Monday, August 15, 2016
Spotlight: Woodstock Music & Art Fair (August 15-18, 1969)
Billed as "An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music", it was held at Max Yasgur's 600-acre (240 ha; 0.94 sq mi) dairy farm in the Catskills near the hamlet of White Lake in the town of Bethel. Bethel, in Sullivan County, is 43 miles (69 km) southwest of the town of Woodstock, New York, in adjoining Ulster County.
During the sometimes rainy weekend, 32 acts performed outdoors before an audience of 400,000 people. It is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, as well as the definitive nexus for the larger counterculture generation.
The event was captured in the Academy Award winning 1970 documentary movie Woodstock, an accompanying soundtrack album, and Joni Mitchell's song "Woodstock", which commemorated the event and became a major hit for both Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Matthews Southern Comfort.
Very few reporters from outside the immediate area were on the scene. During the first few days of the festival, national media coverage emphasized the problems. Front page headlines in the Daily News read "Traffic Uptight at Hippiefest" and "Hippies Mired in a Sea of Mud". Coverage became more positive by the end of the festival, in part because the parents of concertgoers called the media and told them, based on their children's phone calls, that their reporting was misleading.
Max Yasgur refused to rent out his farm for a 1970 revival of the festival, saying, "As far as I know, I'm going back to running a dairy farm." Yasgur died in 1973. Bethel voters tossed out their supervisor in an election held in November 1969 because of his role in bringing the festival to the town. New York State and the town of Bethel passed mass gathering laws designed to prevent any more festivals from occurring.
In 1984, at the original festival site, land owners Louis Nicky and June Gelish put up a monument marker with plaques called "Peace and Music" by a local sculptor from nearby Bloomingburg, Wayne C. Saward (1957–2009).
Attempts were made to prevent people from visiting the site, its owners spread chicken manure, and during one anniversary, tractors and state police cars formed roadblocks. Twenty thousand people gathered at the site in 1989 during an impromptu 20th anniversary celebration. In 1997 a community group put up a welcoming sign for visitors. Unlike Bethel, the town of Woodstock made several efforts to cash in on its notoriety. Bethel's stance changed in recent years, and the town now embraces the festival. Efforts have begun to forge a link between Bethel and Woodstock.
Approximately 80 lawsuits were filed against Woodstock Ventures, primarily by farmers in the area. The movie financed settlements and paid off the $1.4 million of debt Woodstock Ventures had incurred from the festival.
The ashes of the late Richie Havens were scattered across the site on August 18, 2013.