The Making and Breaking of Woodstock 1969
Who could have possibly imagined that a "Music and Art Fair" dreamt up by four young men would become one of the most talked about events in recent history?
Many skeptics believed that an event supported by a bunch of drug crazed youths would inevitably turn violent, after all the organizer were advertising a gathering of about 60,000 people. However, as a slap in the face to dumbstruck elders, the festival now known world wide as Woodstock, turned out bigger and more peaceful than anyone could have ever imagined. Not to say there were no problems, but considering that an estimated 500,000 people from many different walks of life were mixed together for almost four days with a limited food supply, few restroom facilities, an abundance of drugs and alcohol, a show stopping rainstorm, and don't forget the evil loud music, things were basically positive. Elliot Tiber referred to Woodstock as, "a Counter-cultural mini-nation in which minds were open, drugs were all but legal, and love was 'free." Although Woodstock was not the first outdoor festival it set the stage for all outdoor festivals that have since followed. Woodstock can not be acurately imitated ever again, but it sets an extraordinary example for those who would try and follow.
In 1968 at the age of twenty-three Michael Lang got into show business after running one of Florida's first head shops.
One of his first tasks in show business was to organize the Miami Pop Festival. The festival hosted the Jimi Hendrix Experience as well as several other bands. The spark for Woodstock was ignited in the Capitol Records office of twenty-five year old Artie Kornfeld, the second party involved with the concert. Micheal Lang walked into Kornfeld's office and walked out with the idea of an upstate retreat for touring musicians. Great Ideas, however, do not become reality without funds. So Kornfeld and Lang enlisted the help of twenty-four year old John Roberts. John, the heir to a multimillion dollar pharmaceutical empire supplied the money. In order to introduce their "upstate recording retreat", the four men decided to host a concert, and profits from that concert would help fund the project.
The four men met at the recommendation of Kornfeld and Lang's lawyer. After discussing a $500,000 budget they formed a cooperation entitling each party to a twenty-five percent cut of the proceeds. They called the cooperation Woodstock Ventures, Inc. after the New York town where Bob Dylan and several other musicians had decided to call home.
They then started trying to gather the tools and people necessary to have a concert for at most 100,000 people. First they needed a place to have the concert and in march leased a 300 acre Industrial park in Wallkill New York for $10,000. Although they were unhappy with the l, they felt that they needed to have a place to host the concert secured. Then they turned their attention to performers. They wanted the biggest names in the 1969 music industry, but because bands didn't think the festival would be anything much they ended up having to hire the bands for double their standard rate. Eventually ended up costing over $180,000 to hire the entertainment. Creedence Clearwater Revival was hired for $11,500, Jefferson Airplane was paid $12,000, The Who were hired for 12,500, and Jimi Hendrix, who's contract specified a performers fee of $18,000 was paid $32,000. All the other performers were told he was playing two sets for $16,000 a piece. Jimi also agreed to a $12,000 fee from Wadleigh Productions for the film rights to his set. Lang wanted Bob Dylan, but Dylan declined he had no interest in being the savior sought by the political mass at the time.
The sound system was the next challenge to tackle after the acts were signed. So in early May, Lang went to see Allen Markoff, and when Lang told Markoff they needed a sound system for 100,000 to 150,000, Markoff thought Lang was crazy. Markoff has since said that it would be like "doing a sound system for 30 million people today." but he did it anyway.
Because the big name studios would not film the festival, twenty-seven year old Michael Wadleigh, a cameraman and independent film director was chosen to film Woodstock. He personally used $50,000 of his savings to get a crew together for the weekend. Finally everything was falling together.
In early April the Woodstock advertising campaign started, First in the underground press, publications like the Village Voice and the Rolling Stone magazine. In May ads began running in the New York Times and the Times Herald-Record. Soon after Radio stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Dallas, and Washington D.C. began spilling the message. When you bought a ticket you also received a campsite. Later, the slogan "Three Days of Peace, Love and Music" was settled on and sent to the artist Arnold Skolnick. Skolnick recalled
"I was staying on Shelter Island and I was drawing catbirds at the time, as soon as they called with the 'Three Days of Peace, Love and Music' copy approved, I just took the razor blade and cut that catbird out of the sketchpad I was using. First I sat it on a flute. I was listening to jazz at the time and I guess thats why, but anyhow, it sat on a flute for a day and I finally ended up putting it on a guitar."
Stan Goldstein who worked with Lang on the Miami Pop Festival was asked to help. The members of Woodstock Ventures, Inc. knew that some kind of organization woould be needed to have that many people gathered in one place at one time. Goldstein took the initiative and called the Hog Farm, a communal pig farm. Hugh Romney A.K.A. Wavy Gravy, a clown and peace activist, lead the charge with what he called the "Please Force" because their way of dealing with security was to say "please don't do that or please do this instead." In this manner they would set a good example for the crowd and show everybody how to make things work for the weekend.
While the coordinators were working out all the details of the festival, the people of Wallkill were begining to get worried about having a three day concert in their town. They Imagined the worst, combining long haired hippies, drugs and rock concerts had to be a bad idea. On July 15, 1969, after many heated debates between the venture boys and the Wallkill city government, the Wallkill Zoning Board of Appeals officially banned Woodstock. This was perhaps for the best. The banning stirred up a good deal of free publicity, an industrial park is not really the ideal spot for a festival dedicated to hippie Ideas of Love and peace. Everyone seemed to agree that the People of Wallkill were not ready for a concert of this size and that the town folk would turn violent and destroy the ideal of peace that Woodstock had come to represent.
After reading about the banning Elliot Tiber became Woodstock's savior. Tiber just happened to have a permit to run a festival to increase business at his families resort. He offered their land but only had 15 acres, and so contacted another local named Max Yasgur, who owned a dairy farm In Bethel. Yasgur took his time figuring out what he would loose in crop and also what It would cost to reseed the field, and came to an agreement with Woodstock Ventures Inc. for $75,000. The Venture boys also had to go in for another $25,000 for the land around Yasgur's place. This time they tried to keep the location secret to prevent a replay of what had just happened in Wallkill, but while having one of their private meetings at a restaurant they heard the radio announce that Yasgur's farm was to be the new location. The cat was out of the bag.
It didn't take long for the hand lettered signs to start popping up around the town of Bethel. "Buy no milk. Stop Max's Hippie music festival." After hearing all the worries from Wallkill, Bethel residents inherited that worry. A prominant resident offered to help get Woodstock Ventures what they wanted for $10,000 but the boys thought it would ruin the karma of the whole event and so decided to chance it instead of paying bribes. There were lawsuits and petitions trying to stop the festival but none succeeded. Ken Van Loan, the president of the Bethel Business Association threw his support behind the concert and ecouraged others to do the same. Van Loan realized that Woodstock could make their town and county famous.
Woodstock Ventures tried to win over the town of Bethel by providing free entertainment and a pre-festival show. In some instances, it seemed that music might have soothed the savage beast. However, there is always an uptight faction that inevitably will refuse to cooperate on every front. A group who did not want the festival to take place formed a human blockade across Route 17B on the Thursday before the concert. Unfortunately these intellectual giants failled to realize that people had been arriving since Tuesday backing up traffic on rout 17B for ten miles. They also didn't think about how much hippies like to play red rover...in a car.
Friday, August 15, 1969, the day that the past 7 months had built towards, finally arrived. A couple that lived a quarter of a mile from Yasgur's farm said that when they looked outside they saw, "Nuthin but cars and people. Saw a trooper. Ten kids were on the hood of his car, people were camping all over the yard." Lang discovered Friday morning that ticket booths were never positioned because there were too many people on the roads already by the first week when they tried to move the booths. Because of the sudden move to Bethel and a fear of upsetting Yasgur's cows, $21,000 of hurricane fencing was never erected and ended up wasted. Only a few barbed wire "restraints" served as the boundary of the festival. However, before the concert even started, the barbed wire boundary had been dismantled by a New York Acid Street Gang known notoriously as The Motherfuckers. Woodstock never collected a single dollar at the gate. over 200,000 people had entered the festival so the decision was made to remove the remaining fences and Woodstock was declared a free concert.
Late Friday morning, three buses with 100 hand picked police officers showed up despite the New York City Police Offices official disapproval of the officers working the concert. Furthermore, the officers arrived to the warning that if they did participate, they would be subject to departmental censure. Many left, but some stayed under false alias's. The remaining police demanded because of the risk that they need be payed $90 instead of $50. In the long run the officers turned out to be a waste of time and money as they refused to enact the festival's traffic plan or do anything else they were paid to do. Eventually twenty Rockland County deputies Mounted on horseback were brought to help with crowd control. People complained to the Governor but he would not consider the area a disaster area and wanted to "play it by ear".
The organizers had planned for Joan Baez, Tim Hardin, Arlo Guthrie, Sweetwater, The Incredible String Band, Ravi Shankar, Bert Sommer, Melanie and Sly and the Family Stone to start performing but because of the traffic jams the bands were no where to be found. In order to kill some time the spokesman for the concert took to the stage Chatting with the audience and informing the audience that some bad acid was going around and the people in charge recommended staying away from the acid. He concluded with "Its your own trip." since the crowd was growing impatient Richie Havens was given the go ahead and sent out on stage at 5:07 pm. He played for 3 hours before a U.S. Army helicopter showed up with more performers. It was stated that, "With out the U.S. Army, Woodstock might never have happened." ironic considering the anti military establishment of most of their concerts attendees. The organizers trying to keep the crowd happy were scrambling to keep the music playing and that there is how Country Joe McDonald ended up on stage performing a short set including the anti-war Fish Cheer.
The food situation was organized until the mass showed up leaving two different food sources; Food for Love for people with tickets and the Free Kitchen for everyone else. Neither of them lasted long. While on rout to the concert a Food for Love truck got stuck in traffic and was raided, it never even made it to Bethel. Some residents from Sullivan county heard there was not enough food and made sandwiches with 200 loaves of bread, 50 pounds of cold cuts and 2 gallons of pickles. Food was being airlifted in from everywhere, including Newburgh's Stewart Air Force Base. By Saturday there was no place for helicopters to land. Goldstein said they had 200 people join hands to form a circle for one helicopter to land. Some of the surrounding neighbors started feeding people they put food on boards out in the driveway left to roaming scavengers. They also started a soup kitchen in an old building. Wavy Gravy had a recipe called "Breakfast in Bed for 400,000". Recipe: "Rolled out bulgur wheat - cook until mush. Add peanuts for taste - cook until texture of goulash. For a side dish stir-fry any vegetables that can be scraped together. Scoop mixtures onto paper plates." They scraped together anything they could find.
Rain came sprinkling a little around midnight Friday and and swelling to a raging thunderstorm by Saturday morning. In the space of about three hours, five inches fell. The sky dripped chaos. According to Gary Krewson "From the instant the storm blew in, there was no order, no security, no sense of what was happening or who was in charge."
When the Greatful dead took the stage in standing water and were treated to the wonderful combined effects of LSD and being electrocuted by their mics and guitars.
The music was planned to stop and start again at 7:00 pm but It was decided that if the crowd became bored and sought their own forms of recreation damage or injury could occur. The organizers begged performers to double their set lengths.
There was a medical tent set up for emergencies but the organizers, offering $50, a day had poor luck in finding many medical people who wanted to be associated with the controversial event. The head nurse divided the tent into three sections. The first section of the tent was the the largest and was used mostly for people who had cut their feet walking barefoot on the broken glass strewn about everywhere. The second section was for people who had burnt their eyes tripping and laying on their backs staring at the sun The third, "The Freak-Out Tent" was for people experiencing imaginary symptoms or bad trips. Hendrix spent about 30 mins in "The Freak Out Tent" before roadies hauled him out. They didn't really know who he was just some black guy on a stretcher until some body started saying, "Hey, isn't the Jimi Hendrix?"
Saturdays line up consisted of The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Greatful Dead, Canned Heat, Mountain and Santana. Though the organizers worried that the louder the music got the more rowdy the crowd might become, their fear of silence leading to boredom was quite greater. Problems arose with Janis Joplin, The Who, and The Greatful Dead refusing to play without cash in advance. Promoters begged Charlie Prince, manager of the White Lake branch of Sullivan County National Bank to put up the money and keep the show going. Roberts wrote prince a personal check that night for 50 or 100 thousand dollars and prince payed the performers and the concert continued.
Sunday morning the sun came out with a vengeance so strong people began to worry about heat stroke, but by the afternoon it was raining again. The Sunday Line up was The Band, Joe Cocker, Crosby Stills and Nash, Ten Years After, Johnny Winters and Jimi Hendrix. Iron Butterfly was also scheduled but but a helicopter failed to pick them up and so they went back to California. The Organizers it turned out were afraid their music might be too dangerous to crowd control. Jimi began Playing at 9 am Monday morning. People were getting tired of being amongst the masses with little food, standing in mud, coming down from the trip of it all, and were starting to go home. Many left with strangers unknown before Woodstock.
In the Aftermath, The partners were left with a plethora of money problems. Ventures was at least $1.3 Million in debt. Kornfeld's promotional expenses were more than $150,000 (70 percent over budget). Lang's production expenses had soured to $2 Million (more than 300 percent over budget). On Tuesday, Prince who had written the checks for the performers learned that Woodstock Ventures was short 250,000 covering their expenses to him. Roberts pledged $1 Million in in stocks to the bank to cover the $250,000. Roberts' father and brother paid off the debt with the wall street bankers. Then there was the lawsuit and refunds on 12,000 to 18,000 ticket holders unable to attend due to traffic jams.
Woodstock Had 5,162 medical cases, according to a State Health Department report release October 4, 1969. The report listed 797 documented instances of drug abuse. No births were recorded in the medical tent but Dr. Abruzzi told the Health Department that there were 8 miscarriages. The report lists two deaths by overdose (a 20 year old by way of heroin and and 18 year old marine) and one by tractor accident involving 17 year old Raymond Mizak who was sleeping in a sleeping bag and crushed by a tractor towing a tank trailor to haul away sewage. In late fall a Sullivan County Grand Jury declared that there was not enough eveidence to indict anyone for anything, The driver of the tractor was never identified and thus was not charged. Outside the farm, Monticello Hospital doctors and nurses set up a clinic in a school. Gladys Berens, helped deliver three babies there only miles from festival grounds.
Six weeks after the festival Rosenman and Roberts bought out Lang and Kornfeld for $31,240 each. Lang, Kornfeld, Rosenman and Roberts; the four young men who had produced and promoted Woodstock, were separated for almost 20 years after the Woodstock fallout. They argued about who received the most attention and who received the most credit, but must have occasionally stopped to think about the music or the people or the peace that could never again be recreated. Altamont proved that. Positioned to be the Woodstock of the west coast, Headlined by The Rolling Stones and Jefferson Airplane, with the Hell's Angels acting as bouncers. The Idea of "Three days of Peace Love and Music" dashed in that single night when the integration and togetherness of Woodstock became the disaster at Altamont. A black boy brushed against a motorcycle belonging to a Hell's Angel and was beaten to death for pulling a gun to a soundtrack of "Sympathy for the Devil". All hell broke loose, several fans were maimed and trampled even Keith Richards, guitarist for The Stones was hit in the jaw. Altamont marked the end of that idealistic era the 60s had been. Flower children displaced by the weeds of greed and hate, and a whole new counterculture of beats and disco to dethrone psychedelic rock. Jimi Hendrix died September 18, 1970, Janis Joplin a month later. Jim Morrison the legendary vocalist of the Doors died in 1971.
In Saugerties New York, August 12 1994, 350,000 people attended the Twenty-Fifth anniversary of the Woodstock rock festival. Woodstock '94 was symbolized by two doves on the neck of a Stratocaster Gutiar in homage to the original Woodstocks iconic image. In hindsight it may just be considered a marketing tactic, tickets cost $135 and the concessions were certainly not free either. By 1999 they had set up the thirtieth year anniversary in Rome, New York featuring the likes of Metallica and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. And again in 2008... It took thirty years to really cash in on the original but there will never again be anything like it.