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
Joseph Manzi

Hello, I attended the Woodstock Festival Aug 15 - 18. It cost me $ 18.00 dollar for three days of music. In the end it was like 3 1/2 days. It was one of the greatest event of my life. All the acts that appeared. I went with three other friends. I member it like it was yesterday. We took a bus from Port authority New York. We got as far as Bethal White Lake. The traffic was at a stand still. We walked the rest of the way to the concert site. It seemed to take forever to get there. Once we were at site we got a close to the stage and
did not like the view. So we move back until we could see everything. It was very hot and we watched as Richie Heavens open the festival. From that point on it got better and better. There were times during the three days it rained. Especially that first night. But the music made it all worth while. I saw brand new group. Santana , Crosby,Stills Nash, Mountain, Creedence, Sha Na Na,Jimi Hendrix and the band of Gypsies ( not experience.)
My favorite day was the second night. Sly and the Family Stone came on near 1 am and got the place jumping with his music. Take you Higher. They were great. Then The Who followed doing their classic and Tommy the Rock Opera. When they were done dawn was breaking. It was great. The last act for that night which was day now. Was the Jefferson Airplane. The saddest thing for me was Monday morning Jimi Hendrix played to the smallest crowd. Under 75,000 people. He was one of the top acts and finished the show.
Playing to the least amount of people. That was sad. I still have my original ticket stubb which treasure to this day. It ended up a free concert. The following year me and my same friends that went to the festival. Went to Woodstock on it's anniversary. We got to me the owner of property Max Yasgur and had a nice talk with him. Yea there was a lot of
things that went wrong on the planning. But it was the first of it's kind, back then. It was advertise as three days of peace, fun and music. It ended up being that way for me.

2

Guess what? I was there!!! It was the summer before my sophomore year in college. I am glad that you allow us to add pictures, you may be interested in seeing these:
My friends and I were there for Saturday and Sunday and were upset when they made it a free concert - we got ripped off for $14.00,

3

Check out my Introduce myself. There is a picture of my Woodstock tickets. Original ones ladies

4

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...

5
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.

6
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.

7
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.

8
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.

9

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.

10
Greg Smalley

Ron, I believe you are conflating two different stories. Seymour Duncan did in fact provide Jimi with hand-wound pickups that were installed on his white Strat, but that happened on March 28, 1968 before a show at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Also, the acid-induced guitar-neck-snake vision was Carlos Santana at Woodstock, not Jimi.

11
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.

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