Site of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair of 1969
A photograph of the plaque commemorating the site of the event. Public domain photograph.
A digitization of one of the original posters, Wikimedia Commons
Backstory and Context
Woodstock Music and Art Fair was the result of the efforts of John Roberts, Artie Kornfeld, Michael Lang, and Joel Rosenman, all of whom were under the age of 30 at the time. The final cost of the festival was over $2.4 million, much of which was provided by John Roberts who was the heir to a massive fortune. Rosenman and Roberts were roommates and aspirational venture capitalists. Kornfeld was the tie to the music industry, working as the vice president of Capitol Records and writing relatively successful music himself. Lang was the only one of the four with experience producing a festival, having run the Miami Pop Festival in 1968, which was one of the largest rock shows ever at the time. Lang and Kornfeld met through business; Lang was trying to get the band he managed, Train, a record deal and managed to get a meeting with Kornfeld. The two pairs of ambitious entrepreneurs met one another in 1968 and began the fateful planning of the festival.
While their individual recollections of the event planning differ
somewhat, there is some consensus between the four that the event went through
various iterations in their minds. There
were two goals in their minds at the beginning of planning: throwing the
festival and finding funding to build a state-of-the-art studio to service the
great number of musicians who were living in the area of Woodstock, NY. While Lang insists that they had always
intended to organize the largest music festival ever (which was even in their
calculations much smaller than the final turnout,) Rosenman and Roberts claim
the original goal was to throw something more akin to a party for music critics
and executives, which then evolved into the idea of a concert whose profits
would be used to build the studio.
Later in the year of 1968, the four friends formed Woodstock Ventures, Inc., and began the troubled path to finding a site for the festival. A number of locations fell through, either due to issues with the aesthetics of the location or the legality of its use. The first location they had secured, a large unused industrial park in Wallkill, NY ended up becoming an issue of PR. Despite getting approval from the town and beginning advertisements around the country, the community began to react poorly to the idea of the possible influx of counterculture youth into their town. This culminated with personal harassment targeted at the owner of the industrial park, who was subjected to threats and constant badgering from other townspeople, and the ultimate banning of the festival from town on account of new zoning laws pushed through the municipal legislation.
It was then that Woodstock Ventures was introduced to Max Yasgur, the dairy farmer whose land in Bethel, NY would finally become the site of the historic festival. Again, many locals did not approve of the potential flood of people, putting up signs reading “Buy no Milk. Stop Max’s Hippy Music Festival.” Despite the tension, the plans for the festival went forward, despite no formal permits being issued to Woodstock Ventures. The date of the festival was nearing at this point and Woodstock Ventures was not able to aptly prepare. As a result, fences at the site were foregone in order to focus on the construction of the stage.
Thousands of attendees arrived early and crowded the city streets, causing widespread traffic issues. The municipal government was paralyzed and did not enforce restrictions placed on the concert. By Sunday, August 17, 1969 the event had grown so large that Sullivan County, NY declared a state of emergency and the local Air Force Base was called upon to help airlift the performers out of the venue. Rock legend Jimi Hendrix was the last to perform at Woodstock, performing a show which would go down in music history for a finally dwindling crowd. At its max, the crowd at Woodstock numbered over 400,000, many of whom had not even paid ticket costs since the festival had long overrun its original boundaries.
Despite the organizational chaos, out of the hundreds of thousands at Woodstock Music Festival, there were only two fatalities, and, in-fact, two births. The attendees largely reviewed the event positively. Max Yasgur as well, saw the event as a major cultural success, bringing people together peacefully. Additionally, in order to manage the sound for such an immense crowd, a number of new techniques and sound devices were constructed which were used for large concerts for many years.
A major documentary film by the name Woodstock, directed by Michael Wadleigh and edited by Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese, was shot at the event and released a year later. The film was a major box office success for the producers of the film, Warner Brothers. Woodstock would go on to be named as a culturally significant film by the Library of Congress, and would receive the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. The movie’s financial success allowed Woodstock Ventures to pay off the large number of lawsuits levied against them and pay off their considerable debts from the festival.
At the site now there lies a commemorative plaque, which was established in 1984, and displays the festivals iconic logo. While inhabitants and government of the town of Bethel were hostile to visitors and commemorators for many years, the town now happily embraces its history, including erecting signs welcoming visitors to the site of the event. In 2008, the Museum at Bethel Woods was opened which now contains a number of exhibits displaying items, from artifacts to photographs, from the event. In 2016, the location was successfully added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Tiber, Elliot. How Woodstock Happened (Part 1). Woodstock 69. Accessed June 24, 2017. https://web.archive.org/web/20100127055604/http://www.discoverynet.com/~barnes/wsrprnt1.htm. A reprint of the Times Herald-Record report on woodstock
Tiber, Elliot. How Woodstock Happened Part 2. Woodstock 69. Accessed June 24, 2017. https://web.archive.org/web/20100129132426/http://www.discoverynet.com/~barnes/wsrprnt3.htm. A reprinting of the Times Herald-Record story on Woodstock 69
Shepard, Richard F. Pop Rock Festival Finds New Home. New York Times. July 23, 1969. Accessed June 24, 2017. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9C04E5D81E3AEE34BC4B51DFB1668382679EDE&legacy=true. New York Times story about the relocation of the festival to Bethel