For three days in August 1969, nearly half a million people came together for one of the pivotal events of the decade. Woodstock. The stage faced a hill before one of the largest concert audiences ever assembled in one place. It’s hard to imagine the size and impact but here’s how you can connect with it all and organize your trip for the fiftieth Woodstock Anniversary in 2019.
This post was inspired by my Catskills visit as a guest of NY Tourism.
A moment from the Museum movie featuring the owner of the festival site.
The Festival is the focus of an award-winning exhibit inside the Bethel Woods Woodstock Museum which is built next to the site of the concert. When you actually stand in the space there’s a palpable buzz. It may look like a sloping field but this spot is powerful. I visited on a cloudy September day and nearly choked back tears while watching how reverantly people came and went from the land. Four Baby Boomers ran down to the gate then coordinated a pose with their arms raised, each face beaming. A quiet man sat on the edge of a picnic table and strummed a few chords. The moment must’ve fulfilled a dream of his.
Others left signed pieces of wood beneath a tree and more of us just wandered, soaking up the buzz. I can only imagine how fun the fiftieth Woodstock Anniversary is going to be. Time to start planning!
Mementos at the Woodstock site
Woodstock isn’t THE Woodstock
Most know about the crowds, traffic jams and the rebel music that played day and night, in rainstorms and mud, blaring anthems to the birthing of a movement. But did you know it almost derailed?
Woodstock Village embraces festival tourism
The festival’s four organizers planned for a rural experience based in the art colony of Woodstock. Tickets were printed. Posters bearing the iconic bird and guitar were ready when the town, famously home to Bob Dylan and The Band rescinded its permission. Regardless, the promoters decided to go ahead with the name and found a farm fifty miles away. “Going down to Yasgur’s farm…” flowed from Joni Mitchell’s signature song. So, stay in the village of Woodstock if you will but be prepared for the trek to the Bethel Woods Woodstock Anniversary celebrations.
A moment inside the Bethel Museum Woodstock Gallery.
2019 – A year of celebrating the Woodstock Anniversary
You may not make it to the site in August but that doesn’t mean you’ll miss the party. Grab your tie-dye shirts and fringed vests for events that are planned at the Bethel Woods site throughout the year. Don’t miss the Museum exhibit “for anyone who lived through The Sixties or wished they had.” The galleries made me giddy but that also contrasted with the colorful and sobering displays about what was going on in the US at the time.
The times they are a’changing. – Richie Havens lyric from his set at Woodstock
Young people felt disenfranchised from the excesses of post-WW2 Capitalism. Watching their friends and siblings fighting a horrendous war from suburban living room televisions became a national pastime. It was grueling and as the war dragged on a sense of angry futility filtered through society. Young adults felt it most and letting your hair grow long, wearing love beads, dropping out of jobs and school, and smoking pot became part of the protest. Civil rights and the powerful words of Martin Luther King demanding change echoed across races. At the same time, there was angry pressure to conform came from many sides.
Music changed too. Soft pop and folk music gave way to the grit of Jimmy Hendricks, the powerful beats of Santana, and the bellowing passion of Janice Joplin. The Summer of Love transformed much of San Francisco and anyone who wasn’t at Woodstock regretted missing it. I was too young to make the trek and idolized a couple I met who had been there. They later named their daughter, Sativa. It’s laughable now but that was a rebellious move she’s had to live with!
VIDEO: Step inside the gallery and meet a Woodstock devotee on the festival field:
Feeling groovy only went so far.
All was not perfect with the Peace and Music Revolution. Throughout the country, smoking pot led to lost lives as families turned in their children when they found baggies or smoking paraphernalia. There were serious consequences with prison time. Marches against the war turned brutal at home. The National Guard fired on a demonstration at Kent State. Four students were killed and nine injured during a protest against the Cambodian Bombing. Richard Nixon kept sending troops to Vietnam and the draft gave him an endless supply of young bodies. Many came back in bags or changed forever. Young women emancipated with the Pill often found themselves with STD’s or reactions as dosages were still being perfected. The Feminist Movement sprang to life and there were efforts to get equal pay for women in the marketplace. “Make love not war” was one slogan but it was often a lopsided freedom.
Memorial plaque at the Woodstock site.
Hope on the horizon
It may be a bit of escapism but I remember the positive power of that time. The music still thrills. Do yourself a favor and watch the documentary, Woodstock, Three Days of Peace and Music (Director’s cut.) In 2019 watch the PBS two hour documentary which will examine the events that led up to the three-day festival. It will be part of the American Experience series. Listen to the Soundtrack music. You’ll get the sense of wonder many performers felt as they looked out across the crowd. You might feel inspired to learn more. Whichever way you go consider the current American experience so full of division and imagine a sweep of music and change. Could it happen again?
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Map of the Bethel Woods complex for the Woodstock Anniversary.
If you go to the Woodstock Anniversary celebrations
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