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The Woodstock Diaries

Journal - August 14-18, 1969

By

There were no blogs, no text messages, no Tweets or instant messages back in 1969. But if there had been, a chronicle of the Woodstock festival weekend's events might have looked something like this.

8/14/69 - The day before day 1

Woodstock 1969
Photo by Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell, licensed under GNU Free Document License

- Final stage construction and sound system setup are underway.

- Even though the festival doesn't begin until tomorrow, an estimated 50,000 people have already arrived at the festival site and set up camp.

- Hundreds of thousands more are on their way - radio stations as far away as New York City are broadcasting frequent warnings of growing traffic snarls.

- Residents of the nearest town, Bethel, upset that town officials are allowing the "swarm of hippies" to descend upon them, form human road blocks across the only road to Max Yasgur's dairy farm, where the festival is being held. Festival goers simply park and walk the rest of the way.

8/15/69 - Let the festival begin

Joan Baez at Woodstock 1969
Joan Baez, photo © Henry Diltz, courtesy of Rhino Entertainment

- Throughout the day, gridlock rules all roads leading to the concert site near Bethel, New York. Eventually, National Guard helicopters will be used to ferry in performers who can't reach the venue any other way.

- Food at concession stands at the site, already severely depleted by 50,000 early arrivals throughout the week, quickly runs out. Concert goers make do with what they've brought with them, or can find at Bethel's overtaxed grocery stores and restaurants. At the festival site, those who have food and water share it with those who don't.

- By late afternoon, none of the first four acts scheduled to lead off the festival had managed to make it to the site. It fell to Richie Havens, originally fifth on the bill, to open the festival. He took the stage at 5:07 p.m. and played to repeated standing ovations for the better part of three hours.

- Havens was followed (in order) by Sweetwater, Incredible String Band, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, and Joan Baez, who took the stage at about 1:00 a.m. to close the first day's performances.

- At about midnight, it started raining, in the midst of Shankar's set. He continued in spite of the rain, but eventually had to stop after five songs. Rain would continue to fall off and on throughout the event, creating a sea of mud and interrupting or delaying several performances.

- Throughout the night, the flow of people into Yasgur's Farm continued non-stop.

8/16/69 - Woodstock day 2

Creedence Clearwater Revival at Woodstock 1969
Creedence Clearwater Revival, photo © Henry Diltz, courtesy of Rhino Entertainment

- A medical tent is set up to treat bare feet cut by broken glass and metal can lids that litter the site, bad acid trips, and retinas burned when their stoned owners lie down and stare directly at the sun.

- A young man, asleep in a trash-strewn field, hidden under his sleeping bag for protection from the rain, dies when he is accidentally run over by a tractor hauling away sewage from the site's portable toilets.

- In nearby Bethel, volunteers begin making thousands of sandwiches that are sent by helicopter to the site to feed the hungry masses. The Town Justice holds court in his living room to deal with nearly 200 drug-related cases.

- The day's festival performances, originally scheduled to start in the evening, begin shortly after noon so that the crowd doesn't get restless and become unruly. Artists are asked to lengthen their sets.

- Taking the stage today: Quill, Keef Hartley Band, "Country Joe" McDonald, John Sebastian, Santana, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane.

- Technical problems prevent Quill's performance from being included in Woodstock (the movie) which causes Atlantic Records to drop them. Electrical problems and ankle-deep water on stage cause Grateful Dead to get shocked when they touch their microphones and electric guitar strings.

- Throughout the day, rain and technical delays wreak havoc with the festival schedule: The Who finish their set as the sun rises on Sunday morning, and it is nearly 8:00 a.m. Sunday when Saturday night's headline act, Jefferson Airplane finally start playing.

8/17/69 - Day 3, night into morning

Crosby Stills & Nash at Woodstock 1969
Crosby Stills & Nash, photo © Henry Diltz, courtesy of Rhino Entertainment

- Scheduled Saturday night performances didn't end until mid-morning Sunday, so there was little gap between Jefferson Airplane and Joe Cocker, who takes the stage at 2:00 p.m. with storm clouds looming.

- After Cocker's set, there's a two-hour thunderstorm delay, after which the day's lineup continues at around 6:00: Country Joe and The Fish, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha-Na-Na, and Jimi Hendrix.

- Neil Young, playing for the first time with CSNY performs only two songs in the band's acoustic set, and refuses to be filmed during their electric set, complaining that the cameras are too distracting.

- It is so humid that Ten Years After can't keep their guitar strings in tune. Adding insult to injury, because of technical problems, only the band's last song is filmed.

- Two more deaths, both from drug overdoses, occur today. There are four births: three at a makeshift clinic that had been set up by an area hospital in a school just off the festival grounds, the fourth at a motel in nearby Bethel, which was the first place the new father can find when his wife goes into labor.

8/18/69 - Is it finally over?

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock 1969
Jimi Hendrix, photo © Henry Diltz, courtesy of Rhino Entertainment

- What had been scheduled as a three-day (Friday - Sunday August 15-17) festival continues well into the morning of Monday, August 18 due to the numerous rain delays and technical glitches.

- A mass exodus begins when a thunderstorm delays the proceedings (yet again) at about 5:00 p.m. Sunday. An estimated 35,000 stay through the end of the final performance, which begins at 9:00 a.m. Monday.

- Performing after the last weather delay, beginning at about 6:30 p.m. on Sunday: Country Joe and The Fish, Ten Years After, The Band. Beginning at about midnight, Monday performers included Johnny Winter, Blood Sweat & Tears, CSNY, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha-Na-Na and Jimi Hendrix.

- As the festival ends, estimates of the number of people who attended vary widely. The state police estimate is 450,000, a figure frequently rounded to half a million. A newspaper editor on the scene claimed the total was probably closer to 150,000, but a Bethel historian says it's actually closer to 700,000. Due to the lack of an adequate ticket selling and collecting system, we'll never know for sure.

- When they tally it all up, festival organizers figure they are $1.3-million in debt, with expenses more than 300% over budget and most attendees getting in without having paid for a ticket.

- More than 5,000 people required medical treatment during the festival. Of that total, about 800 involved drug use. There are eight miscarriages reported.

- It takes $100,000 and several days to clean up the site. Workers bulldoze tons of trash and debris into a pit and burn it.

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