Woodstock Music and Art Fair, commonly referred to simply as Woodstock, was a music festival held August 15–18, 1969, on Max Yasgur's dairy farm in Bethel, New York, 40 miles (65 km) southwest of the town of Woodstock. Billed as "an Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music" and alternatively referred to as the Woodstock Rock Festival, it attracted an audience of more than 400,000. Thirty-two acts performed outdoors despite sporadic rain. The festival has become widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history as well as a defining event for the counterculture generation. The event's significance was reinforced by a 1970 documentary film, an accompanying soundtrack album, and a song written by Joni Mitchell that became a major hit for both Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Matthews Southern Comfort. Music events bearing the Woodstock name were planned for anniversaries, which included the tenth, twentieth, twenty-fifth, thirtieth, fortieth, and fiftieth. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine listed it as number 19 of the 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll. In 2017, the festival site became listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Woodstock was initiated through the efforts of Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman, and John P. Roberts. Roberts and Rosenman financed the project. Lang had some experience as a promoter, having co-organized the Miami Pop Festival on the East Coast the prior year, where an estimated 25,000 people attended the two-day event.
The original venue plan was for the festival to take place in the town of Woodstock itself, possibly near the proposed recording studio site owned by Alexander Tapooz. After local residents quickly rejected that idea, Lang and Kornfeld thought they had found another possible location at the Winston Farm in Saugerties, New York. But they had misunderstood, as the landowner's attorney made clear, in a brief meeting with Roberts and Rosenman. Growing alarmed at the lack of progress, Roberts and Rosenman took over the search for a venue, and discovered the 300-acre (1.2 km2) Mills Industrial Park in the town of Wallkill, New York, which Woodstock Ventures leased for $10,000 in the Spring of 1969. Town officials were assured that no more than 50,000 would attend. Town residents immediately opposed the project. In early July, the Town Board passed a law requiring a permit for any gathering over 5,000 people. The conditions upon which a permit would be issued made it impossible for the promoters to continue construction at the Wallkill site. Reports of the ban, however, turned out to be a publicity bonanza for the festival.
In his 2007 book "Taking Woodstock", Elliot Tiber relates that he offered to host the event on his 15-acre (61,000 m2) motel grounds, and had a permit for such an event. He claims to have introduced the promoters to dairy farmer Max Yasgur. Lang, however, disputes Tiber's account and says that Tiber introduced him to a realtor, who drove him to Yasgur's farm without Tiber. Sam Yasgur, Max's son, agrees with Lang's account. Yasgur's land formed a natural bowl sloping down to Filippini Pond on the land's north side. The stage would be set up at the bottom of the hill with Filippini Pond forming a backdrop. The pond would become a popular skinny dipping destination. Filippini was the only landowner who refused to sign a lease for the use of his property. The organizers once again told Bethel authorities they expected no more than 50,000 people.
Despite resident opposition and signs proclaiming, "Buy No Milk. Stop Max's Hippy Music Festival", Bethel Town Attorney Frederick W. V. Schadt, building inspector Donald Clark and Town Supervisor Daniel Amatucci approved the festival permits. Nonetheless, the Bethel Town Board refused to issue the permits formally. Clark was ordered to post stop-work orders. Rosenman recalls meeting Don Clark and discussing with him how unethical it was for him to withhold permits which had already been authorized, and which he had in his pocket. At the end of the meeting, Inspector Clark gave him the permits. The Stop Work Order was lifted, and the festival could proceed pending backing by the Department of Health and Agriculture, and removal of all structures by September 1, 1969.
The late change in venue did not give the festival organizers enough time to prepare. At a meeting three days before the event, Rosenman was asked by the construction foremen to choose between (a) completing the fencing and ticket booths (without which Roberts and Rosenman would be facing almost certain bankruptcy after the festival) or (b) trying to complete the stage (without which it would be a weekend of half a million concert-goers with no concert to hold their attention.) The next morning, on Wednesday, it became clear that option (a) had disappeared. Overnight, 50,000 "early birds" had arrived and had planted themselves in front of the half-finished stage. For the rest of the weekend, concert-goers simply walked onto the site, with or without tickets. Though the festival left Roberts and Rosenman close to financial ruin, their ownership of the film and recording rights turned their finances around when the Academy Award-winning documentary film Woodstock was released in March 1970.
Santana performed on Saturday August 16, 1969 from 2:00 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
Woodstock Remembered: Carlos Santana on the Spiritual Vibe of the Fest. Rolling Stone August 5, 2019
It was a bit scary to go out there and plug into this ocean of hair, teeth, eyes, and arms. It was incredible. I’ll never forget the way the music sounded bouncing up against a field of bodies. You never forget that sound.
For the band as a whole, it was great. But I was struggling to keep myself grounded, because I had taken some strong psychedelics right before I went onstage. When we first got there, around 11 in the morning, they told us that we weren’t going on until 8 o’clock. So I said, “Hey, I think I’ll take some psychedelics, and by the time I’m coming down, it’ll be time to go onstage and I’ll feel fine.” But when I was peaking around 2 o’clock, somebody said, “If you don’t go on right now, you’re not gonna go on.”
We stuck around that whole evening, and I got to witness the peak of the festival, which was Sly Stone. I don’t think he ever played that good again — steam was literally coming out of his Afro. Musically, though, Altamont was better than Woodstock. I’m sorry people got hurt, but I have to say that everybody played incredible at Altamont: the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, ourselves.
Woodstock had more of a spiritual vibe; it was more of a spiritual celebration. Woodstock signified the coming together of all the tribes. It became apparent that there was a lot of people who didn’t want to go to Vietnam, who didn’t see eye to eye with Nixon and none of that system, you know? The people who started that movement in Haight-Ashbury taught me the difference between deals and ideals, between artists and con artists. They were not phonies, like the people wearing wigs in those commercials advertising old Sixties hits. The real people were wonderful. You could see American Indians and white people in love with life. Woodstock was a part of that. It was the same movement that got people out of Vietnam and got Nixon out of power.
Some people called it a disaster area, but I didn’t see nobody in a state of disaster. I saw a lot of people coming together, sharing and having a great time. If that was out of control, then America needs to lose control at least once a week. Maybe I’m too naive, but I still see it like that. I saw a lot of positive, artistic, creative stimuli for America. In the Sixties, people didn’t go to concerts to get drunk and pick up chicks; they went to get bombarded with music and be taken somewhere else. When you came out, you knew you were never gonna be the same. You didn’t go to a concert to escape. You went to a concert to expand.
A lot of the con artists in America have turned rock music into a kind of Gap-McDonald’s corporation music. You hear the same crap in every shopping mall. Everything is like Campbell’s soup instead of real gumbo, you know? We need more Jimi Hendrixes and Jim Morrisons. We need more rebels and renegades.
As for the movie, I don’t like the fisheye lens that made me look like a bug, but all in all I’m very grateful. I keep telling my wife that we’re very blessed because we have a whole pocketful of memories and a video to back it up. Basically, I’m very grateful I got the opportunity to play at Woodstock. I could still be in Tijuana, across the border with no papers.