September 28, 2022

By Ahmet Abdulaziz ….

52 years ago, the music world experienced something very unique, something very different. Still after so many years have passed, and the youngsters of those days are now old, everyone remembers the “Woodstock Music Festival”, held at the dairy farm in Bethel, New York, some 40 miles southwest of the Woodstock town. Spanned over a period of 3 days from 15th to 18th August in 1969, the festival still holds its position as a landmark in the music world.

Interestingly just like the Beatles, who had shocked the music world at a very young age, the organisers of the Woodstock music festival were not too old in terms of age. Artie Kornfeld, Michael Lang, John Roberts and Joel Rosenman, were the young promoters, who did not have much experience of organising music festivals, etc. It was just an adventure for them. For them, as reported in the press, things were not going smoothly as they were not able to find a suitable place for the festival. Ultimately, they agreed to rent this dairy farm, which did not have any facilities whatsoever for such a big organisation.

The festival was originally designed with an estimated attendance of about 50,000 spectators in mind, but as the date of the festival approached, all such estimates proved totally wrong, as there was an attendance of about 400,000 spectators. The organisers were caught unprepared in all respects. They had failed to put up fences to cover the area in time. There were not even ticket booths ready to sell tickets. Seeing the spectators coming in large numbers, the organisers were left with no other option but to make it a free concert.

As the spectators had started coming in large numbers, the authorities took steps to keep the traffic moving, but generally failed. At one time even they had thought of sending the troops to ensure law and order in the area. But there had never been any complaint about anything wrong in the area during those three days. However evidently it was an exposure of mutual understanding and help among the spectators, who found the organisers helpless, to cope with the muddy roads and fields. They mutually carried out their peaceful struggle against bad weather, food shortages and poor sanitation.

Not only just that, the organisers were having difficulty in booking the musicians, as everyone seemed reluctant to go there. However, musicians started pouring in as the news spread of signing by “Creedence Clearwater Revival”, one of the popular  music groups of that time.

Looking back, we see a loosely organised music festival, at an area filled with mud, spoiled by rain and ill management. There were no proper arrangements for the spectators to sleep or eat, or for toilets. But the spectators rather enjoyed the music filled atmosphere, well suited to their overall style of thinking. Yes, that was the time of the Hippies. Hippies, who wanted to live in peace, away from all sorts of problems and worries.

There were thirty two acts of musical performances in those three days, where the spectators slept in tents or in open space, with mud everywhere. A music festival under normal circumstances would not stand sporadic rains, leading to mud everywhere, without any facilities whatsoever but the spectators who were mostly teenagers or youngsters enjoyed every moment of the festival.

The event has now been considered as a pivotal moment in the popular music history, as it was one powerful display by the counterculture generation. They found the blending of the music world with their ultimate demand for a different and peaceful world. A demand that still holds grounds, though hippies are no more now.

The Rolling Stone magazine listed the Woodstock festival as number 19 of the 50 milestones of the history of Rock and Roll music. The Festival site also was ultimately listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The three day long music festival might have gone into the history books as an ill organised festival, but it got a renewed life by a documentary film with accompanying soundtrack album in 1970. The film, was well received by the music lovers, and the name of Woodstock and the festival made its place in music history books as an important event, which it still is. Music events for successive anniversaries of the 1969 festival, add further value to it.

I was a teenager at that time and I remember the Woodstock music festival, through the photographs published by LIFE magazine in those days. I remember the people sleeping in mud, half naked girls and boys, enjoying under rain, smoking and dancing. Still I see those photographs on the internet, which makes me remember this historical event over again.


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