Lead Story

17-08-1969

Woodstock Festival ends in upstate New York

On this day in 1969, the grooviest event in music history – the Woodstock Music Festival – draws to a close to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix’s electric guitar, after three days of peace, love and rock 'n' roll in upstate New York. Conceived as "Three Days of Peace and Music," Woodstock was the product of a partnership between John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfield and Michael Lang. Their idea was to make enough money from the event to build a recording studio near the arty New York town of Woodstock. When they couldn't find an appropriate venue in the town itself, the promoters decided to hold the festival on a 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York – some 50 miles from the actual Woodstock – owned by Max Yasgur.

By the time the weekend of the festival arrived, the group had sold a total of 186,000 tickets and expected no more than 200,000 people to show up. By Friday night, however, thousands of eager early arrivals were pushing against the entrance gates. Fearing they could not control the crowds, the promoters made the decision to open the concert to everyone, free of charge. Close to half a million people attended Woodstock, jamming the roads around Bethel with eight miles of traffic. Soaked by rain and wallowing in the muddy mess of Yasgur's fields, young fans or "hippies" euphorically took in the performances of acts like Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez (six months pregnant at the time), Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

The Who performed in the early morning hours of 17 August, with Roger Daltrey belting out "See Me, Feel Me," from their now-classic rock opera ‘Tommy’ (1969) just as the sun began to rise. The most memorable moment of the concert for many fans was the closing performance by Jimi Hendrix, who gave an improvised solo guitar rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" that has gone down in rock folklore for its emotional content and the sheer range of sounds that Hendrix extracted from his battered old Fender guitar. Many luminaries of the sixties’ music scene that were invited but did not attend included The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and Bob Dylan.

Two years later, Hendrix, Joplin and the Doors’ enigmatic lead singer Jim Morrison would all be dead for various reasons, thus signalling an end to a tumultuous era in youth culture and rock music. With not enough bathroom facilities and first-aid tents to accommodate such a huge crowd, many described the atmosphere at the festival as chaotic but peaceful. There were few episodes of violence, though one teenager was accidentally run over and killed by a tractor and another died from a drug overdose. A number of musicians performed songs expressing their opposition to the Vietnam War, a sentiment that was enthusiastically shared by the vast majority of the audience. Later, the term "Woodstock Nation" would be used as a general term to describe the youth counterculture of the 1960s. A 25th anniversary celebration of Woodstock took place in 1994 in Saugerties, New York. Known as Woodstock II, the concert featured Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills and Nash as well as newer acts such as Nine Inch Nails and Green Day. Held over another rainy, muddy weekend, the event drew an estimated 300,000 people.

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2000

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