“Notwithstanding their personality, their dress and their ideas, they were and they are the most courteous, considerate and well-behaved group of kids I have ever been in contact with in my 24 years of police work.” —Lou Yank, Head of Monticello police department, New York.
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair is considered by many to be the very height of the 1960s Peace and Love countercultural movement. Hundreds of thousands of young people came together to gather and celebrate the music they loved through rain or shine. Here are 40 facts about maybe the most famous music festival of all time.
40. What’s in a Name?
The official tagline of the Woodstock concert was “3 Days of Peace & Music.” Apparently “Massive Hippie Mud Party” didn’t have quite enough zing.
39. They Also Bought a Used Chevy
The idea for a festival was spawned when co-organizers Michael Lang and his business partner Artie Kornfeld responded to an ad placed in the The Wall Street Journal by John Roberts and Joel Rosenman. The ad read “Young men with unlimited capital looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities and business propositions.” Roberts was an heir to the Polydent/Polygrip fortune, and sorted through more than 5,000 responses before settling on Lang and Kornfeld.
38. Long Term Investment
In advance of the show, 186,000 tickets were sold. Two days before the concert started, 50,000 people were already camping out in the countryside, and the organizers declared it a free concert. At the end of the weekend, they found themselves more than $1 million in debt. There were also over 70 lawsuits, and they didn’t start to get out of the red until 1970 with the proceeds from the Oscar-winning documentary about the festival.
37. Woodstock Wasn’t in Woodstock
The original site for the concert was going to be right outside the thriving artist community of Woodstock in upstate New York. However, the organizers weren’t able to find a suitable location, and they eventually settled on a spot not far away, in Wallkill. Unfortunately, the citizens of Wallkill came to their senses and revoked their permit about a month before the show. That’s when dairy farmer Max Yasgur stepped in and offered to lease his property in the town of Bethel.
36. Boss, I’m Going to Be a Little Late
Traffic was at a virtual standstill on a 10-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway for the duration of the festival. Many people eventually just gave up, parked their cars, and started walking.
35. Peace, Love, and Cash in Advance
After seeing the level of confusion and disorganization of the organizers, several big-name acts refused to take the stage before they had been paid. The Who, Janice Joplin, and even the kings of the San Francisco counter-culture, The Grateful Dead, demanded cash up front before they’d take the stage. Not cool, Jerry. Not cool at all.
34. So, That’s a “No?”
British rockers Iron Butterfly were scheduled to appear, but were stuck at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. After failing to secure ground transportation, they demanded festival organizers send a helicopter for them. The organizers were said to respond to the request with a telegram where the letters of the first words in each line spelled out “F*** You.”
33. Time for a New Manager
Songstress Joni Mitchell skipped appearing at Woodstock based on the advice given to her by her manager. He wanted her to be rested and ready for her appearance on The Dick Cavett Show the next week. Mitchell later wrote the iconic song “Woodstock” based on the firsthand observations of her then-boyfriend, Graham Nash.
32. But I really wanted a Sha-Na-Na do-rag
Although it seems impossible today, there was no official Woodstock merchandise sold. So, free admission and no merch? Hard to believe those guys lost money.
31. You Can Still Smell Patchouli
The original concert site is now home to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The original hill overlooking the field where the show took place now hosts a concert pavilion and museum. Many of the original artists have performed at the pavilion, including Santana, Joe Cocker, Melanie, and Arlo Guthrie.
30. Stop, or I’ll Spritz!
The organizers hired members of a New Mexico commune known as The Hog Farm to keep the peace. The Hog Farm formed what they called the “Please Force,” who enforced their will by spraying patrons with seltzer water and hitting them with cream pies. That is literally the most hippie thing ever.
29. A Serious Case of the Munchies
With so many people, there was a definite food shortage at Woodstock. A local Jewish community center got 200 loaves of bread, then took 40 pounds of cold cuts, two gallons of pickles, and made sandwiches that were distributed to hungry concert-goers by local nuns.
28. The Other 10% Lost Their Stash
Even though nine out ten fans were smoking weed, there were only 33 drug arrests at Woodstock.
27. Cartman Would Be Pleased
There were almost no reports of fights or violence of any kind. The lone exception was when guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who smacked well-known ’60s radical Abbie Hoffman with his guitar and yelled at him to “f*** off my f****** stage.” Don’t mess with rock and roll, hippie!
26. Exit, Stage Left
A special stage was designed for Woodstock that was supposed to cut down the time between acts considerably. The idea was for the stage to rotate like a turntable, which would allow one band to get ready as another band was performing. Unfortunately, the weight of the equipment was too much and the casters broke almost immediately, and organizers had to revert to the traditional way of tearing down and setting up. Because of this, each night was seriously behind schedule.
25. Probably a Lot More Conceptions
Despite John Sebastian saying onstage that “some cat’s old lady just had a baby, a kid destined to be far out,” and the reports of a few witnesses, no one has ever been identified as a “Woodstock baby.” The festival’s medical director reported that one baby was born in a local hospital after the mother was transported from the concert, while another woman gave birth in a vehicle while stuck in the mammoth traffic jam.
24. Show Them Your Skate Key
Melanie Safka, who later recorded the hit song “Brand New Key,” didn’t receive a performer’s pass. She actually had to sing her song “Beautiful People” in order to get past the security guards and gain access to the backstage area.
23. There’s Always the Woods
There were only 600 toilets at the festival, and 400,000 people. That’s about one toilet for every 666 people.
22. Cloudy With a Chance of Mayhem
During the festival, with storm clouds approaching, the crowd was urged to “Think hard to get rid of the rain.” Even the desperate, last-minute chants of “No rain! No rain!” didn’t prevent five inches of rain falling over the course of about three hours.
21. A Shocking Development
San Francisco’s psychedelic masters, the Grateful Dead, played their set standing in ankle-deep water, which caused frequent electrical shocks when they touched the metal guitar strings or the microphone stand. No word on whether they actually noticed it or if they just thought the crowd was “really electric.”
20. Best Encore EVER
The fear of electrocution was very real, with artists being warned of the risks before they went on. Few reacted as well as Alvin Lee of Ten Years After, who, when being warned of the risk if it was still raining during his set, reportedly quipped, “Oh come on. If I get electrocuted at Woodstock, we’ll sell a lot of records.” Spoiler alert: He didn’t, and they didn’t.
19. Thanks, Dick
The Beatles were invited to Woodstock but were unable to attend. Some theories abound as to why, but a likely reason is that John Lennon was in Canada, and President Richard Nixon made sure he was unable to obtain a visa to re-enter the United States. Hard to believe the president of a world superpower would waste his time feuding with celebrities. Oh, wait…never mind.
18. We’d Love to Be There, But…
Other invited bands who declined included Led Zeppelin, The Moody Blues, and Jethro Tull. Most had other engagements, but Tull frontman Ian Anderson said, “I don’t like hippies, and I’m usually rather put off by naked ladies unless the time is right.” Wow, he sounds like a real life of the party.
17. At Least the Check Cleared
The instantly-recognizable logo with the bird perched on a guitar neck was designed by graphic artist Arnold Skolnick. Skolnick has only ever received a single royalty check for $15 for his work.
16. Best Seat in the House
As one of the editors of the hugely successful documentary about Woodstock, Martin Scorsese’s job was to sit on a nine-foot-wide platform just to the right of the stage under a huge stack of speakers and keep an eye out for shots they’d want to include in the movie.
15. Who Knew?
Although Woodstock was a watershed event that included some of the biggest bands of the day, there are some performers who didn’t get that “Woodstock bump” and soon fell into obscurity. Performers like Bert Sommer, Quill, and the Keef Hartley Band are mostly forgotten today.
14. Long Live Doo-wop
Many bands didn’t seem to fit the Woodstock vibe, but none more so than the doo-wop group Sha-Na-Na. They performed classic 1950s hits while sporting gold lame jackets and ducktail haircuts. After being seen in the Woodstock movie, however, their career took off, and they inspired a 50s nostalgia craze in America. They even parlayed it into their own TV show, which ran from 1977 to 1981.
13. Where the Buffalo Roam
Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar most definitely did not enjoy his time at Woodstock. He called it a “terrifying experience,” and said the crowd of muddy people reminded him of the water buffalos back home in India.
12. Just Let It Go Already
There have been multiple attempts to recapture the magic of Woodstock. They experienced varying degrees of success, but the 1999 Woodstock show, also held in upstate New York, was marked by violence, four reported rapes, and numerous vendor booths and trailers being set ablaze.
11. Lights, Camera, Music!
The Woodstock documentary ended up with 120 MILES of footage that was eventually edited down to three hours. The movie was a huge hit, winning the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. It has been called one of the best concert movies of all time, and is one of the most profitable documentaries ever produced.
10. The Blanket Still Hasn’t Dried Out
Thousands of pictures were taken that weekend, but none is as famous as the couple huddled together under a blanket as hundreds of people sit nearby. The photo was the cover of the Woodstock live album, and featured Nick and Bobbi Ercoline. They had been dating just three months when they headed to the show. They married two years after, remain together today, and still live just a few miles from the concert venue.
9. Which Way is Sesame Street?
Helpful attendees put up signs to keep folks from getting lost. Perhaps the most confusing spot was where “Groovy Way,” “Gentle Path,” and the “High Way” all intersected. Probably still easier to navigate than Boston.
8. He Seems Pleasant
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young appeared at Woodstock. Neil Young skipped most of the acoustic part of their set and refused to be filmed for the electric performance. Young even told the cameramen, “One of you f****** guys comes near and I’m gonna f****** hit you with my guitar.”
7. No War, Yes Food
Although the crowd was almost exclusively made up of anti-war hippies, the US Army played a vital role in preventing tragedy from striking. The Army airlifted in food, medical teams, and performers. An announcement was made that said “They are with us man, they are not against us. Forty-five doctors or more are here without pay because they dig what this is into.”
6. Dog’s Best Friend
Even though he first appeared in the Peanuts comic strip in 1966, Snoopy’s feathered friend remained nameless until June of 1970, after the concert. Creator Charles Schulz christened the little friendly yellow guy “Woodstock.”
5. Can We Go Home Yet?
Even though people began arriving days early, the concert didn’t officially kickoff until 5:07 pm on Friday night. It stayed relatively on schedule, with Joan Baez finishing up at about 2am on Saturday. The next two days didn’t go as well, with Saturday night headliner Jefferson Airplane not taking the stage until 8 am Sunday morning.
4. O’ Say Can You See…Where Everybody Went?!
By dawn’s early light the flag may still have been there…but fans weren’t. Due to bad weather and other numerous delays, Jimi Hendrix didn’t take the stage until 9:00 am Monday morning. By that time, much of the crowd had left the festival and were headed home—so hundreds of thousands of concert-goers missed the performance that is often considered one of the greatest moments of the ’60s.
3. Good Luck Following Jimi
Organizers wanted cowboy actor and country singer Roy Rogers to close the show by singing his trademark song, “Happy Trails.” Perhaps not surprisingly, his manager declined.
2. Still Going Strong
Woodstock continues to be relevant even today. The music is still heard daily on satellite radio as well as over the air on classic rock stations. Plans are already being made for a 50th anniversary show in the Bethel area.
1. Definitely Uncool, Man
Two people died during the festival. One from a drug overdose, while the second was a teenager who was fast asleep in his sleeping bag when he was crushed by a tractor, the driver of which was never identified. But, seeing as 500,000 drug-addled youths attended that weekend, it’s almost a miracle that there weren’t more fatalities—Peace and Love.