August 15 1969: The Woodstock festival opens

August 15: General Interest
1969: The Woodstock festival opens in Bethel, New

On this day in 1969, the Woodstock Music Festival opens on a patch
of farmland in White Lake, a hamlet in the upstate New York town of Bethel.

Promoters John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfield and Michael Lang
originally envisioned the festival as a way to raise funds to build a recording
studio and rock-and-roll retreat near the town of Woodstock, New York. The
longtime artists’ colony was already a home base for Bob Dylan and other
musicians. Despite their relative inexperience, the young promoters managed to
sign a roster of top acts, including the Jefferson Airplane, the Who, the
Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Creedence
Clearwater Revival and many more. Plans for the festival were on the verge of
foundering, however, after both Woodstock and the nearby town of Wallkill denied
permission to hold the event. Dairy farmer Max Yasgur came to the rescue at the
last minute, giving the promoters access to his 600 acres of land in Bethel,
some 50 miles from Woodstock.

Early estimates of attendance increased
from 50,000 to around 200,000, but by the time the gates opened on Friday,
August 15, more than 400,000 people were clamoring to get in. Those without
tickets simply walked through gaps in the fences, and the organizers were
eventually forced to make the event free of charge. Folk singer and guitarist
Richie Havens kicked off the event with a long set, and Joan Baez and Arlo
Guthrie also performed on Friday night.

Somewhat improbably, the chaotic
gathering of half a million young “hippies” lived up to its billing of “Three
Days of Peace and Music.” There were surprisingly few incidents of violence on
the overcrowded grounds, and a number of musicians performed songs expressing
their opposition to the Vietnam War. Among the many great moments at the
Woodstock Music Festival were career-making performances by up-and-coming acts
like Santana, Joe Cocker and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; the Who’s
early-morning set featuring songs from their classic rock opera “Tommy”; and the
closing set by Hendrix, which climaxed with an improvised solo guitar
performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Though Woodstock had left its
promoters nearly bankrupt, their ownership of the film and recording rights more
than compensated for the losses after the release of a hit documentary film in
1970. Later music festivals inspired by Woodstock’s success failed to live up to
its standard, and the festival still stands for many as a example of America’s
1960s youth counterculture at its best.


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