Woodstock – 50 Years Later

Woodstock, August 1969, the world’s most iconic festival – remembered for its cultural significance, great music and message of 'love and unity'. A look into its history, however, will also reveal some less flattering sides. Woodstock’s later reincarnations had their shortcomings and 'Woodstock 50' never saw the light of day.


So what about the ‘Three days of nothing but Peace & Love’?

If you look at it on paper, one could say that the festival certainly had its … issues. Woodstock lacked in basic food and water supplies, sanitary facilities and medical resources, transportation logistics and many other areas of organisation.

They had one toilet for every 833 people with people opting to take their business wherever they saw fit. No blue portable loos, no food trucks selling gluten free Halloumi fries, “Glamping” tents or V.I.P passes … Instead, lots of mud, spiked drinks and tripping teenagers.

According to one nurse, burned eyeballs were actually a thing at the festival. They appeared to have resulted from kids on LSD who would lie down on their backs and just stare at the sun.

Not even the artists and stage staff had a particularly easy job to keep the show running. Delays due to bad weather and a plethora of technical problems caused some artists like the Grateful Dead to call their show the worst performance they ever delivered. 

If things like that happened today you could expect „money back“ claims, lawsuits and calls for health and safety galore. Not to mention all the cases of, should we say, public indecency.

Then there is the fact that Woodstock certainly wasn’t the first, the only or even the biggest festival of its kind. Bob Dylan left the States only a day before Woodstock to play the Isle of Wight festival, which had an estimated 600 000 visitors, surpassing the attendance of Woodstock by 200 000.

Last but not least, the artist line up, while excellent, lacked the most popular acts of that time, like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin or Dylan.

Then why is Woodstock viewed as the “Most important Music Festival of All Time”? 

Well, we haven’t been there, weren’t even born back then. All we have is second-hand information – from reading stories and interviews, from listening to its music and watching the documentary, and from talking to people who experienced this event from their personal viewpoint. 

There is no denying that there was something special happening between the artists and the audience. A kind of „we’re in this together“ thing. People seemed to view it as a manifest of “their” cultural movement.

Considering all that, it looks to us like a victory of imagination over reality. 

Obviously, enough people wanted Woodstock to be an example of love, understanding and peaceful togetherness, so it became one. Despite all the problems, or maybe just because of them. 

It was an adventure. There had been obstacles to overcome, problems to solve and statements to make … “Woodstock” as a whole became the statement. Against the Vietnam War, the establishment, intolerance, … and for “peace and love” (we only mention the constructive ones here). In that case, less seemed to be more. A lack of organisation led to people organising themselves and even having a good time doing so.

When we wrote Once Upon A Time we took all the positive and inspiring aspects we feel about that time, or even just shamelessly implied them, as did many others before us. We are in good company there.

If Woodstock wasn’t about honest music, brotherhood, peace & love, it at least could or maybe even should have been so.

What do you think? Did you attend, do you know people who did … or have you experienced it as a contemporary witness from somewhere else in the world?
Are people just romanticising a failed social experiment or has it been this example of peace and solidarity we should all learn from? How did you see it back then and how do you view it now?
And lastly, we are curious about what people of our generation think about the Woodstock phenomenon.
We’re looking forward to reading from all of you in the comments below!


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1

The thing about Woodstock was that it served as the focal point for a kind of cultural revolution which was happening at the time, one which many thought would lead to a political revolution, but that was not to be. And I think this is what leads to the disappointment when you look back at the movements of the 1960s, that they failed to change the world in a political sense, although they did lead to cultural changes. The most tragic failure of those movements was the peace movement. Nowadays, the kind of peace movement which existed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a determined, broad-based opposition to the war on Viet Nam which actually hastened the end of that war---well, that is almost unimaginable. Where is there any continuing peace movement today? Where has there BEEN any continuing peace movement in the five decades or so since those times? 500,000 Syrians died in a needless war pumped up arms and funding from the U.S. and its allies and...who protested? And if you give up on striving for peace, well, then you are basically giving up on the entire social agenda, as the warmaking mentality is so foreign to the peacekeeping mentality, fighting versus caretaking... Look at the one of the refrains from Joni Mitchell's conic song about Woodstock, which she was not able to attend:

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation

The dream was ultimately about beating the swords into ploughshares, transforming the bombers into butterflies. And for many people, no other festival of the time incarnated that profound desire to radically transform the basis of western societies from purveyors of war to builders of peace. The peace movement had some success..-but its main leaders (MLK, RFK, and some others) were either murdered or driven underground by the establishment and it lost the kind of leaders who could have kept it alive for the longterm… And I think Joni Mitchell knew this, there is such melancholy in the harmonies of that song...it is so wistful...so wishful...so...NOT...triumphant. A cry of idealism against a world "caught in a devil's bargain" as the last chorus says...

2
Dave Oxborrow

Like your "Once upon a time" song, as to be expected, very good and well done. Now, I am old enough to have been to Woodstock except I lived in the wrong part of the world and doubt if my parents would have considered stumping up for an air fare. Woodstock was a long time ago and am not desperately sorry that it was missed. I will contact you with our experiences of growing up in this era but will have to transport my self back in time to relive the feelings and lifestyle we then had. It was a wonderful time to be young and not having TV was actually a blessing as more time was spent with friends and going out to the beach. We have pretty much all year sunshine and beautiful weather so sitting around indoors was not as much fun. Am not particularly good at writing so will have to think hard about how to present these experiences so they can become real to you. I do think the experiences would vary tremendously depending on which country you were based and what your circumstances were at that time. In those days in South Africa, there was no TV and only 4 radio stations. One for English, one for Afrikaans , one for general appeal and LM radio which was based in the country next door and played good music. As always, thank you for your wonderful music.

3
Ademir Manzato

Well, I’m not of your generation, but you seemed to be of mine (due to your taste of music, of course). It’s interesting to think about it now. I’ve changed a lot since then, but my essence is the same. I was 13 years old when Woodstock took place. I was a shy teen with some difficult to get along with others people. It seemed that some Lennon’s lyrics, as “I’m a loser” and “I don’t want to spoil the party”, were writing for me. What a loser!
I don’t remember when I first heard about the Festival. Probably I read it in some Rock magazine. Despite the drugs, it always seemed to me about Peace and Love. It still do. It was a magic time. It looked that the world were changing to a better place. People fought against war, now it seems that the war is part of the culture of some countries. Were we went wrong?
In 1969, while in the USA people protested against Vietnam war, in Brazil people protested against a military dictatorship, in it first years, lasting about two decades. Some people, including musicians, had to leave the country, others simply “disappeared”. Unfortunately, the current president of Brazil has as his great hero the worst torturer of the dictatorship era. The same musicians that once were expatriated are his critics. I’m proud of them, but, for the president and his followers, they are just communists. Sorry, I’ve changed the subject, it’s that the wind is blowing the smoke of the burning trees of the Rain Forest, they can’t speak, but I do.

4
Howard Bedwell

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Ademir. You sound a lot like me in the late sixties - “I’m a loser” and “I don’t want to spoil the party”, were written for me too! It's a shame what is happening in your country at the moment and it's unfortunate that the warmongers around the world are beating the drums again. Fortunately, we still have our music and musicians like the MonaLisa Twins to share the love through their beautiful creations! Try and stay groovy and happy in spite of the difficulties at the moment.

5
Ademir Manzato

Hi Howard! Thanks for your kind words. I was disappointed before the election, because people that I know, who grew up listening to the sounds about love and peace from 60s had voted in a so hateful person. They didn't get the message. Some of then have already regretted. I'm hopeful, sometimes things get worse to then get better.

6

I was too young to attend. I supposed Woodstock was so great because it was all in the people's minds that attended the festival. How can anyone remembered what happen with all the drugs. I suppose one of the unique thing about Woodstock I remembered watching in a documentary about how Jimi Hendrix right before he went stage they installed hand-wound pickups in his electric guitar. Jimi Hendrix blew everyone away! I believe they were Seymour's. Jimi's guitar's neck turned into a "snake" so he thought, he just kept on playing. He wasn't supposed to go on stage at the time. The band at was to play at that time slot was delayed. He just got through taking hits of LSD this is why he said his guitars neck turned into a snake.

7
Dave Cornelius

Always great to hear your original material as well as your covers. You have captured much of the 60's and 70's sound and this song is no exception. I wasn't at Woodstock, but at 73, I remember the time well (or at least as well as some of my contemporaries). Keep up the good work.

8

I was only 9 at the time, and all I remember was seeing a report on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. My impression from the report was that it was a huge mess. I didn't even know it was called Woodstock until a few years later. I first heard the records when I was 14, and thought it was pretty good. Now, after watching several documentaries, I'm actually pretty impressed that they were able to pull it off without causing a riot (there were lots of riots in the news those days).

9
Francis Chamness

I was 16 and my middle brother was 19. We looked at the map and showed our parents that it was only a nine hour drive. We wanted to go so badly. Our parents were unmoved. We were not going and that was final.
My brother and I even talked about running away, but that idea fizzled out. When we first got news, it was all about people having to abandon their vehicles, there was no food, gangs were robbing people and gang raping girls and no facilities, and on and on. One bad thing after another. We began to feel glad that we hadn't gone.
Eventually the news began to highlight good things: releif aid began to flow in, a medical facility was set up, free food was being given out, there were no gangs rampaging just an isolated incident here and there, people were looking out for each other. It was a festival of peace, love and music - depending on your preference. It was also sex, drugs and rock & roll.
It all left my brother and me with mixed feelings about whether we missed an advent of a lifetime, or dodged a potentially dangerous experience.
Basically, we were happy to read and hear about it, and enjoy the music when the album came out.
Your video just takes me back to that time of my life. It is some of my favorite memories. Good years.
And , I agree with Rick, you summed it up well and "Once Upon a Time" is an amazing video and song. Fantastic! You always blow me away. Can't wait to see and hear what you do next. I love your "Starman" video and cover. That one took me completely by surprise. A very good surprise. You are so awesome! When it comes to the MonaLisa-Twins, I'm insatiable. Love you all so much! I would rather have seen the MonaLisa-Twins play live at the Cavern Club then to have gone to Woodstock. I wish I had fifty more years to spend with you, but it's not in the Stars. ☺ 💛💖💙❤

10
Don Crispien

At the time of Woodstock, I was 24 stationed at a Navy base in Guam living with my wife, who was already 8 months pregnant with our first child. Looking back, I doubt that I would have attended, even if other things were different, and if the opportunity had been given. My views of the world then were still fairly liberal. I'd already been to Vietnam but remained basically opposed to the war. The music of the time didn't replace any music I previously liked but plenty of room was added for it. Some psychedelic music was really good but I never saw the need to take drugs to appreciate it. My time in San Francisco 1966-67 offered lots of temptation, but cheap wine and beer was legal and,for me, served the same purpose. Fortunately I was old enough then to keep everything else at arms length, but I have serious doubts about my path had I been 5 or 6 years younger.

11
William Nau

I was 10 years old in the summer of '69 and just starting to learn about the world. While I do remember the news reports of the day, much of what I remember about Woodstock is what my brother told me. He was going into his senior year of high school and trying to figure out his future. The draft and the Vietnam War were very much on his mind. Some of his friends were enlisting while others were going off to college. I still remember how worried I was about my big brother maybe going to war. He ended up going to The Ohio State University and joining ROTC. I am not sure when, but on one of his breaks he brought home his Woodstock album. We listened to it while our parents were in another room. When the FISH Cheer started my mother blew a gasket. I said something like, "What's wrong?" My mother just stormed out and told my father to handle it. He looked at my brother and said, your record, you explain it and left. What I remember most about the album is Country Joe's I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag and Jimi Hendrix.

12
Paul Rivenburgh

I was 14 years old at the time and wanted to go very badly. I grew up about 2 hours drive from there, I had a few older friends that did go and I was invited to go with them but my father would not allow me to go. I can still remember his quote when I asked him, he informed me you aint going to no rock festival with those pot smoking hippies you know. If I had been a little older I might have gone anyway but at 14 I wasn't gonna defy my father he was really adamant at the time.

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