English 15A, Section 001
Counterculture Essay: Woodstock, 1969
When one thinks of hippie movement of the 1960s, a few things come to mind: namely free love, drugs, and rock-n-roll. These things represented the counterculture of the time, in which the youth of the nation we rebelling against the stricter conservative values of their parents’ generation. All this came to a peak for three days in the summer of 1969, near the little town of Bethel, New York, in what was called the Woodstock Festival. Few would know it at the time, but it would become the defining moment of the age of the hippie.
Woodstock was at first not meant to be as big of a deal as it became. Four organizers named Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, and Artie Kornfeld came up with the idea for an outdoor music and arts festival, possibly featuring a few of the big name artists (such as Bob Dylan and The Band) who lived in the area. But they found it difficult to get the big names to sign, that is, until the hugely popular Creedence Clearwater Revival agreed in April 1969 to play for $10,000. Once their name was on the board, it was significantly easier for them to get the bands they wanted.
Originally the concert was not free, and tickets cost $18 in advance and $24 at the gate for all three days (equivalent to $105 and $140 today). About 186,000 tickets were sold beforehand and it was anticipated that somewhere around 200,000 total festival-goers would turn up. In spite of this, officials of the town of Wallkill were assured that no more than 50,000 people would attend the concert. The festival was quickly opposed by most of the towns’ residents. In July of 1969, the Wallkill Zoning Board of Appeals officially banned the concert, which turned out to give the concert even more publicity.
After being shut down in Wallkill, the concert was moved to a 600-acre dairy farm near Bethel owned by Max Yasgur. It had a large, gently sloping field that formed a natural amphitheater, and the stage was constructed at the foot of the hill. Strong resident opposition was also met here, with people refusing to buy Yasgur’s milk in order to stop his “Hippy Music Festival,” as written on many signs posted around the area. Once again, the Bethel officials were informed that no more than 50,000 people were expected to attend.
This late venue change put the festival organizers in a bind. At a meeting three days beforehand they realized they only had the time to do one of two things: improve the fencing and security around the venue, or use their resources to complete the stage, which would cost Woodstock Ventures a fair amount of money. During this time, people were already showing up earlier and in greater numbers than was expected, so the decision was made to complete the stage and remove the fence, essentially making the Woodstock Festival a free concert. Concertgoers were pleasantly surprised to find this out as they neared the farm. All in all, 500,000 people attended the three-day festival.
The veritable migration of concert attendees created a huge traffic jam on all the major roads and highways in the area. Bethel did not enforce its codes, as officials feared chaos as the many thousands of people descended on the town. Announcements were made on radio stations as far away as Manhattan urging people not to set off for the concert. On top of all this, recent rainfall had caused many roads and fields to turn into muddy messes, and the facilities at the concert were not equipped to provide sanitation or first aid for the large number of attendees. Sullivan County declared a state of emergency and New York governor nelson Rockefeller nearly ordered 10,000 New York State National Guard troops to the event, only deciding against the idea when festival organizer John Roberts persuaded him not to.
Despite the huge potential for violence and crime that came with half a million people congregating in one place,...