By Sophia Jilek
Editor’s note: This submission is a condensed version of an essay Sophia Jilek wrote for her 11th grade social studies class in April. Inspired Woman has inserted subheads for style purposes and made minor edits. Sophia’s teacher Amy Grinsteiner says, “I have greatly enjoyed watching Sophie grow as a writer this year. She excels in many other art forms, especially music and theater, and has channeled these passions to guide her writing growth. Her paper on Woodstock was one of my favorites because it was easy to see her interest in the subject matter through her words on the page.”
In August of 1969, the Woodstock Music and Art Festival took place in Bethel, New York. Woodstock was a three-day festival that focused on love, peace, and music. It was a historic event that is still remembered today.
Woodstock was supposed to be a small, simple event that would have had only a few thousand expected attendees; however, it became an extremely popular festival with nearly half a million participants. Woodstock was a festival where everything went wrong, but in the end turned out right. It became part of American pop culture, it influenced some of our modern culture, and changed the lives of the younger generation.
CHANGE OF PLANS
Originally, Woodstock was supposed to be a recording studio to be built in Woodstock, New York, a small city where many musicians had moved by the late 1960s. In order to obtain funds to build the studio, a festival was suggested.
Unfortunately, the city denied permission to the festival promoters, so they moved the festival site to Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. They kept the name “Woodstock” because they still wanted to build the recording studio in the originally planned city.
FOUR YOUNG MEN
The organizers of the Woodstock Festival were four young men, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Mike Lang. The oldest of the group was only 27 years old at the time (Organizing the 1969 Woodstock Festival).
Roberts and Rosenman were roommates, and Roberts had a multi-million-dollar trust fund. As research, they took out ads in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times which read, “Young men with unlimited capital looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities and business propositions.”
Lang and Kornfeld never saw the ad but heard about the “Men with Unlimited Capital” (The Long, Strange Trip of Woodstock Ventures). The whole festival cost about $2.5 million to fund. The men were able to get 32 bands to perform, some of the biggest rock musicians at the time, such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, Carlos Santana, The Grateful Dead, and more. The group called itself Woodstock Ventures.
“I CAN SEE (CARS) FOR MILES”
As people arrived at the festival, there wasn’t time to set up ticket booths. The participants demanded that the festival be free, and they got what they wanted since security was minimal.
The large crowds made transportation an issue. People were traveling in busses and cars, but then roads started getting congested with bumper-to-bumper traffic.
According to Jennifer Rosenberg, a historian, history fact checker, and freelance writer, “The highways in the area literally became parking lots as people abandoned their cars in the middle of the street and just walked the final distance to the Woodstock Festival. Traffic was so bad that the organizers had to hire helicopters to shuttle the performers from their hotels to the stage.”
It became the biggest traffic jam the nation had ever seen.
HUNGER, RAIN, & “PURPLE HAZE”
Because close to half a million people came, other issues arose, such as lack of food and water, insufficient medical care, and sanitation. Drugs and alcohol were rampant. And, the organizers were not prepared for the rain on the day the festival started. Rain or redundant shine, all the concertgoers stayed even if the conditions were bad.
According to historical writer, Rick Campbell, “Someone said that if anyone tells you Woodstock was great, they weren’t there. But when it comes down to it, in the past 40 years, the festival has been burned so deeply into our consciousness that it’s as if we were all there.”
Some believed that Woodstock happened at the right place because of its natural setting and at the right time because of all the protests and violence happening in the country at the time. The new generation that attended Woodstock was not there for protesting. Instead, they lived together on that dairy farm for three days with other people who were committed to the same causes.
Attempts were made to recreate Woodstock to celebrate its anniversary; however, Max Yasgur no longer owned the dairy farm, so the venue had changed, and the new owners would not allow people to set up the concert again.
Woodstock 1969 did show that younger generations were capable of exhibiting peace as the rest of America should have done during the time of anti-war protests.
Through all the rain, uncomfortable living conditions, food shortages, and abundance of people, Woodstock was still a great festival to the people who attended. There were many things that went wrong with the festival but there were many things that went right.
Max Yasgur, the owner of the land, addressed the crowds, “You have proven something to the world … that half a million kids can get together for fun and music and have nothing but fun and music.” (August 18, 1969: Woodstock Music Festival Ends)
The legacy of Woodstock lives on in the lives of many people.