It’s difficult to believe it’s been 50 years since nearly a half million people gathered for three days of peace, love and music in a small village in upstate New York.
What we now call Woodstock was first billed as An Aquarian Exposition: Three days of Peace and Music, and was truly the concert that almost didn’t happen.
The event was organized by four promoters who faced enormous challenges planning on a concert they thought would make millions. When it was over, they were close to bankruptcy.
At first glance, it all seemed possible and more than 160,000 tickets were sold in advance at $18 a pop. Officials expected no more than 200,000 to show up for the event. Town officials were promised that no more than 50,000 people would attend.
Organizers finally rented land from a local dairy farmer, Max Yasgur, for $10,000, and what at first appeared to be a second rate lineup of bands began to expand.
Organizers credit the booking of Creedence Clearwater Revival as the turning point in the planning process. Once the popular rockers were booked, other bands signed on and the event that changed rock ’n’ roll history was becoming a reality.
Kids began showing up on Wednesday before the concert, and any thoughts of a well-planned event exited with the influx.
Organizers made strategic decisions those final days that would shape the scope of what had become a happening. Trying to juggle dwindling funds for planning, they opted to build the stage versus erecting a fence around the event.
Those with and without tickets poured onto the farm, and organizers quickly declared it was a free concert . . . And the rest is history.
The last performer to take the stage was Jimi Hendrix. With the mixture of rain delays and bad organization, it was 8:30 a.m. on Monday when the Voodoo Child belted out his iconic version of the Star Spangled Banner.
And those who tell you of the untold number of rapes and deaths that occurred during the festival just don’t have the facts.
There were two deaths recorded, two births and a number of minor injuries.
And, that’s what we as a generation took away from a festival that grew in popularity once the movie “Woodstock” so beautifully captured the spirit of the festival. Many of us felt like the event confirmed that social harmony was possible and people could gather in an idealistic effort to promote peace and unity.
That brings us to an event scheduled this year to promote the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. It seems this event also is enduring its share of pre-planning nightmares with several locations in New York opting out of the process, and rapper Jay-Z recently announcing he won’t be performing at the event.
Organizers say they have now acquired a site in Maryland for the event, but, with less than two months remaining, it seems more likely that Woodstock II is more of a dream than a reality.
And, that’s OK with me. Let’s face it, most remakes are grossly inferior to the original, and capturing that spirit, confusion and unpredictability that made Woodstock a momentous occasion is impossible.
Maybe we should just remember this piece of Americana just the way it was: complete with mud, overflowing toilets and other inconveniences.
In 1971, I visited the small town near Yasgur’s farm on a trip to Canada. It was quiet and peaceful, and reminded me of a Saturday Evening Post cover, almost storybook in its idyllic setting.
I stopped for gas at a small service station and noticed a man across the street mowing his lawn. As I exited, I stopped my car and waved at the man as he finished up his lawn.
“Were you here for Woodstock?” I asked him.
“I sure was,” he yelled back. “A kid went to the bathroom (my words, his were more specific) right in my front yard.”
I pulled away slowly. I suppose the memories are not as pleasant for some of those who endured the three days of peace and love — and nowhere to go to the bathroom.