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Monday, August 10, 2009

Woodstock Music Festival -- The 45th Anniversary

Woodstock Music and Art Fair 1969
 

The Woodstock Music Festival on August 15-17, 1969, at Yasgur's Farm near Woodstock, New York, is celebrating its 45th anniversary. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest moments in popular music history and was listed on Rolling Stone's "50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and
Roll."

Woodstock was designed as a profit-making venture, aptly titled "Woodstock Ventures." It famously became a "free concert" only after it became obvious that the event was drawing hundreds of thousands more people than the organizers had prepared for. Around 186,000 tickets were sold beforehand and organizers anticipated approximately 200,000 festival-goers would turn up. This post includes some of the less-known information about the event that would become known as Three Days of Peace and Music.


1. The idea for Woodstock was initiated by two people: (a) Michael Lang, who in 1968 had produced one of the biggest rock shows ever, the two day Miami Pop Festival, which drew 40,000 people, and (b) Artie Kornfeld, a songwriter turned Capital Records company executive who had written maybe 30 hit singles including Jan and Dean's "Dead Man's Curve" and music for the Cowsills.

2. Lang and Kornfeld wanted to raise money to build a recording studio in Woodstock, upstate New York, a haven for artists including Bob Dylan, The Band and Van Morrison.


3. John Roberts, heir to a drugstore and toothpaste manufacturing fortune, and Joel Rosenman, a professional musician, supplied the money. Roberts had a multimillion-dollar trust fund, a University of Pennsylvania degree, and a lieutenant's commission in the Army. Interestingly, John had seen only one rock concert, by the Beach Boys.

4. After much opposition to the $100,000 lease of Mills Industrial Park, the residents of Wallkill, New York, and the zoning board of appeals banned the concert due to concerns of attendance and sanitation. Next, White Lake in Bethel, New York, was considered but it soon became clear that the
land was too small for the concert.

 

5. Finally, Max Yasgur stepped in to offer his 600-acre alfalfa field in Bethel for $75,000, a figure he arrived at after estimating how much he was going to lose in producing the present crop and reseeding the field. The organizers paid another $25,000 to nearby residents to rent their land.

 6. The organisers played down the numbers they anticipated, telling the authorities they expected 50,000, while selling 186,000 tickets in advance ( The set prices for buying a three day pass for three days of music and fun at Woodstock was $18.00 in advance and $24.00 at the gate.) and planning for 200,000. In the end over 500,000 attended. Another million had to turn back because of traffic. New York governor Nelson Rockefeller threatened to send in National Guard troops to break up the festival when he saw how huge the crowd was.


7. The profit-making ventures, aptly titled Woodstock Ventures was trying to book the biggest rock'n'roll bands in America, but the rockers were reluctant to sign with an untested outfit that might be unable to deliver. Ventures did, however, spend $180,000 on talent with many of the performers receiving unusually large paydays for the time. 32 acts played Woodstock.


8. A logo designed by artist Arnold Skolnick, the Woodstock dove was really a catbird; originally, it perched on a flute because Skolnick was listening to jazz at the time of its design. Later, it sat on a guitar as a more appropriate symbol of "Three Days of Peace and Music."


9. According to Allan Markoff, sound system designer, "There had never been a concert with 50,000. "That was unbelievable," Markoff said. "Now, 100,000, that was impossible. It's tantamount to doing a sound system for 30 million people today." Markoff, then 24, was the only local resident listed in the Audio Engineering Society Magazine. Lang and Goldstein had picked his name out of the magazine.

10. At lowest setting, Woodstock speakers would cause pain for anyone standing within 10 feet. Sound for the concert was engineered by Bill Hanley, whose innovations in the sound industry have earned him the prestigious Parnelli Award. "It worked very well," he says of the event. "I built special speaker columns on the hills and had 16 loudspeaker arrays in a square platform going up to the hill on 70-foot towers. We set it up for 150,000 to 200,000 people. Of course, 500,000 showed up."


11. Abbie Hoffman - the head of the Yippies - the Youth International Party, the irreverent left-wing organization founded by Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Paul Krassner and Woodstock's Ed Sanders convinced the festival's producers to donate $10,000 to the Yippies - mainly by threatening to disrupt the proceedings.

12. Abbie Hoffman, during The Who's set right after the song "Pinball Wizard," was able to get on stage and grab a microphone while Pete Townshend tuned his guitar. Hoffman ranted: "I think this is a pile of shit! While John Sinclair (leader of the White Panther Party) rots in prison..." He was roundly booed for interrupting the music. Townshend, angry that someone took over The Who's performance, yelled at Hoffman telling him to get off the stage while hitting Hoffman with his guitar.
Hoffman left.

 

13. Woodstock Ventures made Warner Brothers an offer to make a movie about Woodstock. All Artie Kornfeld required was $100,000, on the basis that "it could have either sold millions or, if there were riots, be one of the best documentaries ever made," according to Kornfeld. The movie Woodstock helped to save Warner Bros at a time when the company was on the verge of going out of business.

14. Steeped in childhood memories of the song, Woodstock organizer Michael Lang wanted Roy Rogers to come on after Jimi Hendrix and play Happy Trails to end Woodstock. The cowboy crooner declined.


15. Other notable acts that declined an invitation to perform included the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, the Byrds, Tommy James and the Shondells, the Moody Blues, Spirit, Joni Mitchell, It's a Beautiful Day, and Mind Garage.

16. Lang and other organizers worried that Iron Butterfly's brand of hippie/heavy-metal music might be dangerous under the circumstances dispatched a nasty telegram to the group at the airport to provoke the members into deciding not to play. But, Lee Dorman, Iron Butterfly's bassist, remembers that Woodstock organizers were supposed to send a helicopter and didn't. Iron Butterfly left.



17. John Lennon told organizers he had wanted to be a part of Woodstock, but he was in Canada and the U.S. government had refused him an entry visa.

18. Bob Dylan was one of the original inspirations for the festival, and his backing group, The Band, played to the massive audience, the great man never made it, as one of his children was hospitalised over that weekend.


19. Sweetwater was supposed to start the concert on the first day but was stuck in a traffic jam. They were pushed back as Richie Havens started the festival doing an eight song set. But, Sweetwater still earned the distinction of being the first "band" to play at Woodstock.

 20. Neil Young skipped most of the acoustic set (the exceptions being his compositions "Mr. Soul" and "Wonderin'") and joined Crosby, Stills and Nash, but refused to be filmed during the electric set; by his own report, Young felt the filming was distracting both performers and audience from the
music.

 

21. Two people died at Woodstock - one man from a heroin overdose and a teenager in a sleeping bag who was killed when a tractor ran over him. The driver was never traced.

22. By 1969, Jimi Hendrix was a major star who had earned the traditional headliner's position: playing last. He was paid $32,000 for his performance and his contract said no act could follow him.


23. Bad weather and logistical problems caused long delays, so Jimi Hendrix played Monday morning. He took the stage at 9:00 a.m. The crowd, which once numbered 500,000, had dwindled to fewer than 200,000--perhaps considerably fewer. The organizers had given Hendrix the opportunity to go on at midnight, but he opted to be the closer on Monday.

24. Richie Havens said of the help of the United States Army, "It was the only helicopter available. If it wasn't for the U.S. Army, Woodstock might not have happened." The U.S. Army saved the day for a crowd that was, for the most part, anti-war? "We were never anti-soldier," said Havens. "We were just against the war."


25. The official estimated cost of the Woodstock Festival was $2.4 million. By comparison, the budgeted cost for Woodstock 1994 was $30 million.

 26. The organizers at Woodstock Ventures were at least $1.3 million in debt afterwards. It took more than a decade for backers to recoup money, through audio and recording rights.

27. Bert Feldman, Bethel's historian, also maintained that the attendance figures were wrong. He thought the figures were low. "There were 700,000 people there," he said. "The attendance estimate is based on aerial photos, and there were thousands of people under trees." 

Max and Miriam Yasgur

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