over the past two weeks, this weekend represents the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival in
Yet, reflections back on the event show a gap between perception and reality. To those who attended the event, it appears that the three days were truly a celebration of peace, love and happiness. To more dispassionate observers, the mud, unsanitary conditions, lack of food, massive traffic jams and less-than-stellar performances by the various music acts are recalled.
Here then are a few perception-reality notes from this event which gave birth to the term, “The Woodstock Nation.”
Perception: Over 500,000 people attended the event, paying $18 for a three-day ticket.
Reality: Estimates for actual attendance range from 350,000-450,000. And, once concert-goers began climbing temporary fencing and finding ways into the concert grounds,
Perception: Woodstock represented the best music of the late 1960’s, with defining performances by artists like The Who, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and others.
Reality: The majority of the performances were less than stellar, as noted by no less than those who performed. Roger Daltrey of The Who called their performance “the worst we ever did.” Jimi Hendrix’s band was so tired from being up all night, waiting to perform, that they were lethargic during the two-hour set. And, the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir were both jolted with electricity from their microphones while on stage.
Perception: The three days of close togetherness by the hundreds of thousands in attendance was violence free—a communal atmosphere where everyone got along.
Much has changed in the 40 years since this major event of 1969. Concert films like the
And, what of the performers? Sadly, many have died, usually from drug-related consequences (Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Tim Hardin, Keith Moon of The Who, to name a few), some live in relative obscurity, and others are still plugging away…and finding success in a business which has changed dramatically.
As a sign-off to this 40th anniversary celebration this weekend, we leave you with this from Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock, by Pete Fornatale.
“Twenty seven days after ‘Tranquility Base,’ on an untranquil sea of mud, there was a walk in space that 400,000 long-haired pilgrims in and out of sweatshirts called ‘the greatest weekend since the creation.’ It came to be known as the “Woodstock Nation.’ In search of rock, acid rock, acid, pot, peace and just being together, 400,000 Americans between 15 and 25 flocked to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York for a weekend with Sly and the Family Stone; Country Joe and the Fish; Janis Joplin; the Jefferson Airplane; Santana; Crosby, Stills and Nash; The Who; Joan Baez; and Arlo Guthrie, among others.
The festival was declared a disaster area, and if there had been a riot, the commission that would have investigated it would have probably blamed negligent planning by the promoters; lack of water, food, medical and sanitary facilities; and stormy weather. It would also have cited the abundance of marijuana, some hard drugs, communal living, and the exploitation of thousands of turned-away ticket holders who never got their $18 back. Yet, there was no violence and relatively little illness for a population of this size. Three people died, two were born, and in a rare happening, even the police got rave notices. There was some paranoia. The establishment was blamed by some for having seeded the clouds causing the downpour. Some critics of the festival called it an orgy organized by the communists. And the promoters ended up suing each other.”
This weekend we celebrate a festival which has been given iconic status in the history of