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Woodstock 101

How Woodstock Changed the World

By

Woodstock 101

It would be sometime after the Festival ended that the "half a million" who attended Woodstock would discover that they had made history.

Photo by Derek Redmond & Paul Campbell, GNU Free Documentation License
The mass media images that most people saw – young men and women, mud-caked, bare-chested, openly smoking dope and dropping acid – defined the make-love-not-war, let-it-all-hang-out counterculture that was at its peak in the late 60s.

Acts who had started being noticed when they played the Monterey Pop Festival in California in 1967 took the final step to superstardom with their performances at Woodstock. Carlos Santana’s rendition of “Soul Sacrifice” is still considered one of the best he has ever done. Jimi Hendrix’s discordant, screeching rendition of “Star Spangled Banner” electrified the crowd, fueling its overwhelming sentiment against the Viet Nam War. The Who achieved legendary status when Pete Townshend smashed his guitar and threw it into the crowd at the conclusion of the band’s performance of the entire rock opera, Tommy.

Noteworthy No-Shows

Several acts were booked and scheduled but didn’t show up. Iron Butterfly were stranded at an airport. Joni Mitchell missed it because of a highway closing, but made up for it by writing the song that became one of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's most famous. The Jeff Beck Group would have been there had they not disbanded the week before. The Canadian group, Lighthouse, backed out because they were nervous about the venue and the crowd.

And then there were those who flatly turned down invitations to perform. Led Zeppelin had another gig that paid more. The Byrds had had a bad experience at an outdoor festival in Atlanta. The Doors didn’t go because Jim Morrison didn’t like to play large outdoor venues. Tommy James and the Shondells turned it down because they were told by their staff only that a pig farmer wanted them to play in his field. Nobody really knows why Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa declined the offer.

Accept No Substitutes

A three day pass to the original Woodstock Festival in 1969 cost $18. In 1999, promoters wanted $150 for a ticket to the 30th anniversary edition. Although the event attracted over 200,000 people and some big name acts to an abandoned Air Force base in upstate New York, it was marred by violence and looting. The only similarity to the original event was the lack of security and sanitary facilities.

Violence also marred Woodstock 1994 – the 25th anniversary event which, like the original, became mired in mud due to heavy rain. 1989’s re-enactment at the site of the original Festival was peaceful, but attracted only 30,000 people with a roster of little known bands.

The original Woodstock was as much a state of mind and a snapshot of history as it was a rock festival. Although it has been attempted, it isn’t likely that the essence of what made Woodstock what it was will ever be recreated.

“By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong,
And everywhere there was song and celebration.
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies.”

“Woodstock” ©1969, 1997 Joni Mitchell, published by Crazy Crow Music

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