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Woodstock 50th Anniversary: August 15-18, 2019

The most famous music festival in history now has a 50-year history, as the Woodstock…

  • August 14, 2019

The most famous music festival in history now has a 50-year history, as the Woodstock festival passes a milestone anniversary this weekend.

It was billed as “an Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music”. Ads in the New York Times featured the beloved Peanuts character Woodstock – a tie-in to the proposed site of the festival, Woodstock, New York. Readers were invited to buy tickets in advance for $18, (a deal, since they would cost $24 at the gate).

Of course, things didn’t work out as planned.

Local residents of the proposed location balked at having a huge music festival in their sleepy town, promting a mad scramble to find a venue.

The organizers wound up being saved by a Max Yasgur, who offered up his 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York as the site.

Only around 186,000 of an expected 200,000 attendees actually bought tickets. In fact, most of the 400,000-plus people who showed up were gate-crashers.

Planning and organization were completely inadequate: there wasn’t enough food, sanitation or medical facilities for this 3-day city. On top of it all it rained, further straining limited resources.

And yet, the festival became an icon of the “good” 1960s. There was no violence, and the crowd enjoyed some great musical performances from a range of artists including The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Santana and many others.

So, how should one mark the anniversary?

One fun thing you can do is find the musical performances that didn’t make it onto the official Woodstock film or record album. There were some real gems that got “forgotten” over the years. But thanks to the modern magic of the Internet, some of these performances can now be found on YouTube.

Some examples of these “lost and found” performances include sets by Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Johnny Winter, Ravi Shankar and Mountain.

The Who hated their performance at Woodstock — so much so they even wrote a song inspired by the festival (Baba O’Reilly), with such negative lyrics as “Out here in the fields, I fight for my meals” and “Don’t cry, don’t raise your eye, it’s only teenage wasteland”. Bummer.

Joni Mitchell wrote a a much more positive song about the festival – even though she wasn’t there.

Mitchell’s manager thought that her planned appearance on The Dick Cavett Show was more important for her career than playing the festival. Still, she wrote the song “Woodstock”, with lyrics like, “By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong. And everywhere was a song and a celebration”.

Listening to Mitchell’s masterpiece, you can almost imagine that Woodstock redeemed the era, and the nation. But of course things are never so simple in a Joni Mitchell song, (or, in fact, with the 1960s).