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Remember A Day




The police estimated that there were a million people on the road that day trying to get to the festival. A million people; 186,000 tickets had been sold; the promoters figured that maybe 200,000, tops, would show. That seemed outlandish, if believable. But no one was prepared for what happened, and no one could have been. (1)

Although the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair took place 15-17 August 1969, the hype began much earlier. "By early summer, Woodstock looked to be the super rock festival of all time." (2) Perhaps it was, but no one could have estimated the effect those three days would have on rock music and American pop culture.

The festival actually took place in Bethel, New York, on Max Yasgur's farm about fifty miles away from Woodstock. Woodstock was the original location since that was where Bob Dylan was currently residing. The change in location is contiguous to the fact that "the music was secondarily important and the art was for the most part underproduced." (3) In fact, no one comments about the art fair anymore, and a lot of people at the festival said that the community aspect was more important than the music. What makes this remarkable is that no other festival is referred to in this manner; no one speaks of the Monterey Nation, and especially not the US Festival Nation. "Woodstock was about being there." (4) It was much easier to be there after Woodstock had begun since so many people arrived that crowd control was next to impossible. The festival was then declared "free" instead of $18 for all three days.

An aspect of Woodstock of which few people are aware is despite how it may have looked, it was a very calculated, organized, and commercial venture. The four principal promoters were incorporated in the state of New York as Woodstock Ventures, Inc. As an organization, they were powerful enough to supervise the filming of the festival, and arrange for its production and release, with all profits going to them; this was not a charity event. They dealt with the bands and organized payment, transportation, and security. It might be surprising to discover that everyone that performed was paid; paid very well. However, a musician's job is to play music, and Woodstock was no exception. The Jimi Hendrix Experience's $18,000 was the most received for a performance at the festival. After a performance at Woodstock, a band could promptly start charging more for their time. "Many of the participants never worked again for less than $10,000 to $20,000." (5)

The Who and their managers spent an entire night considering the possibility of playing Woodstock and if so how much they would receive. They were only performing for the money. "They didn't need the prestige a festival could confer," (6) and they "had no use for the rhetoric of hippie pastoralism that ruled at Woodstock." (7) The reason why the Who, and most of the other bands, were at Woodstock was to perform. They were the paid entertainment. Although some of the musicians might easily identify and understand the Nation, they were not part of the Woodstock Nation. As with most of the other bands, the Who refused to take the stage until they were paid. Even through the myth of the free concert and communal nature of the festival, it is easy to see that the performers were just doing their job and getting paid for it.

The Woodstock Nation's only meeting gave hope that a lifestyle that they all wanted could actually be possible, but "the repression-free weekend was provided by promoters as a way to increase their take." (8) It would have been next to impossible to prevent the open drug use since it was estimated that "at least 90% of those present at the festival were smoking marijuana," (9) but it was in no way promoted by those in charge.

The big point was not that pot was passed around openly, but that because there was a minimum of force and restriction, a huge crowd of people handled itself decently. (10)

The promoters were kind enough, however, to warn the masses about bad acid that was being distributed, not because they wanted to be hip, but because they were partially liable for what happened during the festival:

The schizophrenic vocabulary betrays the speaker's discomfort. On one hand he uses the hip phraseology of the day: "acid" and "your own trip." On the other hand, he uses the abstractions and passives of corporate and military bureaucracy: "circulating"; "specifically" and - worst of all - "please be advised." However inappropriate his language, it allowed him to disavow personal responsibility for what he was saying. (11)

The Woodstock Nation took heed of the warning, thinking that the warning was just as hip as they were. It would not be fair to say that the audience was fooled about many issues, but rather that the necessary situations were explained to them in ways that they would understand better. The two most important aspects of Woodstock were very clear: music and community. It was either for the music that the Nation came together, or just to be part of the Nation. Those that came just to be there certainly had a great time. To be with a group of that size with everyone feeling the same, and having the same concerns would be next to impossible today without some sort of common theme like the Amnesty tours. Certainly, "no one in this country had ever seen a society so free of repression." (12) Although generally looked upon as a hippie event, it has been estimated that "maybe half the crowd was weekend hip, out from Long Island for a quick dip in the compelling sea of freaks." (13) This promotes the idea that most were there just to be there, but it also helps to היףנול the Woodstock Nation myth. Perhaps not everyone was there for the same reason; perhaps not everyone held the same views; perhaps the lack of a common theme promoted this Nationalistic view without realizing that at the end of the festival, a lot of the Nationalists would be returning to the establishment.

The music at Woodstock was not necessarily the best ever played, but the lineup of performers may have been. Like Monterey and Live Aid, there were no clear headliners although each band was established enough to headline on their own, but some bands were not as established than others. Crosby Stills Nash and Young played together for one of the first times. Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Band, and Jefferson Airplane joined the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and Santana for a celebration of the best in underground music that would also lead rock music into the seventies. Jimi Hendrix, who established himself as an influential member of the rock community at Monterey two years earlier, gave a once in a lifetime performance that separated himself from everyone else. His guitar solo based on the "Star Spangled Banner" could be the most memorable musical event of the festival, as well as being one of the most popular guitar solos in rock history. Although they didn't really want to play, the Who gave an amazing performance, climaxing with "We're Not Gonna Take It," from their rock opera "Tommy," as the sun rose. "But even if it was a lousy show by the Who's high standards - Daltrey called it 'the worst gig we ever played' - it was legendary in the morning." (14)

Woodstock fits in perfectly with the rest of the mythological views of the sixties. It is considered by many to be the key event of the decade. Before the פעבחוהש at Altamont, Woodstock was declared as the event that ומהוה פטו sixties. Historians usually group Woodstock and Altamont together, which is not a fair comparison. They were two completely different festivals under radically different circumstances. As Woodstock tried to reach back to the "summer of love" and the "love crowd" of Monterey, Altamont just wanted to be Woodstock West. What happened on Max Yasgur's farm was just a fluke, but it was bound to happen. The ingenuity of Monterey may happen again. The disaster at Altamont was, in a way, relived as the tragic Who concert of 1979. Woodstock was a mastermind idea that occurred at just the right time. Through Monterey, Woodstock, and Altamont, rock music was brought to the forefront of American pop culture, and the rock festival was established as one of its cornerstones.


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Copyright 2005, Adam Stanley