Year 1969. Martin Luther King had been murdered the year before and his “I have a dream” still echoed, as an ambition for greater equality of rights and humanity for his people. Amstrong had taken his first steps on the moon. It was a time of strikes, of student protests. Those were the years of the war in Vietnam and protests in the name of pacifism. The hub of rock was no longer in London, with the Beatles or the Who : the cultural revolution had moved to California with hippies, electric guitars and drugs. At the center of the musical scenario we have groups and artists such as Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane.
“Young men with unlimited capital, looking for interesting opportunities, legal, investment and business proposals.”
It all starts with this unusual and interesting announcement, published in the New York Times by John P. Roberts and Joel Rosenman (two of the promoters of what will later become the Woodstock Festival). Read the announcement and intrigued, two other promising characters, Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld, contacted them and the four began to design something together.
Initially the idea was to build a recording studio, which would see the light in the village of Woodstock, but soon he decided for something more ambitious like a music and art festival.
The next step was to find a suitable venue for the event. Among the various complaints of the locals, who opposed that gathering of “junkies and long-haired”, in the end the choice fell on Bethel, a small town in Sullivan County.
The Woodstock Festival, or the “3 days of peace & rock music”, took place from August 15th to 18th and no one could ever have imagined an influx of people of that magnitude. The flood of people came to block all roads around Bethel and even those in the state of New York.
A maximum of 50,000 people were expected. In the end, more than 400,000 were estimated.
Between August 15 and 18, 1969, thousands of young people attended the Woodstock Music and Art Festival in the state of New York (United States) , considered today as the most important in the history of rock music .
In a long weekend -which lasted well into Monday morning- a total of 32 artists, among the most prominent in the music of the moment , participated in an event marked by hippie philosophy , drug use and slogans as ‘peace and love’ at a time when the Vietnam War and the French May 68 had notably influenced the youth of the time.
Who played at Woodstock?
On Friday, August 15, 1969, the day began with the presentation of Richie Havens , followed by Sweetwater , artists such as Joan Baez, Santana, Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Still, Nash & Young and, of course, Jimi Hendrix , were some of the most prominent names of that legendary cartel that is now 50 years old.
After Woodstock, nothing was the same again and, although it is difficult to recognize the spirit of that event in today’s mass festivals, everyone seems to want to evoke its magic and mystique .
Because Woodstock was unique and, although several subsequent editions have been held, none of them has been able to match the spirit of ’69. A festival whose intrahistory is almost as interesting as what happened on stage.
During the presentation of Jimi Hendrix , the artist played the anthem of the United States only with an electric guitar, an act that was carried out as a protest against the warlike behavior of the government.
Woodstock – The Beatles, Dylan and Led Zeppelin said no
If the Woodstock poster is overwhelming due to the number of stars that the festival managed to gather, the truth is that some established artists rejected their participation for different reasons. This is the case of Bob Dylan , who preferred to attend the Isle of Wight festival held in the United Kingdom just a few days later. Led Zeppelin also preferred to tour the United States alone rather than participate in a festival where they would be “another band on the list”, according to their manager, Peter Grant .
The Beatles , who would have been the great attraction of the event, rejected Woodstock because they had withdrawn from the stage in 1966 . There are other versions that point to Lennon’s problems in getting a visa to enter the US after being arrested for drug use or the imposition of this on his recently created Plastic Ono Band also being included in the cartel . Be that as it may, in the end the attendees were left without witnessing a performance that would have been historic.
The Byrds , The Doors or Frank Zappa were also in negotiations to perform at the festival but, for different reasons, they were ultimately left out of the bill.
The most famous farmer in rock history
Despite its name, the festival did not take place at Woodstock . The intention of the organizers was to open a recording studio in this town in the state of New York and that is why they launched the festival, which was initially going to be held in nearby Wallkill.
But at the last minute the neighbors objected and only the intervention of a farmer, named Max Yagur , saved the organization from disaster since he rented the alfalfa field located in Bethel, a little less than 100 kilometers to the southwest of Woodstock, where the event was finally held.
Eternal thanks to Yagur, who has been part of rock history ever since.
Woodstock – Documentary film
The event was recorded on video with the documentary Woodstock 3 Days of Peace & Music , under the direction of Michael Wadleigh , among those who edited and edited it was the renowned film director Martin Scorsese .
In 1970 the documentary was released and was awarded the Oscar for best documentary, the United States Library of Congress cataloged it as a culturally significant film.