To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, I wanted to share my experience visiting the site of the festival in Bethel, NY and the importance of it a half-century later - Enjoy! 

Woodstock Art and Music Festival was held at Max Yasgur's 600 acre dairy farm in rural Bethel, NY, on August 15, 16, and 17 in 1969. It was the epitome of the counterculture made up of the American youth during the late 1960s and early 1970s. No music festival has ever had as much of an impact on society as Woodstock has. 

It took place at the end of a very tumultuous decade in modern U.S. history. The festival was billed as “3 Days of Peace and Music”, which considering how many people attended, there were no issues with violence. According to a firsthand account from attendee Glenn Weiser, “A city of that size also would have had a predictable number of violent crimes in a three-day period, and this simply didn't happen… love had beaten the odds. The miracle of a multitude at peace with one another had occurred, and no one who was there will ever forget it."

I've been to Bethel twice before, once to the museum three years ago and last fall for a concert. I knew I had to go back this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary! For reference, it's about 3 hours away from New York City - many people say it's in upstate New York, but it's actually right across the border from Pennsylvania. The town itself is also basically the same as it was in 1969 - there is hardly nothing there other than farmland. 

The original festival location was supposed to be in Woodstock, New York, but was changed last minute to be in Bethel, New York. In addition to the sudden change of venues, the organizers faced so many setbacks early on in the planning process, as well as right up into the actual festival. The biggest issue was that they were only planning on roughly 50,000 people to attend, but last minute re-estimated it to be closer to 200,000 people. More food, water, toilets, and other vital resources needed to be found quickly in order to cater to that amount of people. Ultimately, nearly 500,000 people attended Woodstock that weekend, jamming the roads of Bethel with eight miles of traffic.

I've always loved learning about the history of Woodstock, because in so many ways it was an event that can never be recreated again. It represented the beginning of the end for the counterculture movement that was very prevalent for most of the 1960s. This event was a physical manifestation for everything that generation stood for; peace, love and music. It united hundreds of thousands people from all over the country to celebrate the hippie movement that so greatly impacted culture, not only during that time period, but also for the rest of history. It showed them that there were people that shared their same views of peace and harmony with the hopes of living a life unlike those of previous generations. 

In an August 20, 1969 issue of New York’s Lower East Side underground newspaper called The East Village Other, John “The Swede” Hilgerdt wrote, “There is a feeling, though, that somehow it couldn't happen again… But maybe, just maybe, it will be a new beginning for us despite our walking away from the most beautiful experience many ever had. A lot of friends were made and positive proof that our numbers are legion was everywhere evident. We now know we can live together as we had only done previously in our fantasies. No one will leave here the same person that existed before. For a few days we were all in a beautiful place. Can we do it again? All I know is I don't want to leave here. I feel like I've come home.”

In 2008, the Museum at Bethel Woods opened and first displayed their collection of artifacts from Woodstock. Their permanent exhibit also includes interactive displays and videos - including previously unreleased footage from the festival. The exhibit itself is quite small, but there are so many items on display that you obviously wouldn't be able to see anywhere else. Below are some of the highlights of the exhibit and a brief description of each!

highlights from the exhibit:

Ticket for Friday August 15th - Day Passes cost $8.00 each in 1969, which is equivalent to about $56.00 in 2019. On Wednesday August 13, they actually made the entire event free to the public because tens of thousands of people were jumping over the fences to get in early without tickets!

A piece of the fence that was broken down days before the festival was supposed to start.

Promotional poster

Performer Pass for Ira Cohen

Ritchie Havens' outfit and guitar he used for Woodstock's opening performance on Friday August 15th - none of the other performers arrived yet because they were stuck in the traffic jam, so he was told to keep playing until more acts arrived. He was only scheduled to play 4 songs, but Ritchie Havens later said that he played every song he knew for the next 3 hours!

Sha Na Na's keyboard used in the early morning on the final day of the festival on Monday August 18th - Even though it was supposed to be over on Sunday August 17th, thousands of people were waiting to see Jimi Hendrix's closing performance. Jimi Hendrix actually recommended the band to the producers of Woodstock after seeing them live earlier that summer!

 T-shirts worn by security guards at the festival 

Memorabilia released soon after the festival - including a commemorative issue of Life Magazine, the 3 LP vinyl record, and more. 

Screenplay for the Woodstock documentary that was released the following year

One of my favorite interactive displays is the recreation of a psychedelic bus that a group of hippies came to the festival in - visitors can go into and watch a short video about the original bus that it was modeled after! 

The best part is seeing the field itself - it's fully preserved and left the way it was 50 years ago. Being there as if you were transported back in time to 1969! It's such a beautiful and serene experience being on the field that has so much historical significance! 

Some of the notable performers from that weekend were; Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane, to name a few. Many attendees believe the most memorable moment of the festival was Jimi Hendrix’s closing performance of “The Star Spangled Banner”. This was seen as his statement against America and the National Anthem. Hendrix originally started off performing the song in a more conventional way, but soon transitioned into his own guitar-driven rendition that was a representation of all the violence going on in the country. He turned the music into a literal interpretation of the lyrics in an eerie way. While a typical performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” would last approximately two minutes, Hendrix played his version twice as long. His interpretation was meant to show the distortion, or the ugliness, behind the American dream that the song is supposed to represent. Several other musicians that weekend expressed their opposition of the violence going on in the country with the Vietnam War through some of the songs they performed. The audience widely agreed with that sentiment.

In 1984, on the 15th anniversary, a plaque was placed on the original site of where the stage was. Until this monument was placed there, tourists had no idea where the exact location of the festival was. The town of Bethel actually tried to downplay that the festival was held there to fend off tourists. It wasn't until the late 1990s when the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts began construction that Bethel started to fully embrace the significance of that location. 

It's really breathtaking to stand right where the stage once was and look out on the field that was once filled with nearly 500 thousand people! The whole experience was so peaceful and so breathtaking. 

Woodstock's legacy has transcended generations and continues to live on 50 years later. It was an opportunity for like-minded people to come together to enjoy music and spread the message of peace and harmony. Max Yasgur, whose farmland they used for the event, summed up the meaning of Woodstock perfectly when he addressed the crowd on day 3 of the festival by saying,“…You’ve proven something to the world…the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids, and I call you kids because I have children who are older than you are, a half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music and God bless you for it!”

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