Friday, April 22, 2016

Woodstock: Peace and Music

Author: Paul Joyce (Utica College Accounting Major)

The 1969 Woodstock Music Festival was a significant event in New York State’s cultural history.  Originally planned to run from August 15th to 17th, the festival ultimately lasted until August 18th, making it a four-day affair.  Over 450,000 people attended the festival, and 32 different musical acts performed over the four days. [1]

Woodstock became a symbol of the 1960s and of the hippie movement.  As Elliot Tiber puts it, “the site became a counter-cultural mini-nation in which minds were open, drugs were all but legal and love was ‘free’”. [1] Young people gathered to spread their message of peace and love while listening to some of the most talented musicians of the time.

Many people do not know the roots of the event or that it did not actually take place in Woodstock, New York.  The festival was held in Bethel, a small rural community near the Catskill Mountains. [1] Joel Rosenman, John Roberts, Artie Kornfield and Michael Lang were the four young men who developed the idea of the festival.  Rosenman and Roberts were constantly looking for opportunities to make money in New York City, while Lang and Kornfield were both more oriented with the music scene (and by extension, recreational drug use). [1]

Lang and Kornfield initially birthed the idea of a major concert in the Woodstock area to get away from the crowded spaces of New York City, enjoy the land, and listen to some of the period’s most popular music.  However, Kornfield and Lang required money to launch the festival.  The pairs’ lawyer advised them to consult with Rosenman and Roberts due to their reputation as businessmen.  Intrigued by the idea of a festival, Rosenman and Roberts partnered with Kornfield and Lang to launch the Woodstock festival. [1] The size and scale of the proposed festival grew, and the group needed a location large enough to accommodate tens of thousands of people.  Ultimately, they decided to hold the festival at Bethel dairy farmer Max Yasgur’s land. [1] They initially planned for about 50,000 people, which in reality was surpassed by a large margin when the festival actually occurred.

Because of the influence of Lang and Kornfield, Woodstock’s planners were able to secure major musical acts for the festival.  Santana, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Creedence Clearwater Revival were among the groups who played at the festival. Hendrix performed his famous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on the guitar. [2] These musical artists preached the ideas of peace and love, and the crowd was very receptive to those messages.

Woodstock served many purposes, as it was not only important because it allowed for different musical artists to have an opportunity to display their musical prowess.  The circumstances of the time period played a vital role in the Woodstock Festival’s launch, as well as the impact it had on young people in America.  In 1969, Woodstock occurred in the midst of one of the most turbulent times in American history.  The unpopular Vietnam War was still going on, and the American public became increasingly disillusioned by the conflict. Woodstock’s attendees largely opposed the cost of the war, as well as the draft.  They wanted the United States to pull out of Vietnam to avoid more deaths and to create peace both in the region and at home.

Meanwhile, the Civil Rights movement and the crusade for equal rights for African Americans continued during Woodstock. The festival reflected resistance to the status quo in favor of peace and love.  The music industry propagandized the gathering thousands of people at Woodstock to hear the ideas of musicians pushing for peace.  There was the idea of strength in numbers; the people felt that banding together could help them change the system and bring peaceful results, such as the end of American involvement in Vietnam.  It also gave people an escape from their everyday lives, sharing the memories of Jimi Hendrix shredding a guitar solo or Jefferson Airplane serenading the crowd with “Somebody To Love”.  The images of 450,000 people gathered in one location to take in this music was truly iconic, and the legacy of Woodstock continues to live on.
[1] Elliot Tiber, “How Woodstock Happened,” The Times Herald-Record, 1994.
[2] Corey Kilgannon, “3 Days of Peace and Music, 40 Years Later,” New York Times (New York, NY), F14.

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