Sunday, October 4, 2009

Woodstock: an American music odyssey

40 years ago in mid August, the world's biggest festival took place in upstate New York on a farm belonging to dairy farmer Max Yasgur. 500,000 people (approximately) attended Woodstock from August 15th-18th, 1969.

Woodstock, as we all do and/or should know was the festival that flower children attended and, in short, did whatever they wanted for three days while some of the generation's most important acts played. Free love, drugs and rolling around in mud seemed to be the three headlining actions.
Cocker, Joplin, Baez, CCR, Hendrix, The Who, Ten Years After, The Band (I always thought Bob Dylan was in The Band as WELL as Travelling Wilburys later on: wrong, he just did some gigs with them), Jefferson Airplane, CSNY (and these are merely the artists I love/know well)- despite some bands/musicians not playing who you'd think would have (Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Doors, The Byrds), Woodstock remains almost a household name even in today's society, such is the impact it has had. It's an excellent example of entrepeneurial skills, depsite the chaotic financial implications it had for the organisers, the town of Bethel, Yasgur and the musicians. According to the trusty Wikipedia article, Creedence frontman John Fogerty agreed to play for $10,000, however they declined to be filmed for the Woodstock film/documentary.

Foresight. Or lack of. What was Fogso up to?! Having created a new genre of rock that adopted blues and roots as part of its make up ('swamp rock'), and having just hit the big time, no doubt the record label was whispering in his ear and telling him that Woodstock was merely a token appearance, one of many that they had made that year.

I don't think it helped that despite being a 'headline act', they were scheduled to play at 3am. Rough.

"We were ready to rock out and we waited and waited and finally it was our turn... ...there were a half million people asleep. These people were out. It was sort of like a painting of a Dante scene, just bodies from hell, all intertwined and asleep, covered with mud. And this is the moment I will never forget as long as I live: a quarter mile away in the darkness, on the other edge of this bowl, there was some guy flicking his Bic*, and in the night I hear, "Don't worry about it John. We're with you." I played the rest of the show for that guy."

Clearly a poignant yet scintillating moment for Fogerty.

*By the way, the dude's 'Bic' was nothing dodgy, nor a ball point pen, but a lighter.

Just, imagine paying $12 for, I don't know, Glastonbury, Falls Festival (as an aside, Melburnians, your lineup for Falls this year is not too shabby, albeit more 'alty' than usual), or the Big Day Out. Hell, even Parachutes or the now defunct Sweetwaters (imagine bringing that bad boy of an NZ festival back. Brilliant). Apparently, and this is according to a music lover slash economist, that now equates to (still only) around US$105 which takes into consideration 'adjusting for purchasing power', and 'US$75 after adjusting for inflation'
.............................................................Original Swamp rockers Creedence Clearwater Revival

The Inimitable Janis Joplin

It was still early days in terms of radicalism for many folk in the Bethel/Woodstock area, and Yasgur was not liked for condoning the hippie behaviour via permission to rent his farm. It's hilarious considering the stereotype of Jewish people that he was quickly renowned for being hippie-ish himself by allowing 'free water' and giving away a plethora of supplies to those who flocked to the festival: "I hear you are considering changing the zoning law to prevent the festival. I hear you don't like the look of the kids who are working at the site. I hear you don't like their lifestyle. I hear you don't like they are against the war and that they say so very loudly. . . I don't particularly like the looks of some of those kids either. I don't particularly like their lifestyle, especially the drugs and free love."
After this point Yasgur gets a tad cheesy American, so forgive me for taking liberty and axing all the God Bless America blah. I am excited though about Ang Lee's gumption with making the film Taking Woodstock, starring Emile Hirsch (Into The Wild) and Demetri Martin (see his website here)...
I think half the things that people, my age, back in the sixties stood for are either irrelevant today or taken for granted. Dress, speech, music, relationships, art, education.
I mentioned to someone the other day that I was always disappointed I never partook in a march to protest something, anything apart from "No Fee Increase for Students" at university.
Timothy Leary I reckon nails on the head what the Hippy movement meant to him, and indeed many who were hippies or lived alongside them:
"Hippies started the ecology movement. They combated racism. They liberated sexual stereotypes, encouraged change, individual pride, and self-confidence. They questioned robot materialism. In four years they managed to stop the Vietnam War. They got marijuana decriminalized in fourteen states during the Carter Administration."
PS. Some hilarious Woodstock yarns can be read here

1 comment:

  1. Woodstock lives...we are a small group of folks living based in Utopia Studios in Woodstock keeping the spirit of Woodstock alive on Radio Woodstock 69 which features music exclusively from the original Woodstock era (1967-1971)and a Woodstock vision for the world of peace, love and music. Check it out at



Think this is a dram worth recommending?