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It was fifty years ago today- Friday August 15, 1969- the setting Max Yasgur’s  600 acre Dairy Farm in Bethel, New York- The Woodstock Concert began. It would last from Friday afternoon until Monday morning. On Friday around 200,000 people arrived in rural Bethel- Sullivan County- in the Catskill Mountains- where dairy farmer Max Yasgur agreed to let them use his farm as the venue. It turned out to be a perfect venue for such a gathering.

Woodstock poster.jpg


Over the years I have been asked by people- since I am such a big music fan- Were You at Woodstock? I don’t know how old those people asking assume I am- but I was only eight years old, living in the country. My parents were not part of any counterculture- they had three children eight and under- two being one and two years old- they were just working hard to keep their heads above water at the time.  I have no memories of it. We had television of course and got 2 or 3 stations. I am sure the event was on the news but again, I was eight and more concerned about how my Pittsburgh Pirates were doing than anything else.

Looking back on it. If I had been in my early 20’s would I have went? Probably not- I am not a big fan of huge crowds but then again they never expected on Friday morning that 400,000 would end up making the journey. It is a miracle that the entire weekend went as well as it did. 400,000 people and all the issues the organizers faced- when everyone left on Monday it had been a peaceful and relatively incident free weekend. The issues they faced were dealt with- with the help of the people living in the area who helped feed them- the state government who helped with the medical emergencies. I can’t imagine something like this being pulled off 50 years later without being a major catastrophe.

The first day was the Folk Music Day- and an immediate problem became getting the entertainers to the site. The road were jammed with cars. They ended up airlifting the performers by helicopter. The opening performer- was a then little known folk singer named Richie Havens. He wasn’t scheduled to be the opening performer but he was the one who made it there first. They convinced him to open it- they feared the huge crowd was going to get restless if someone didn’t go on- since they were delayed already. It turned out to be a career maker to Havens. Just from watching the film over the years a dozen times- to me the musical highlight of the weekend was Havens. He went on stage and played and played and played- no one else was there yet- the opening act Sweetwater hadn’t made it. No one else had. He entertained the crowd for a couple hours before Sweetwater finally did arrive. At the end of his show when he was running out of material to play- he made up on the spot the song I identify most with the whole Woodstock experience “Freedom.” There was a huge crowd on Friday but the concert would reach it’s peak on Saturday when the rock acts were scheduled to play.



Below is a link not only to the line-up at Woodstock but the set lists of the performers.




  1. It is amazing nothing really bad happened with that many people. There was something electric about Haven’s performance.

    When they tried it again in 1999 it didn’t go so well…with rapes, violence, and legal price gouging included.

    • Maybe it was the rural setting? Most of the festivals of that era were marred by bad ugliness- but not Woodstock… Havens performance.. a great way to get the festival going in the right direction.

    • Yes the rural setting may have helped and maybe perfect timing.
      Playing that long unprepared probably added to it also… the excitement was there.

  2. Wonderful post, Hans, about an important date in musical history. I’m getting the goosebump listening to Havens right now. Something electric, as Max said. It’s a blessing he was there and he was able to keep things peaceful with his vibe. I wonder if humans will ever get back to this peaceful, non-violent place where 400,000 can gather without incident….

    • HA! I listened to a Havens CD yesterday on my IPOD while unpacking cargo yesterday at work- his music can’t help but make you happy. …. the older I get the more amazed I am about Woodstock. There had to be a number of factors as to why it was so successful- with 400,000 like that- maybe a lot of it was just plain luck….. I do think having Havens start things off- although he wasn’t supposed to- helped set the tone.

    • You know, Hans, a sociologist could easily use Woodstock as a topic for a Master’s Thesis. I’d love to read it if they did. Havens HAS to be a key factor to its success, by, as you said, “set the tone.”

    • I did some research- Mississippi Queen was released in early 1970- maybe it wasn’t written yet? It could have been written and not yet released? That is the first time I ever saw the complete set lists…. I wonder how the music sounded to those far back in the crowd?

    • Ah! It’s good to know Mountain had a bunch of other songs besides that one. I wonder also about hearing way back of the crowd, and they didn’t have big video screens like now back then either did they? You know how it is with people that attend music events: most are there for the socializing or to say they’ve been there, and some actually come for the live music experience.

    • I bet it was a little of both for people- on that PBS doc I think someone was saying how they did a lot of wondering around just exploring the ‘scene’

    • Who knows I may have even went- when you are young you do things like that–one thing I noticed in the movie and documentaries over the years most of the ones there were 18-25 i would guess.

  3. You are absolutely right. Given all the challenges, it is a near-miracle that everything stayed peaceful at Woodstock. The Richie Havens performance you called out undoubtedly is among the festival’s highlights.

  4. I just finished watching the PBS documentary you shared in another post. Wow, it was astonishing how the organizers pulled off the event in so little time! And, despite far more people showing up than had ever been imagined, with the help of others in the region and cooperation by all those in attendance, everything went off pretty smoothly.

    • Funny how at the end they had time to either finish the stage or the fence… of course they needed the stage. I have enjoyed hearing all the Woodstock related stuff this past week.

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