60 Rarely Seen Photographs Of Woodstock
By | November 28, 2022
Woodstock was an expensive festival
Woodstock has been a beautiful memory for more than 50 years, and while it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since half a million people grooved in upstate New York, a golden anniversary is a great reason to look back at some nostalgic photos.
From August 15 - 18, 1969 half a million people showed up to dance and groove in the mud while artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and The Who jammed for hours on end. Woodstock is remembered as three days of peace, love, and music, but in order to put this monumental festival together a lot of things had to come together. People often wonder about the ins and outs of the festival: How much were the bands paid? How big was the farm? And how much did tickets cost for Woodstock? We’ve got all those answers for you and much more on this rundown of what life was really like for people attending the Woodstock festival in 1969.
What did people eat? Who is the elusive Woodstock baby? And what was it like being stuck in all that traffic? You want to know, we’ve got answers. Rock on!
Peace and love aside, Woodstock cost a lot of money to put on. There were the fees for the bands, space, and food as well as the unseen costs of hosting a massive festival in the middle of nowhere. Not only did the organizers incur major fees after moving the festival from Woodstock proper to Wallkill and then to Bethell, but they had to pay for helicopters, limousines, medical supplies – if there was something that cost money you can bet that it was Woodstock.
At the time the organizers were reportedly in $1.3 million worth of debt, and even after the release of the concert film took off like gangbusters the organizers still owed $100,000 to various parties.
The bands were fairly cheap
In an era where artists are pulling down massive paydays for one time performances it’s easy to believe that things have always been that way. Not so, or at least not at Woodstock. In 1969 most of the bands made less than $10,000, and there were five – including Santana – who made less than $1,000. It’s wild to think that something that was so culturally important and based around music got away with paying minor artist fees, but that was the ’60.
Richie Havens opened the show by accident
There were four groups scheduled to play the Woodstock festival before Richie Havens took the stage on August 15, but when they found themselves stuck in the festival’s legendary traffic the singer-songwriter was thrust in front of the already packed crowd, and as he played a three hour set the audience became enthralled in his full bodied performance. His final song, “Freedom/Motherless Child” was completely impromptu. He explained in 2009:
When you see me in [the Woodstock movie] tuning my guitar and strumming, I was actually trying to figure out what else I could possibly play! I looked out at all of those faces in front of me and the word ‘freedom’ came to mind.
The organizers hoped the festival would cover the cost of building a studio
In hindsight it seems like a fool’s errand to put on a festival as a way to make money, but in the late ‘60s anything and everything seemed possible. John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfield and Michael Lang got together with the idea of building a state of the art recording studio near Woodstock, New York.
Michael Lang organized the Miami Pop Festival a year earlier and that went off well, so he thought that he could do it again in New York while making a hefty chunk of change. With a budget of $500,000 the quartet got to work, completely unaware of just how lofty their goals were.
Most of the audience didn’t pay
Michael Lang, one of the organizers of the event, estimated before the event that they’d have 100,000 attendees to their little festival. After they sold 186,000 tickets that number was bumped up to 200,000, that’s a lot of people but it’s still controllable. By Friday night people were showing up in droves and pushing through the gates.
Rather than turn the gates into a pile of bodies, the organizers decided to open the gates and let the half a million attendees in for free. There was no way to know that so many people would want to be a part of Woodstock.
It was impossible to walk without stepping on someone
Politeness went out the window at Woodstock thanks to the half a million people who attended the three day bacchanalia. Everyone there was camping out and doing their best not to disturb their neighbors, but when everyone is this close there’s no way to walk from your tent to the stage without stepping on at least one foot. Journalist Hendrik Hertzberg said:
As we lay there, trying to sleep, a constant, never-ending stream of people moved back and forth. All night long, without cease, their feet sloshed and stomped and slammed a few inches from our heads. Some of these passers-by were chemically disoriented. Their panic and confusion made them heedless of their steps. The rain, the mud, the unending shuffling and tramping, the constant fear of having one’s face trodden on—all this made sleep difficult.
New York City police were barred from working the festival
One of the biggest problems facing the festival was the fact that there was no security to help maintain order. Luckily, the attendees were able to form a bond and somewhat govern themselves, but a security presence could have helped make things more peaceful. Initially the promoters planned to pay 346 off-duty New York Policemen $50-a-day for their help, but on the Thursday before the festival New York City Police Commissioner Howard Leary banned his officers from working.
With no security and no police, the festival wasn’t able to control traffic, move in their food, or even manage the gate properly. That one dictate turned the entire festival into a free for all. Thankfully, local law enforcement stepped in when things got out of control, but it was still a mess.
Everyone at the festival was really nice
Something that keeps popping up across stories of the Woodstock festival is how nice everyone was. Rather than act like snotty college kids or hippies out to blow someone’s mind, they were polite and thankful to locals for letting them have a show. After the event one police officer told Rolling Stone:
When our police cars were getting stuck they even helped us get them out. It was really amazing. I think a lot of police here are looking at their attitudes.
A local woman also told the magazine back in ’69 how surprised she was that the hippies said “excuse me.”
The festival took its toll on the promoter
Following the final notes of Woodstock the organizers of the event had been through enough rock ’n roll for a lifetime. Artie Kornfeld, one of the four producers of the festival told Rolling Stone that he was out of the festival business for the time being regardless of how much fun he had:
The whole trip was a phenomenal thing to go through, man. It was just such a heavy number that went down. Michael [24-year-old Executive Producer Michael Lang] and myself are just trying to think out where we’re going with our heads. We’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do when we grow up.
Farm owner Max Yasgur thought one time was enough
After three days of love, peace, and music the Woodstock, New York locals were all partied out. After the revelers decamped from the fields that housed the festival there was still clean up to take care of and a definite culture shock to get over. People who lived in the surrounding area may have briefly enjoyed the spectacle, but when all was said and done they were ready to get back to their normal lives.
No, we won’t have it here next year. All 2,000 acres would not be enough for half a million kids. I’m going to Canada for a vacation, to a fishing camp we have there.
Max Yasgur was paid $50,000 for the use of his land
The location for the Woodstock festival was snakebit from the start. Initially the festival was meant to be held in Woodstock, then it was moved to Wallkill before that location backed out as well. With nowhere to host the event the organizers were introduced to a dairy farmer named Max Yasgur. His property was the perfect place to host a festival of the size the organizers thought it would be, and they reached a deal with him.
After the event ended Yagsur was sued by his neighbors for the destruction of property during the fest, but he was awarded $50,000 after all was said and done.
Sweetwater had to be airlifted out of traffic
The folkie psychedelic band Sweetwater was booked to open the festival on Friday afternoon, however that plan changed as soon as they found themselves stuck in the deadlocked traffic on the way to the gates. With no way to get themselves and their equipment to the grounds in time, they ended up being brought through the gates via helicopter, something that turned into a regular occurrence throughout the weekend.
The band ended up playing far later than they were scheduled, but by the time they took the stage thing were already unraveling and they just went along for the ride.
People abandoned their cars in traffic
Thanks to word of mouth and good advertising the festival was a huge hit. People from across the country drove to Bethel, New York in order to see what was happening in Woodstock. It turned out that everyone arrived at the same time, causing one of the all time worst traffic jams known to man. Some people abandoned their cars and walked to the festival, others turned around and went home, and some people just sat there, unsure of what to do.
One journalist who traveled to upstate New York in order to cover the festival found himself ensnared in the deluge of cars and abandoned his ride to walk five hours back to his hotel saying, “It’s like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.”
The Who wouldn’t play until they had cash in hand
For the peace and love generation The Who stuck out like a sore thumb at Woodstock, but they didn’t let that stop them from delivering one of their signature walloping performances. The sound may have been bad, and the stage was collapsing, but they didn’t care because they had more than $10,000 in their pockets.
According to Rolling Stone, the band’s road manager, John Wolff, didn’t want to take any chances with the festival and the band refused to go on stage until their fee was paid. Once they they were paid they took the stage and had to deal with a weird crowd and Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman who jumped on stage and tried wrestle the mic away from Roger Daltry only to be tossed to the ground.
Looking out the gloom of Woodstock, making out the vague shape of half a million mud-caked people as the lights swept over them, I felt in my sleep-deprived, hallucinating state that this was my nightmare come true.
It’s a miracle things didn’t fall apart completely
With little time to put together the stage and sound equipment, most of the festival was held together by prayers and duct tape. When a storm rolled in one night it threatened to ruin the whole show and electrocute everyone on the premises. Joel Makower, author of Woodstock: The Oral History explained:
The conditions were suboptimal to say the least. There were electrical wires going under the mud and the ground was vibrating… Everyone was praying that [the light towers] weren’t going to fall because they just weren’t well-tethered. And so the conditions for the acts to play were challenging.
Tickets for the festival were very cheap
Anyone who’s been to a festival in the last decade knows that ticket fees are astronomical. That wasn’t the case in 1969. Tickets to the Woodstock festival weren’t just cheap, they were dirt cheap. For a one day pass all you had to shell out was $7. Two day passes cost $13, and a pass for the full weekend cast $18. That’s not bad for the amount of talent that was booked.
Of course those tickets didn’t matter by the second day when the festival organizers decided to let everyone in free in order to establish some kind of peace. Still, those aren’t bad prices for the show.
No one knew who Santana was when they took the stage
When Santana took the stage at Woodstock they were relative unknowns. The group was a curious, mystical force that played psychedelic blues and pushed boundaries with the audiences. Fresh off releasing their first album they were ready to show the world what they had to offer. Guitar god Carlos Santana says that he’ll never forget the sound of Woodstock:
It’s always a high to remember the sound. I heard it before it came out of my fingers; then I heard it come out of my fingers and into the guitar strings, to the amplifier and to the P.A., and then from the P.A. to a whole ocean of people. And then it comes back to you. You never forget that. That’s where I discovered my first mantra: ‘God! Please help me stay in time and in tune!’
Country Joe and the Fish played two days early
Country Joe and the Fish weren’t supposed to play until Sunday evening, but they were around early so they were stuck on after the three hour set by Richie Havens. It’s not an enviable spot and the audience wasn’t into the group until Joe tried out an R-rated version of what he called the “FISH cheer.” Joe explained:
At our earlier shows, we’d shout, ‘Gimme an F, gimme an I,’ and so on. ‘What’s that spell? FISH…’ But the ‘FISH Cheer’ at Woodstock was an energizing moment. I kicked into my folksong singer mode and segued into 'I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag,’ and the crowd was mesmerized.
Mountain hid from the organizers so they wouldn’t have to play early
With the intense traffic keeping bands and fans out of the festival the organizers had to use whoever was around to keep the show going. That means that if a band was on the grounds they were playing regardless of when they were scheduled. Hard rock group Mountain caught on quick to what was happening, and not wanting to lose out on their spot following Canned Heat they did want anyone would do. They hid.
We were scheduled for Saturday night. We got a great time period, but since we got up to Woodstock earlier that day, we had to hide until it got dark, because they would have put us on sooner, since some of the bands before us weren’t ready to play. It was chaos in the beginning. We went on at night, just as scheduled. But at about two or three in the morning.
Woodstock bummed out the Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead went through major highs and lows, and they toured constantly. By 1969 they’d seen it all, but they really didn’t like playing in the dark. Years after the fact guitarist and de facto leader Jerry Garcia said that the band didn’t care for playing at Woodstock mostly because they couldn’t see anyone in the crowd. He explained:
Woodstock was a bummer for us. It was terrible to play at. We were playing at nighttime, in the dark, and we were looking out to what we knew to be 400,000 people. But you couldn’t see anybody. You could only see little fires and stuff out there on the hillside, and these incredible bright spotlights shining in your eyes. People were freaking out here and there and crowding on the stage. People behind the amplifiers were hollering that the stage was about to collapse—all that kind of stuff. It was like a really bad psychic place to be when you’re trying to play music.
The documentary crew was scrambling to film the show
In order to film everything at Woodstock a documentary crew had to utilize seven cameras, and two editors who were on the scene throughout the festival. One of those editors, Martin Scorsese, had the task of trying to coral the cameramen into shooting images that he thought would work best on screen. Everyone was squeezed into tight sections on and near the stage, which proved to be dangerous for everyone involved. Scorsese explained:
All of us were dependent on one another for our wellbeing. If someone had shoved me out of the way, I could have been knocked off that platform. But that never happened - not to any of us.
I almost never saw the audience, so concentrated was I on the action on stage. It was simply a restive - potentially volatile - presence behind us. Every once in a while, I would catch a glimpse of Michael Wadleigh, the director, wielding his camera, headphones askew, trying to stay in touch with the other cameramen by radio microphone. Mostly, we were getting what we could get.
The audience went to bed before CCR played
Creedence Clearwater Revival were at the top of their game when they performed at Woodstock, and if the show had gone off as planned then they would have rocked at an appropriate time. Unfortunately all of the set backs pushed their set into the wee hours of the night and they didn’t play until some time on Saturday morning following a Grateful Dead set rife with technical difficulties.
We didn’t do very well at Woodstock because of the time segment and also because we followed the Grateful Dead, and therefore everybody was asleep. It seemed like we didn’t go on until two a.m. Even though in my mind we made the leap into superstardom that weekend, you’d never know it from the [film] footage.
The festival nearly came to an end on Saturday night
Three days of peace, love, and music almost turned into something like 36 hours of music, mud, and mayhem on Saturday night when the bands started asking for their money. This was spurred on by a couple of different things. First, The Who refused to take the stage until they had cash in hand, and secondly, the festival was out of control by Saturday and people weren’t paying to get into the show.
Bands were obviously confused about how they were going to be paid if the festival wasn’t taking in money so they held up the festival for cash payouts. Fearing for the worst if the bands stopped playing, organizer John Roberts used his trust fund as collateral for an emergency loan. A local bank agreed to open their doors around midnight and the festival kept grooving.
Crosby, Stills, & Nash were almost had to borrow equipment
Getting into the Woodstock festival was nearly impossible for fans and for artists. Crosby, Stills, and Nash were set to play their second show of their career, and that almost didn’t happen because they didn’t have any equipment. It's not clear why they weren't traveling with their equipment, but that's what happened. They were going to use a hodgepodge of whatever they could find, but ended up having their stuff brought in by helicopter.
Our equipment almost didn’t get there. We were going to use a potpourri of the Jefferson Airplane’s and the Band’s equipment to play, but it showed up just in the nick of time.
There’s enough documentary footage for a seven hour film
Because the filmmakers had six to seven cameras running simultaneously over the course of three days they had miles of footage. Initially they weren’t sure if any of their footage looked good - especially everything they filmed at night - but after setting up multiple projectors to watch the footage all at once they realized just how much they’d captured. Martin Scorsese explained:
A large open space above a pool hall, also near West 86th, had been rented so the raw Woodstock footage could be projected on the wall. The material from six or more cameras could be shown simultaneously on that wall. There was just something viscerally exciting about all that film running through the projectors at once. It became the stylistic hallmark of the movie; more important, by giving equal time to performance and crowd, it enabled Wadleigh to re-create the entire experience for the movie audience.
There was enough usable material for a seven-hour film, which is why, in its various home-video incarnations, Woodstock has shape-shifted quite a bit over the years, without ever betraying its essence.
The organizers didn’t pay off their Woodstock debts until the 1980s
With the amount of lawsuits, failed ticket sales, and regular fees that a festival incurs, the organizers behind Woodstock were so in debt that they were dodging collectors way beyond the peace and love ’60 and into the go go ‘80s. When all was said and done they spent close to $3.1 million on the festival and only made $1.8 million.
One of biggest debts that they took on was to the family of John P. Roberts, heir to the Colgate fortune. His family paid off the majority of the costs, which put the organizers in debt to them until the early 1980s when Rosenman and Roberts were able to make their last payment.
The organizers couldn’t get a food vendor for the festival
Even before half a million people showed up on the grounds of Woodstock there was a problem with food. Initially the organizers wanted a major vendor to help feed the masses, but they couldn’t get anyone on board.
They even reached out to Nathan’s Hot Dog’s, but when the original location fell through Nathan’s pulled out entirely. When the finally did figure out food the group that was hired, Food for Love, was fully underprepared for the sea of people to come. Organizer Michael Lang wrote in The Road to Woodstock:
We originally thought locating a food vendor would be a no-brainer and that this would be a big profit center for us. As it turned out, the large food-vending companies like Restaurant Associates, which handled ball parks and arenas, didn't want to take on Woodstock. No one had ever handled food services for an event this size. They didn't want to put in the investment capital necessary to supply such a huge amount of food, on-site kitchens, and personnel, plus transport everything upstate. And what if we didn't draw the crowds we projected?
Creedence Clearwater Revival made bands want to play at the festival
As great of an idea as Woodstock was, the organizers couldn’t get any big bands to hop on the bill. It was one thing to get artists like Quill and Santana (who only had one album released at the time) to agree to play, but the larger acts that would sell tickets weren’t jumping at the chance to travel to upstate New York. That changed once Creedence Clearwater Revival agreed to play.
When CCR agreed to play the organizers were able to turn that booking into a way to convince bigger bands - like Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead - into appearing at the festival.
The sound at Woodstock was state of the art
How do you put together a sound system for 200,000 people? If you’re the organizers of Woodstock you turn to award winning sound engineer Bill Hanley. He was one of the few people with the technical knowhow and the gumption to put a system together that could rock an entire farm. Hanley and his crew actually built the speaker columns for the event, knowing that they had to be made of something tough. He explained:
We built two speaker towers each of which had two levels containing its own speaker cluster. The highest one was 70 feet high to accommodate the audience in the middle of the field and high up on the hill. The lowest one, at 20 feet, was for the audience nearest to the stage. There were four cabinets arrayed on both towers on each level, which had about 32 woofers each.
The artists were helicoptered in
In order to make sure the artists could actually get to the festival and that they weren’t stuck in traffic with the riff raff almost every band had to be airlifted onto the grounds. Crosby remembers:
It was incredible. It’s probably the strangest thing that has ever happened in the world. Can I describe what it looked like flying in on the helicopter, man? Like an encampment of the Macedonian army on the Greek hills, crossed with the biggest batch of gypsies that you ever saw. I’m asked about Woodstock so often I usually feign only a dim recollection of it. But the truth is my memory of it is very good. I loved it. I thought it was a very heartfelt, wonderful, accidentally great thing where a lot of incredible music got played. There was a genuine feeling of brotherhood among the people who were there.
The organizers tried to book The Beatles
What a coup it would have been if the organizers of Woodstock had been able to book The Beatles into playing the festival. That would have been cool, but supposedly when Lennon was asked about the band coming over to the states to play he demurred and said that only if Yoko Ono’s group also had a place on the show. That definitely sounds like something that would happen, but it’s more likely that the band just didn’t want to do it.
By 1969 The Beatles were about to break up and that they hadn’t played a show together in years so they weren’t jumping to play at a festival out of nowhere.
One police officer was still doing his job in the middle of traffic
Daniel Carlson, a police officer who was in the area to help out, did most of his work in the insane traffic jam that kept many of the concertgoers out of the show. He says that while most of the cops were happy to hang out and keep the peace, at least one officer stayed on duty like he had a quota. Carlson said:
I can recall a motorcyclist coming down 17B and he didn't have his helmet on … in this sea of humanity, this helmet-less biker came by and the police officer next to me admonished him to put his helmet on. I remember thinking, with all this going on around us, that seemed to be an issue I probably wouldn't want to take a stand on. That probably could have been left alone, if for no other reason of making sure everyone stayed calm and composed. That one thing always kind of struck me as being a bit out of place. I guess he put his helmet on. But it struck me as odd, with him putting his helmet on and the people over there taking their clothes off to swim in the lake off of 17B.
Anyone who knew the promoters got a helicopter ride
The only way to get around in upstate New York during the Woodstock festival was by helicopter, but it’s not like you can just grab a helicopter and fly around at the drop of a hat. Unless of course you know a guy with 24/7 access to a whirlybird. Ike Phillips of Woodstock happened to know promoter Michael Lang and was able to hitch a ride whenever he wanted. He said:
On the Thursday, we went from (the Town of) Woodstock to Woodstock in a helicopter, which was the way to go. It was at that point that everyone realized how huge this thing was going to be. We went back to Woodstock the town. We just thought we would drive back. But there was no driving back - one road in, one road out.
Bob Dylan didn’t want to be around a bunch of hippies so he didn’t play
In 1969, Bob Dylan was at the one of the many heights of his career, and it would have amazing see the troubadour on stage at Woodstock. Unfortunately for the organizers of the show Dylan’s son was ill at the time and he really hated hippies. The singer backed out of negotiations to take care of his son, and things weren’t helped when hippies started gathering around his home in upstate New York.
Whether or not it was a dig at the organizers and the people that came to the festival, Dylan decided to play at the Isle of Wight Festival. It was one of his first shows since his near fatal motorcycle crash in 1966.
Food had to be airlifted into the site
Once the festival turned to bedlam and there was no food left on the grounds there was almost a riot, but thankfully the kind people of Sullivan Country put together a care package of 10,000 sandwiches, water, fruit and canned goods. Even after the food was delivered to the grounds there were still people who didn’t want to leave their place at the front the stage.
Some festivalgoers hadn’t eaten in two days so the festival organizers made their way to the front of the stage where they made “breakfast in bed for four hundred thousand” by handing out cups of granola to everyone in the front. In the end everyone was fed and the bands played on.
Two young fans made it to the festival by taking the backroads.
Locals that wanted to get to the show didn’t take the main highway to get to Woodstock. Instead, many of them took back roads that bought them right up to the front of the line. The only problem was when they arrived they couldn’t leave.
Herschel Lessin explained:
[Lessin’s friend] knew it was going to be crowded, so he took the back roads. He drops us off and tells us when he's going to pick us up. Once we got there, we realized nobody was picking anybody up. The place was a madhouse. We bought tickets, for heaven's sake. We were good kids. We were ready to pay our money, go to the show and go home. But we didn't know what we were going to do, because there was no way to get home. It had been driving rain all day and the place was a real mud bath.
Tommy James didn’t want to leave Hawaii to play Woodstock
Tommy James of “I Think We’re Alone Now” fame was offered a spot on the Woodstock stage but notes that when the call came he was relaxing in Hawaii at the time and couldn’t be bothered to leave the serenity of his estate for upstate New York. He said:
I'm in this 22 room Spanish villa mansion at the foot of Diamond Head in Hawaii and my biggest decision of the day was whether to go swimming in the ocean or the pool. I get a call 6,000 miles away that a farmer in Upstate New York is gonna throw a concert in his field. I said ‘Sure, I'm gonna leave Hawaii for that, and play in the mud somewhere in New York.’ I said ‘If I'm not there, start without me!’ And they did. But I made the Atlanta Pop Festival and that was exciting. Grand Funk, Janis Joplin, Sly Stone were there. It was a real, real great gig.
Iron Butterfly’s manager talked them out of playing after they flew to New York
One band that was booked to play to festival was Iron Butterfly. The “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” singers actually flew into Upstate New York, but when they found themselves stuck at the airport their manager demanded that the promoters pick up the band, and that didn’t fly with the festival’s organizers. Festival co-organizer Michael Lang explained:
Iron Butterfly was booked for Sunday afternoon, but John Morris [production coordinator and stage MC] told me that their agent had called with a last-minute demand for a helicopter to pick them up… Apparently the agent had a real attitude, and we were up to our eyeballs in problems. So I told John to tell him to forget it; we had more important things to deal with.
People were leaving while Jimi Hendrix played
One of the craziest stories from the Woodstock festival is that people actually left during Jimi Hendrix’s performance. He was slated to close the festival the evening before, but because of all the problems he played at 9am on Monday morning. He noticed that people were leaving and kept playing anyway.
As I watch from the stage, I see more and more people wandering away. Jimi notices too, and says, ‘You can leave if you want to. We’re just jamming, that’s all. You can leave, or you can clap.’ He looks up at the streaks of sun pouring through the clouds — some of the first rays we’ve seen in a while. ‘The sky church is still here, as you can see.’
Neil Young didn't want to be there
While Woodstock is remembered as a tribute to peace and love, a time when the world came together to celebrate life and music, one Neil Young didn’t care for it. At the time he was playing with Crosby, Stills, and Nash before he was added to the main group and he thought the show was too “Hollywood” and blown out of proportion:
Woodstock was a [bad] gig… We played… awful. No one was into the music. I think Stephen [Stills] was way overboard into the huge crowd. Everybody was on this Hollywood trip with the… cameras. They weren’t playin’ to the audience as much as to the cameras… I could see everybody changing their performances for the camera and I thought that was [a drag]… Everybody’s carried away with how cool they are… I wasn’t moved.
The Woodstock festival didn’t have merchandise
No matter what kind of festival you attend today it’s going to have merchandise. T-shirts, hoodies, stickers, and whatever else can be branded will go up for sale. That wasn’t the case at Woodstock. Even the program for the festival, an 8-1/2 x 11 program, wasn’t sold. Organizers meant to hand out the programs to people when the entered the grounds, but when things going out of control and the fences were rushed they skipped the programs.
Many of the programs were tossed at the end of the festival, meaning only people with tremendous foresight were able to snag a souvenir from the trash before going home. That makes these programs some of the most interesting pieces of rock memorabilia around.
The New York State Thruway didn’t close despite reports to the opposite
When folk singer Arlo Guthrie took the stage in upstate New York he proclaimed “the New York State Thruway is closed, man,” in reference to the idea that all of the hippies driving to the festival had closed down the freeway, but that wasn’t actually the case. The police actually closed down the Newburgh and Harriman exits for a little while to keep people from exiting from the very open thruway to attend the festival.
This isn’t to say that Guthrie was fibbing, he just didn’t have access to up to date news like we do now. Honestly, it’s a better story to say that the thruway was closed and stories are what folk music is all about.
Max Yasgur’s 600 acre farm was barely large enough for the festival
Even though reports from Woodstock talk about how cramped the environment was, there was actually a lot of room on Max Yasgur’s farm. While Yasgur was a dairy farmer, he owned a 600 acre plot of land that he wasn’t using and that’s what became the site of the world’s most well known rock festival. While that sounds like the perfect amount of ground for a festival, it turned out to be not enough when 300,000 more people than the organizers were expecting showed up.
The farm is now an official historic site, and it plays host to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a cultural nonprofit. It’s well worth checking out if you want to live the Woodstock magic for the first time.
The original Woodstock festival lost its location over port-a-potties
Before moving to Yagsur’s farm while the clock was counting down towards the opening sets of the festival, everything was ready to go at the Howard Mills Industrial Park in Wallkill, New York. Even though the organizers had a deal with the local government about the festival no one really wanted them there. In order to get the festival out of their hair the folks in Wallkill cooked up a plan.
They stated that the portable toilets provided by the organizers weren’t up to code and that cost the festival its permit. With one month before the first day of the festival the organizers were sent scrambling.
Yagsur shared the organizer’s desire for peace and love
Even though Yagsur was on the receiving end a hefty sum of money for the use of his land, he didn’t let allow the festival go on just for a chunk of change. With his square haircut and thick rimmed glasses he may have not looked like a hippie, but he had plenty of peace and love in his heart. He even went so far as to attend the festival just to see what the whole thing was all about.
During the festival Yagsur was introduced to the crowd where he received a rapturous applause. Not only did he share the hippy's belief in a sustainable, peaceful world, but he liked their laid back nature as well.
Cows were wandering the festival grounds
Woodstock was crawling with a few different types of animals during the three days of peace, love, and music - specifically hippies and cows. It’s important to remember that Woodstock was being held at an actual working dairy farm which means that there were cows not too far away from where bands were rocking out in the rain.
Even though the cows were initially corralled away from the festival goers, when hippies broke down the barriers in order to get onto the grounds they unded all of the farm’s hard work. Rather than attempt to catch the cows and push them into another fenced in area the ranch hands just decided to let the cows mingle with the hippies and things worked out okay.
It took 400 volunteers to clean up after the festival
By the end of the festival the grounds were covered with pounds of refuse left by half a million music fans. Even though it sounds like hippies would be the kind of people who clean up after themselves, that’s not the case when it came to Woodstock. On the Monday at the end of the Woodstock festival the 600 acre farm was filled with trash.
In order to clean the space 400 volunteers had to band together to pick everything up and another $100,000 were needed to make sure the farm was brought back to normal before the organizers could fully pull out of the grounds.
Arnold Skolnick had to come up with the poster in almost two days
The Woodstock poster design has become immortal in the minds of music fans, and designer Arnold Skolnick only hand a couple of days to come up with the whole thing. His only real dictate from the organizers were that none of the band names could be a larger font than the others in order to make it seem like no one was receiving top billing. Skolnick explained how he made the poster:
I sat around all weekend to try and figure out how to do this thing. That summer I’d been staying in a place at the end of Long Island, Shelter Island… and there were these catbirds—I’d been out there drawing and sketching this bird about the place—and that Monday morning I sat down, and I took a razor blade, and I cut all these shapes out. I cut out all the pieces, and I put it on blue, because blue is for peace, and I sat there all morning from seven, eight, nine, ten—it comes to eleven o’clock, and something is wrong.
I had my own set of rules about design—you only have to say something once, you don’t have to say it twice, and the bird already said ‘peace.’ So I ran to the store and bought this read paper. I put all the pieces out on the red paper, and it just said it, that was it.
The Grateful Dead were so bad that they lost some fans
The Grateful Dead are one of the most legendary live bands around. They’ve won their fans over by touring relentlessly and jamming their hearts out, but they had a legendarily bad show at Woodstock. According to Glen Weisner, who was at the festival, the group was so bad that they lost some fans:
The Grateful Dead tried to play, but were hamstrung with technical problems from the rain as well as having to play without stage lighting. All I can remember was aimless riffing from the dark stage as the crew tried to fix things, and no one bothered to explain to us what the difficulty was. As a result, I mistakenly assumed this was the Dead's actual style of music. In fact, I thought they were so bad that I didn't see them again until 1983, when a guitar student of mine put a ticket to a show in Syracuse, NY, in my hand and gave me a ride in his car (the Dead were great, and I became a belated fan).
Jimi Hendrix played last because of a contractural obligation
One of the biggest questions about Woodstock was why Hendrix played last on Monday morning. He could have easily had a prime spot on Saturday or Sunday night, but he ended up closing the show. Supposedly it all came down to his manager insisting that Jimi headline the show and get paid $100,000. He didn’t pull down that money but he was offered $30,000 for two sets - an acoustic set on Friday morning to open the show and another to close the set.
Hendrix didn’t even show up until Sunday so he never played the acoustic set. Organizer Michael Lang said that Hendrix could play at midnight, but the guitarist’s manager refused, saying that no one would play after Hendrix, thus he played on Monday morning.
One hill was so muddy people called it “the glob”
It rained so much at the festival that one hill became so muddy that it acquired legendary status. The muddiest hill was of course the spot where attendees had to go to buy food, drinks, and cigarettes, so anyone waiting in line was immediately soaked. One attendee explained:
Up there are the underground paper peddlers, ice cream trucks, a hill of food and drink and cigarette concessions (first you stand in line to get a ticket and then in another line to buy [your items], for a while in a thin sea of mud). It doesn't take you long to find all of this a drag, even with the better musicians on stage. Not the music, but the scene. Many are calling that side of the hill ‘the glob.’
Sly and the Family Stone rocked Woodstock like no other
Most of the groups that played Woodstock were folkies or psychedelic rock acts, but Sly and the Family Stone were on a trip like no other. This heavily r&b influenced funk group was flying high off their hit album, “Stand!” at the time and were deep in the middle of a tour. While the rest of the groups at Woodstock were flying by the seat of their pants, Sly and the Family Stone were a well oiled machine.
The group played from 3:20 a.m. to 4:20 a.m. following Janis Joplin's set, and the sleep deprived group gave one of the most hectic and intense performances of the festival. Staying up all night will do that to you.
There were thousands of medical cases throughout the three day festival
TIME Magazine reports that over the course of the three day festival there close to 5,162 medical incidents, although that number can fluctuate depending on the undocumented cases that occurred. The on sire medical staff had to deal with everything imaginable, from people getting hurt from slipping in the mud, to exhaustion, to the most routine ailment - foot lacerations.
A medical intern on the grounds during the festival remembers that the staff had to think on their feet:
Many of the treatments had to be improvised, such as the treatment of a case of digitalis toxicity with orange juice since we had no potassium.
Despite reports there were no actual births
One rumor that refuses to go away is that there were at least two births at Woodstock. That rumor was perpetuated from the stage by singer John Sebastian who said, “[some] old lady just had a baby.” It’s unclear if Sebastian started the rumor or if he was just repeating information, but if anyone gave birth at the festival the children have never come forward.
In all actuality there’s no proof of a birth at Woodstock. William Abruzzi, a local general practitioner who was hired to oversee the EMS aspects of the festival says that there were no reports of births in his tents, but that one woman did have a baby in her car on the way to Woodstock.
Joni Mitchell didn’t go to Woodstock but she wrote a song about it anyway
The most famous song about the 1969 festival in Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” which details a person traveling on the road to the Yagsur’s farm and having a grand experience. However, Mitchell didn’t go to Woodstock because her manager, David Geffen, wouldn’t let her.
Mitchell was booked to appear on television the day after the festival and Geffen didn’t want her to miss the show, which he felt was more apt to get eyeballs on her than an upstate hippie festival. At the time Mitchell was dating Graham Nash and when he explained how much he loved the festival to her she sat down with pen and paper and wrote the song.
One band got more stage time than any other artist
The least talked about band at Woodstock was The Quarry, the festival’s house band that kept things cooking in between acts when the festival was in full swing on their own stage called “Movement City.” Before the bigger groups arrived they played in order to sound check the massive sound system. All in all they played three shows a day for seven days.
The performance area of Movement City (left of the main stage) is usually crowded with people, maybe 70,000 at a time. The high point for me was an unbelievable performance by The Quarry, an outasite group of very heavy musicians. Mick Valenti is so far out (‘far in,’ as he said last night), a fine musician.
The festival was named after a “vibe,” not a place
People often wonder why Woodstock was called “Woodstock” and not “Yagsur’s Farm” or “Bethel,” where it was actually held. When all was said and done the festival was actually 60 miles away from Woodstock, New York. The name didn’t come from a town, it’s because organizer Michael Lang thought the word had the right “vibe.” According to journalist Bob Spitz:
It was really called Woodstock because [festival co-creator] Mike Lang thought it had the right vibe. It's where The Band hung out and he just liked the whole feel of the word. No matter where they were gonna have it, it was always going to be the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Everything about Woodstock has to do with the vibe.
Woodstock was briefly one of the most populated areas in America
For a moment during the festival there were so many people in the 600 acre farm - some half a million - that the area was considered to be one of the most populated areas in the country. There were so many people on so little square footage that the farm rivaled New York City for its population. The 8 AM wake up call explained as much to the revelers. The organizers said:
Good morning. Last night was really groovy, and today is going to be even better. We have one of the biggest cities in the United States, and we ought to be proud of ourselves. And everything’s OK and we’re on top of it. The rest of the world thinks that we’re having trouble, but we’re not.
Woodstock was considered a disaster area
On the morning of August 17 the festival wasn’t just one of the most populated areas in America, it was a disaster. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York declared that the Woodstock festival was a disaster area. He sent in the National Guard with orders to remove the audience from the grounds, which would have definitely harshed the vibes of the whole affair.
Thankfully that didn’t happen. Organizers were able to negotiate with the governor’s staff to keep the festival going as long as a the National Guard could set up field hospitals and medical teams. That’s not a bad deal.
Jefferson Airplane played for nearly 2 hours
Jefferson Airplane were supposed at play during a prime spot on Saturday night. Their brand of psychedelic rock would have been perfect for the setting, but nothing played out how it was supposed to at Woodstock. The band finally took the stage at 8am on Sunday morning to bleary-eyed, sleepy hippies and tore through a 100 minute set of raucous rock ’n roll. Lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen remembers:
We went on like 18 hours late, something ridiculous. My wife was there but I had this girlfriend who had also shown up, so I was really concerned with keeping the two of them as far apart as possible. My ex-wife used to claim that one of the reasons I played so long was that I was afraid to face her when I came offstage, and there could have been some truth to this. I could hardly wait to get onstage at this particular venue.