Originally published August 2009.
This month marks the anniversary of Woodstock. Here are 40 things you might not know about the music festival that defined a generation...
1. Woodstock was the brainchild of Michael Lang, a former head-shop owner who’d put on concerts in Miami before moving to Woodstock, NY.
2. Once there, he met Artie Kornfeld, who worked for Capital Records as an A&R man.
3. Kornfeld was also a songwriter. He has penned hits for Cher, The Bangles, The Delrons, Jan and Dean, Dusty Springfield, Connie Francis and Wayne Newton.
4. Woodstock Ventures was bankrolled by John P. Roberts and Joel Rosenman, who had put an ad in the Wall St. Journal identifying themselves as “young men with unlimited capital” looking for new business ventures. In reality, the ad was part of research they were doing for a TV sitcom they hoped to produce.
5. Joel Rosenman had formerly been a professional musician.
6. John P. Roberts, 26, heir to a pharmaceutical fortune, had been to only one rock concert in his life prior to Woodstock. He’d seen The Beach Boys.
7. Lang and Kornfeld were chiefly interested in building a recording studio in Woodstock, NY. The concert was originally conceived as a launch party for the studio.
8. They called the event “An Aquarian Exposition: The Woodstock Music and Art Fair.”
Woodstock poster. (Wikimedia Commons)
9. The concert was originally to be held at Mills Industrial Park in Wallkill, NY, but faced strong opposition from the township. The event was denied a permit just one month before it was to take place.
10. Organizers instead selected a 600-acre farm in Bethel, NY, owned by Max Yasgur.
11. The first three acts signed to perform were Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Canned Heat.
12. Bob Dylan had an open invitation to perform, but as he’d hardly played live in three years and had generally eschewed public appearances, the promoters didn’t approach him with a formal offer (read: money). During the festival, he was staying nearby in the town of Woodstock, prompting rumors all weekend long that he would show up to play. He did not.
13. The Beatles had been approached about playing, but immigration officials weren’t allowing John Lennon into the country at the time because of prior drug arrests.
14. The Doors were also offered a slot, but Jim Morrison declined for fear he would be assassinated.
15. Jimi Hendrix nearly didn’t sign on because the festival had a cap of $15,000 per performer (and he’d just made 10 times that much playing Madison Square Garden). His management insisted that he headline the festival and be the highest paid act on the bill. Organizers solved the dilemma by signing him to play twice – once with an acoustic set to open the concert, and later to close it with his full band. He was to be paid $15,000 for each set, ensuring he was the best-compensated performer.
16. Promoter Bill Graham refused to allow the Grateful Dead to play unless organizers also booked his act Santana, who were mostly unknown on the East coast having not yet released a record.
17. Organizer Michael Lang wanted Roy Rogers to close the weekend with a performance of “Happy Trails.” Rogers declined.
18. Abbie Hoffman threatened to disrupt the event unless organizers donated $20,000 to a Lower East Side coalition of social and political activists. Organizers reluctantly agreed, and in exchange Hoffman’s groups helped pass out safety leaflets and staff the medical tents.
19. Tickets were priced at $7 per day, or $18 for all 3 days. Nearly 125,000 tickets were sold prior to the concert and organizers expected another 100,000 tickets to be sold over the 3-day event.
20. One night prior to the concert, traffic was jammed on virtually all roads within a 20-mile radius of the site.
21. Ticket booths that had been ordered never arrived. The fences surrounding the venue were soon torn down, and Woodstock was declared a free concert.
22. At its peak, attendance at Woodstock was estimated to be between 400,000 and 500,000. John Lennon called it “the biggest mass of people ever gathered together for anything but war.”
Woodstock crowd. (Wikimedia Commons/Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell)
23. During the festival, Yasgur’s farm became in effect the 2nd largest city in New York state.
24. Security consisted of members of the Hog Farm commune and 350 off-duty police officers hired for the event. They were not permitted to carry firearms or night sticks, and wore a uniform consisting of bell-bottoms and a red T-shirt with “Peace” written on the front.
25. About 5,000 people received medical treatment over the course of the festival – most of them for cut feet.
26. Though Jimi Hendrix was to kick off the fest with a short acoustic set, he was late arriving. Sweetwater originally was going to be next, but their equipment truck got stuck in traffic. Richie Havens was tapped to open.
27. Day one’s final line-up consisted of: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie and Joan Baez.
28. Day two’s line-up: Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who and Jefferson Airplane.
29. Day three: Joe Cocker and the Grease Band, Country Joe and the Fish, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood Sweat and Tears, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na and Jimi Hendrix.
30. When The Who demanded to be paid in cash before taking the stage, the organizers offered a check instead. The band agreed but insisted on a certified check, so one of the organizers flew by helicopter to a bank in order to get one.
31. Pete Townshend in particular was not down with the whole love and peace vibe. During The Who’s set, he kicked a photographer who got in his way. Later, when an uninvited Abbie Hoffmann interrupted their set to ask audiences to remember John Sinclair (the MC-5’s manager who was then serving time on drug charges), Townshend whacked him in the head with a guitar. He then threatened that the next person “who walks across this stage is going to get [expletive deleted] killed.”
32. Roger Daltrey of The Who later said it was probably the most important show of their career.
33. Joan Baez was several months pregnant at the time of her performance.
34. Carlos Santana was afraid to play because he was peaking on mescaline just as his band was scheduled to perform. Certain his own performance would rain out, Arlo Guthrie decided to take some acid. He ended up playing anyway.
35. The Grateful Dead’s set was plagued by technical problems exacerbated by the heavy rainfall. “Some people made their careers at Woodstock, but we spent about 20 years making up for it. It was probably the worst we’ve ever performed.” – Phil Lesh
36. “It reminded me of the water buffaloes you see in India, submerged in the mud. Woodstock was like a big picnic party, and the music was incidental.’’ – Ravi Shankar
Concertgoers at Woodstock. (Bill Eppridge/Time & Life Pictures)
37. In the festival’s aftermath, about 80 lawsuits were filed lawsuits against Woodstock Ventures. The concert inspired a slew of state and county laws nationwide aimed at insuring no similar gathering would take place ever again. The festival ended up $1.4 million in the red.
38. Organizers Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang sold their interest in Woodstock Ventures for $31,750 to Warner Bros., who wished to distribute the Woodstock film and soundtrack. The movie would be a massive hit and win an Academy Award. Artie Kornfeld once estimated they lost out on $25 million a piece by selling their shares in the company.
39. A second Woodstock concert took place on the 25th anniversary of the event. That concert is best remembered for a huge mudfight that took place during Green Day’s set. In 1999, a third Woodstock concert was marred by arson, looting and rape. Riot police were called and put an abrupt end to the show.
40. Though there was no merchandise tent at the original Woodstock, you can now buy official Woodstock t-shirts, towels, reversible picnic blankets, napkins and paper plates at Target stores nationwide.