15 August 2007

August 15, 1969 : Woodstock

On this day, some 38 years ago, it was the first day of Woodstock. A landmark in American history. Woodstock was held on Max Yasgur's 600 acre dairy farm in the rural town of Bethel, New York which is actually about 50 miles from Woodstock, NY. Weird.

Woodstock has been idealised in the American popular culture as one of peak events of the hippie movement — a festival where nearly 500,000 flower children came together to celebrate. Now giant outdoor shows are quite common but at the time, Woodstock held the record for the largest music audience in history.

Tickets for the event cost $18 a day in advance - which would be about $100 today adjusted for inflation. Ticket sales were limited to record stores in the greater New York City area, or by mail via a Post Office Box at the Radio City Station Post Office located in Midtown Manhattan. That's old school.

Among the acts that played over the 3 days were Richie Havens, Country Joe & The Fish, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Canned Heat, Santana, Mountain, Janis, Sly & The Family Stone, The Dead, CCR, The Who, Joe Cocker, Jefferson Airplane, The Band, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Sha-Na-Na and Jimi Hendrix.

Canceled appearances, rumours, etc...
  • Iron Butterfly was stuck at an airport. Their manager called demanding helicopters to pick them up. They were sent a wire via Western Union and told to "get lost".

  • Joni Mitchell was set to perform but her agent informed her that it was more important that she appear on "The Dick Cavett Show" on Monday, with its national audience, rather than "sit around in a field with 500 people."

  • The promoters contacted John Lennon, requesting The Beatles to perform. Lennon said that he couldn't get the Beatles, but offered to play with his Plastic Ono Band. He was told "No thanks"

  • The Doors canceled at the last moment. Legend has it that Morrison, in a fit of paranoia, was fearful that someone would take a shot at him while he was onstage. John Densmore showed up and can be seen on the side of the stage during Joe Cocker's set.

  • Tommy James and the Shondells turned down the offer to play. Tommy James later said, "We could have just kicked ourselves. We were in Hawaii, and my secretary called and said, 'Yeah, listen, there's this pig farmer in upstate New York that wants you to play in his field.' That's how it was put to me at the time.

  • Dylan was in negotiations to play, but pulled out when his son became ill. He also was unhappy about the number of the hippies piling up outside his house near the originally planned site.

  • Free were also asked to perform but said "no".

  • Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young almost didn't play. The helicopter that Graham Nash and the group's drummer Dallas Taylor were on was less than 25 feet off the ground when the tail rotor failed and it began to spin. The helicopter almost crashed and Nash and Taylor were almost killed.

As the only reporter at Woodstock for the first 36 hours or so, Barnard Law Collier of the The Times was almost continually pressed by his editors in New York to make the story about the immense traffic jams, the less-than-sanitary conditions, the rampant drug use, the lack of "proper policing," and the presumed dangerousness of so many young people congregating.

Collier recalls: "Every major Times editor up to and including executive editor James Reston insisted that the tenor of the story must be a social catastrophe in the making. It was difficult to persuade them that the relative lack of serious mischief and the fascinating cooperation, caring and politeness among so many people was the significant point.

I had to resort to refusing to write the story unless it reflected to a great extent my on-the-scene conviction that 'peace' and 'love' was the actual emphasis, not the preconceived opinions of Manhattan-bound editors.

After many acrimonious telephone exchanges, the editors agreed to publish the story as I saw it, and although the nuts-and-bolts matters of gridlock and minor lawbreaking were put close to the lead of the stories, the real flavour of the gathering was permitted to get across. After the first day's Times story appeared on Page 1, the event was widely recognized for the amazing and beautiful accident it was."

Yippie Abbie Hoffman interrupted The Who's set during to attempt a protest speech against the jailing of John Sinclair of the White Panther Party. He grabbed a microphone and yelled, "I think this is a pile of shit! While John Sinclair rots in prison..." Pete Townshend, cut Hoffman off in mid-sentence, saying, "Back off! Back off my fucking stage!" He then struck Hoffman with his guitar, sending Abbie tumbling offstage, to the roaring approval of the crowd.

Townshend would later say he actually agreed with Hoffman on Sinclair's imprisonment, though he made the point that he would have knocked him offstage regardless of his message.

Abbie denied the incident and said Townshend merely bumped into him by accident and he wasn't tossed off stage.

Woodstock Statistics List

A collection of Woodstock Facts, Figures, Stories, Photos, Current Happenings, Memorabilia, Links, and Assorted Tidbits. Assembled to give you a clearer picture of an event that reshaped Music and Society.


Anonymous said...

I thought I knew just about everything about Woodstock. You opened my eyes to a lot I never knew. You missed meantioning Melanie, why? http://LetHerIn.org

Gotham City Insider said...

Wow. I suck. How DID I forget her is right?! Sorry!

"I got a brand new pair of roller skates
You got a brand new key
I think that we should get together and try them out you see"