Woodstock was crazy, everyone knows that. A few people were there and even fewer remember the three day music festival that made history. Some would say it was more than a festival…
Woodstock represented the generation of “free love” in the face of a highly divided political climate of the day; providing a much needed “escape” for young kids of the time.
These photographs document not only a festival – but they document something much more important: The human spirit, together as one. You will not BELIEVE some of these powerful pictures.
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The roads leading concert goers to the Woodstock festival grounds were promptly overwhelmed, causing what an article in the NY Daily News at the time referred to as “the largest traffic jam in the history of the Catskills”.
Attempts by state police to untangle the long line of cars were unsuccessful, resulting in the closure of Exit 104 on the New York State Thruway and an estimated 8 hour delay for cars attempting to make the 98 mile trip from New York to White Lake.
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The main stage at Woodstock was initially constructed as a two sided platform that could be turned by the crew, so that while one performance was taking place, the equipment for the next performers could be set up, saving time between acts.
Though innovative, the amount of equipment required for two sets outweighed the capability of the turning mechanism, which broke down and sets had to be manually changed by the crew.
Over 400,000 people made the trip to the town of Bethel in New York for the festival, which was originally billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” and “The Woodstock Music & Art Fair”.
Known now simply as “Woodstock”, the festival actually took place over the course of four days, from August 15th to August 18th, 1969.
Attendees at Woodstock were, for the larger part, a peaceful and enthusiastic audience, in spite of the fact that the massive size of the crowd rapidly overwhelmed the resources meant to provide food, shelter and sanitation.
Advance tickets to Woodstock were sold for $18 at record stores in New York City or by mail. Although around 186,000 advance tickets had been purchased, the organizers of the festival were so overwhelmed by the turnout that they decided to let the gathering crowd in for free.
Only around 200,000 people were anticipated, but over 400,000 arrived. Photographs of the event taken from helicopter above show the incredible expanse of all in attendance.
The final performer of the festival was Jimi Hendrix, performing a two hour set with his band, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. It was during this set that Hendrix played his now famous rendition of the “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
Festival goers constructed this makeshift jungle gym, jumping from the top into bales of hay below.
An undisputed highlight of the musical lineup was a crowd rousing performance by diverse funk-rock act, Sly & The Family Stone, who took the stage at 3:30am on Sunday morning, August 17th.
After the original location for the festival fell through, 49 year old dairy farm owner Max Yasgur leased one of his fields to organizers for the event. Yasgur was very supportive of concert goers, offering free water and dairy products from his farm to those in attendance.
Another festival favorite were relative newcomers to the music scene, Santana, who had only played locally in San Francisco prior to their set at Woodstock on the afternoon of Saturday, the 16th.
Concert goers Nick Ercoline and Bobbi Kelly had been dating ten weeks when this photo was captured at dawn on August 17th by professional photographer, Burk Uzzle. The now famous photo appeared on the cover of the Woodstock soundtrack album released in 1970.
Janis Joplin took the stage at Woodstock at 2am on Sunday, the 17th with her band, The Kozmic Blues Band. Joplin had parted ways with her more well known band, Big Brother & The Holding Company the prior year and would die of a drug overdose less than a year after her performance at the festival.
English rock band, The Who, took the stage at 5am on August 17th, performing most of their rock opera opus, Tommy. At the end of their set, guitarist Pete Townshend threw his guitar into the crowd.
Guitarist David Crosby, of recently formed quartet, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, performing at 3am on Monday morning. The band played both an acoustic and an electric set at the festival.
Famed entertainer and peace activist, Wavy Gravy, and his organization, the Hog Farm, were recruited by Woodstock organizers to build fire pits and trails on the grounds, but set up a makeshift kitchen and served free meals to attendees when it became clear that the availability of food was going to be an issue.
There were a reported 5,162 medical cases at Woodstock, according to a report released by the state Health Department in October, 1969.
The National Guard was needed to deliver packages containing medical supplies by helicopter when the number of attendees outgrew the previously allotted amount of medical resources.
The crowds make the long trek back to their cars, many of which had been parked and left on the road in the standstill of traffic leading into the festival three days before.
Debris inevitably litters the town of Bethel following the exodus of some 400,000 concert goers.
Farm owner Max Yasgur’s dairy cows, relaxing outside the perimeter of the festival grounds.
Makeshift sleeping arrangements were good enough for many in attendance who came somewhat unprepared, without tents or sleeping bags.
The performers onstage weren’t the only musicians at Woodstock. Several attendees came prepared with their own instruments of choice.
An impromptu nap on the hood of one of the many vehicles parked en route to the festival keeps this attendee off the rain soaked ground.
Another creative concert goer uses his motorcycle as a temporary bed.
There were several children in attendance at Woodstock, as well as two reported births.
Providing his own soundtrack, this attendee strums his acoustic guitar atop a stack of hay bales.
Organizers of Woodstock initially assured Bethel town authorities that no more than 50,000 people were expected to attend. While this estimate was almost certainly intentionally downplayed, the size of the crowd that did gather took all involved by surprise.
While most local residents were against the festival being held in their town, several eventually admitted that the majority of attendees were polite and respectful.
Sly & The Family Stone’s unique sound was considered to be a highlight of the festival, as well as a milestone performance for the band.
Dr. William Abruzzi, the chief medical officer in attendance at the festival was quoted in Rolling Stone, stating: “These people are really beautiful. There has been no violence whatsoever, which is really remarkable for a crowd this size.”
Entrepreneurial audience members set up makeshift structures to sell handmade goods and apparel.
Santana made a big impression on audience members, most of whom had never heard of the fledgling band before Woodstock.
Some of the vehicles that made it onto the festival grounds became temporary shelters, providing a few fortunate attendees with a respite from the weather crowds.
Despite repeated discouragement announced from the stage, several of those in attendance climbed the metal scaffolding that was part of the sound system, seeking a better view.
Hand painted signs pointed the crowds toward the festival grounds.
People made the most of the torrential rain that plagued the festival throughout the weekend, surrendering to the elements and splashing joyfully in the mud.
Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane relax on the backstage side of the main stage.
Two festival attendees make their own music on flute and drum.
Many opinionated activists took the opportunity of being in such a large crowd to draw attention to their cause.
On Sunday afternoon, Max Yasgur spoke to the incredibly huge amount of people gathered in his field, saying: “I don’t know how to speak to 20 people, much less all of you…you are the largest group of people ever assembled in one place at one time…we had no idea there would be this many…and 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.”
Resourceful attendees climbed onto the top of some of the hundreds of vehicles at a standstill on the grounds of the festival.
Throughout the rain, the crowding, and the inadequate resources provided to attendees, spirits and a sense of community prevailed.
A group of like minded people raise their arms to the sky, in what appears to be an impromptu yoga session.
All in all, 32 acts took the stage during the course of four days in August 1969 and over 400,000 people came to see it, none of them aware that simply by showing up, they were about to become a part of history.