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. Earlier, plans for the festival were on the verge of foundering, 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.
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. This feat was replicated on a smaller scale with the infamous “hot-dog guy” who was overwhelmed by rain and revelers.
During the sometimes rainy weekend, 32 acts performed outdoors. It is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, as well as the definitive nexus for the larger counterculture generation; Rolling Stone listed it as one of the 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.
Of the multiple acts on the bill, a top-ten, in descending order, might look as follows: The Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers”; Country Joe McDonald’s “The Fish Cheer / I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag;” Canned Heat’s “Goin’ Up the Country”; CSNY’s “Suite-Judy Blue Eyes”; Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher”; Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends”; Richie Havens’ “Freedom”; Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice”; Jimi Hendrix’ “Star-Spangled Banner.”
The event was captured in the Academy Award-winning 1970 documentary movie Woodstock, an accompanying soundtrack album, and Joni Mitchell’s song “Woodstock,” which commemorated the event and became a major hit for both Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Matthews Southern Comfort. Joni Mitchell remarked “Woodstock was a spark of beauty” where half-a-million kids “saw that they were part of a greater organism.”
In 2017, the festival site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While you can visit, however, your humble scribe is morally convinced we will not see the likes of such a singular event again in our lifetimes.