Last week marked the 51st anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair held in Upstate New York in the summer of ‘69. The unprecedented event became a cultural milestone and a defining moment for a generation. Perhaps a topic of contention at the time, it has since developed a symbolic legacy, embodying the spirit of musical and communal harmony.
The festival was scheduled to run for three days and underwent a change in venue a number of times until a dairy farmer named Max Yasgur signed on to host the festival on his 600-acre farm in Bethel. By that point, it was too late to complete the building of fencing around the site and the completion of the stage became prioritized until the day of the festival.
Early on, Lang and company realized they would lose everything but kept the show going nevertheless. The mammoth crowd too, endured the inconveniences, sharing in the challenge as a makeshift family unit, seeing the weekend as an opportunity to realize their ‘peace and love’ ideals.
“Where would they be without the charity of the local ‘squares’ who fed them? Where would they be without the fifty doctors, rushed from New York to save their lives; without the automobiles that brought them to the festival?”
The Woodstock film featured a touching moment where Yasgur addresses the crowd.
“I think you people have proven something to the world... This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place... A half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music.”
Following the festival, he was boycotted, sued and shunned by his neighboring townspeople. He opted not to rent out land for more concerts and died only a few years later.
The concept of Woodstock was never successfully repeated. The record-breaking attendance was topped but no gathering could ever again unify a generation or capture the attention of the world. The sad paragon of that fact came in July of 1999 when a four-day show held in Rome, New York aimed to be another unnecessary new version of the famed namesake for ‘Generation X.’
Woodstock ‘99’s rampant commercialism, violence, arson, looting, rape and sexual assault confirmed the notion that the spirit of Woodstock can’t be summoned up for profit or cheap thrills.
Woodstock will remain in the hearts of many, not as an event, but a state of mind, representing music as a communal force and a universal identity.
“The one major thing you have to remember... is that the man next to you is your brother, and you’d damn well better treat each other that way because if you don’t, then we blow the whole thing, but we’ve got it right there!”
--John Morris, Woodstock emcee