This Month In History
August 2015

This Month in NYS History – Woodstock Festival held in Bethel, New York – August 15-18, 1969

Though the original expectation was for 50,000 patrons, the Woodstock Festival was estimated to have brought in over 400,000 attendees.
Though the original expectation was for 50,000 patrons, the Woodstock Festival was estimated to have brought in over 400,000 attendees.
The 1960s were a transformative era for the United States. The nation saw a man land on the moon, an era of rebellious music became mainstream, and the ideals of peace and love swept through the nation in an attempt to overpower and end the War in Vietnam. Bands and artists such as Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix, and Jefferson Airplane all boomed into popularity during the 1960s in direct contrast to authority. The gathering of bands such as these at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York was the nexus of the counterculture era.

Woodstock was initiated through the efforts of Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, and Artie Kornfeld. The original idea by Kornfeld and Lang was to build a music studio near Woodstock, NY – a place that artists such as Bob Dylan and The Band had frequented during their up and coming years. Rather, a suggestion was made by financiers Roberts and Rosenman to hold a ticketed event within the confines of the area to attract some of the patrons who had been following the acts who had performed in Upstate New York. Eventually, after finding it difficult to acquire a permit for a 5,000+ person event, a young motel owner named Elliot Tiber offered his 15 acres on which his establishment was settled on and would introduce them to Max Yasgur and his farmland which would set the stage – quite literally – for the event to take place, once the permits were approved.

Though the original expectation was for 50,000 patrons, the event that took place was estimated to have brought in over 400,000 attendees. The plan was originally for the event to be for profit, but the conservative original estimate of attendees threatened to make the event a total disaster when people began arriving in the tens of thousands. The decision was then made to simply make the event free, much to the delight of the lines of cars awaiting entrance.

Once the plans were in place, Bethel and the nearby Woodstock became the location for one of the biggest music festivals of all time. Some of the most famous acts of the classic rock generation had to be airlifted from nearby Stewart Air Force Base because of the logistical chaos that had occurred on the New York State Thruway and surrounding roads. Yet through the mud, rain, sweat, and labor that went into the event, Woodstock would become known as the most transformative and definitive event of the “hippie” generation. Artists such as Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead were able to perform for free to a generation yearning to be free spirits and seeking guidance as the calendar turned into a new decade. Bands such as The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker, Mountain and Santana were able to spread their music to a vast audience, and would become immortalized as legends of the time.

By the time Woodstock was over, the event had cemented the small grassy farmland in Upstate New York as the location of, arguably, the defining event of the 60s. What began as an idea for a small recording studio transformed into one of the largest gatherings and celebrations of culture that the world has ever seen. Though many of the artists who performed still continue to do so today, their ability to reach American audiences was laid down on the stage in Bethel, New York.

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