50 Things You Didn’t Know About Woodstock on Its 50th Anniversary
Fifty years ago in upstate New York, a counterculture was born. Here’s everything you never knew about the famed music festival.
At the height of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, just a month after Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, and just a week after the Manson murders took place in the Hollywood Hills, a crowd of half a million made their way to a muddy field beside a lake in the Catskill Mountains for what was to be a three-day festival of peace and music. No one could have known it at the time, but the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, which began just after 5 p.m. on August 15, 1969, would become a generation-defining, cultural touchstone that, a half-century later, continues to resonate, fascinate, and inspire imitations.
So, what was it about Woodstock? Read on…
It started out as an investment opportunity
Ironically enough, the epic music festival that’s come to be known as “Woodstock” and which is synonymous with the 1960s counterculture, was organized by a group of four young men who pretty much epitomized anything but the counterculture:
- Capitol Records exec, Artie Kornfeld (left in photo)
- Florida-based promotor, Michael Lang (middle in photo)
- John Roberts and Joel Rosenman (right in photo) a couple of Ivy League-educated sons of wealthy families who were looking for an investment opportunity.
The original plan had nothing to do with a music festival
Lang and Kornfeld approached Roberts and Rosenman to invest in their dream of building a recording studio. However, the group quickly changed course, abandoning the idea of an indoor studio in favor of an outdoor music festival.
It didn’t take place in Woodstock
The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair took place in Bethel, New York. Bethel, a town in Sullivan County, New York with a population of under 5,000 people, is around 70 miles southwest of Woodstock, New York. Visiting the Woodstock/Catskills area? Here’s what else you should see.
So then why “Woodstock”?
The newly formed investment group originally wished to build their recording studio in the bucolic, quaint, and artsy Ulster County town of Woodstock, New York and therefore named their enterprise, “Woodstock Ventures.” Woodstock was and is a haven for musicians, including Bob Dylan, who was a resident of Woodstock at the time of the festival.
Bob Dylan didn’t perform at Woodstock
Despite that Bob Dylan was known for making music in Woodstock (he famously recorded music with The Band there), he declined an invitation to perform at the Woodstock festival in Bethel. He chose instead to perform at a music festival on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom. Can you guess which Bob Dylan album is worth a fortune today?
Woodstock was never going to be the festival venue
Once the organizers decided to put on a music festival instead of building a recording studio, they stuck with the name “Woodstock Ventures” despite that the town of Woodstock never wanted anything to do with their outdoor music festival.
The original venue was in an industrial park in Wallkill, New York
When neither Woodstock nor nearby Saugerties panned out as a venue, Woodstock Ventures set its sights on Mills Industrial Park in the town of Wallkill. They got as far as securing $10,000 for the space before the Town Board got cold feet and wriggled out of the deal based on a town code technicality.
The technicality involved a toilet
When Woodstock Ventures told the Wallkill Town Board to expect about 50,000 attendees (as it turned out, a vast understatement), the Board promptly passed a law requiring a permit for any gathering of over 5,000 people. When that wasn’t enough to put a pin in the festival, the Wallkill Zoning Board of Appeals officially banned the concert on the basis that the planned portable toilets would not meet town code.
“I’m going down to Yasgur’s farm”
This famous lyric from the most famous song ever written about the festival (unsurprisingly, it’s called “Woodstock”) refers to the actual location of the festival, which was a 600-acre farm in the White Lake hamlet of Bethel belonging to 49-year-old Max Yasgur.