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.
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.