Fifty years ago, one of the most iconic music festivals took place on a patch of farmland in White Lake, New York.
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair — which would later go down in history as simply Woodstock — was a four-day event where 32 acts performed outdoors in a farmer’s field in the Catskills area and a record 400,000 people showed up.
While the festival was initially conceived as a commercial venture by a couple of music promoters, it came to define the counter-culture generation of that era and Rolling Stone magazine would later hail it as one of the “50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.”
There were other music festivals that took place in 1969 — including The Stones in the Park, a free concert in Hyde Park in London where The Rolling Stones was the headline act — but none achieved the same enduring status as Woodstock.
Here, we take a trip down memory lane …
It rained, turning the field into mud — only adding to the misery, which isn’t often mentioned. There was also poor sanitation and a lack of food. But despite these conditions, and the size of the crowd, no acts of violence were reported. Joni Mitchell, who was not in attendance due to a prior engagement, watched it on television in a hotel room as it unfolded and reportedly described it as “A modern day fishes and loaves story. For a herd of people that large to co-operate so well was pretty remarkable, and there was a tremendous optimism. So I wrote the song ‘Woodstock’ out of these feelings.”
While organizers told officials only 50,000 people would show up, they sold 186,000 tickets which were advertised as $18 in advance and $24 at the gate. But more than 400,000 people showed up. However, there wasn’t enough fencing or ticket booths to handle such a crowd, so most people just crashed the venue for free.
The road to the rural concert site was jammed and chaotic. Many people abandoned their cars and just started walking. Musicians were personally helicoptered into the venue. Radio and television news reports started advising people not to head to the festival and the New York governor even threatened to send in thousands of National Guard troops.
Woodstock didn’t actually take place in the town of Woodstock. Securing a location was difficult as none of the small towns wanted a large gathering of hippies in their neighbourhood. At the last minute, a dairy farmer in Bethel, NY, agreed to allow the festival to take place on his land.
While Woodstock was a pivotal moment in music history, the legendary festival was also at the height of the Aquarian era, also served as an enduring source of inspiration for the fashion industry. Denim, fringe, caftans and psychedelic prints — all of which could be seen at the festival — are currently having a moment back in the fashion spotlight this season.
The original poster art (above) by David Byrd billed Woodstock as “An Aquarian Exposition.”