To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, we’ve collected 50 facts about the iconic festival and the myths and legends it has spawned. This article covers the legacy the festival left – including the two 90s festivals that brought a heavy edge to the hippie vibes.
38 – number of CDs in the 50th Anniversary Archive released in 2019
The generation that grooved along to Jefferson Airplane in the mud of Yasgur’s farm grew up, got well-paying jobs, and helped fuel a nostalgia-tinged classic rock market that endures to this day, even though some of its leading lights are somewhat dimmed by age.
The festival spawned one of the most successful documentary films of the 1970s, plus a steady stream of live recordings for those unable to make it. That’s reached its zenith this year with Back To The Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive, an anthology which collects no less than 432 tracks across 38 CDs.
It’s a good thing people have had 50 years to save up for it – the whole thing costs a touch under $800 (£663)
20,000 – Number of people who turned up to an impromptu celebration of the festival in 1989
Often called “The Forgotten Woodstock”, the 1989 commemoration of the world’s most famous music festival came about almost by accident.
Folk guitarist Rich Pell turned up at the festival site in August 1989, having been given permission to play there by owners Charles and June Gelish (Max Yasgur had died in 1973). Pell organised all of the infrastructure, as well as who would appear onstage. It included none of the major acts who had played in 1969 (apart from Melanie), but it did feature a visit from Jimi Hendrix’s father Al.
View image of Mud-soaked crowd at Woodstock 1994 (Credit: Getty Images)
At first there was no stage, until volunteers brought equipment to help build one. There were no commercial food or drinks concessions – people bought their own sustenance. The crowd grew from word of mouth, and sowed the seeds for another, far more ambitious event five years later.
1994 – The year of Woodstock 94
The poster said it all. “Two more days of peace and music”, with (in a variation on the original design) two catbirds perched on the neck of a guitar. Except this time it wasn’t an acoustic one, but an electric one. Woodstock was about to get loud.
The organisers sold 164,000 tickets at $135 a ticket ($234/£194) but two things conspired to turn the 25
anniversary event into a mudbath – heavy rain, and a crowd estimated to be at least 550,000.
The 1994 festival swerved from Max Yasgur’s farm to a site originally mooted for the 1969 festival, at Saugerties in New York. So many bands wanted to play that an extra day was added on the Friday.
The line-up included a handful of acts who had played the original festival – Joe Cocker, Country Joe McDonald and Santana – but was notable for the number of newer, heavier acts who also took part. Nine Inch Nails played a stellar set in front of 200,000 people. Metallica’s slot ended up with a huge fireworks show. Green Day had a joyous mud fight with the crowd. Red Hot Chilli Peppers entered the stage dressed as giant lightbulbs.
“It was like Lord Of The Flies. You could vaguely hear music and there were giant mud puddles with naked people writhing around. Some of them were dancing, some were, uhh, doing other things,” recalled Blind Melon guitarist Roger Stevens to Metal Hammer.
1999 – the year of Woodstock ‘99
anniversary of Woodstock might have featured a cadre of hard and heavy bands, but it mostly passed peacefully. The same can’t be said for the follow-up five years later.
View image of Crowd at Woodstock 99 (Credit: Getty Images)
Held in July rather than August – possibly to swerve the August rain which had dampened both the 1969 and 1994 festivals – the pre-millennial version of the festival swapped venues again. It was held at the former Griffiss Air Force Base near Rome, New York, about 100 miles from the original festival site.
Determined to avoid the large-scale gate-crashing of Woodstock ’94, the organisers invested in a massive fence and more than 500 security guards to prevent break-ins. But there were other issues.
The temperature climbed to around 38C (100F), made worse by the fact that many of the air bases’s shade trees had been pulled out and to get between stages, attendees had to walk over the hot tarmac runway. Food and water prices were eye-wateringly high – $4 for a bottle of water and $12 for a pizza. Free water fountains were broken because of the long wait for queues and the site’s sanitation buckled under an onslaught of gatecrashers.
Worse was to come. The aggression of acts like Limp Bizkit spilled out into the crowd. There were reports of at least four rapes after the band’s set. The aggression also spilled over into rioting, looting and arson; riot police eventually had to push the crowd back towards the camping area.
One – number of Oscars won by the Woodstock documentary
It’s arguable that Woodstock wouldn’t have the place it does in the musical consciousness were it not for the 1970 documentary film of the same name. Over three hours, director Michael Wadleigh and a team of editors (including Martin Scorsese) told the story of the festival, both as a musical event and a counter-cultural one.
The movie was an enormous success, earning more than $50m at the US box office in 1970, and it also walked away with an Oscar for Best Editing in 1971.
2006 – The year the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts opened
The subsequent Woodstock celebrations may have moved away from the original site, it continues to add to its legacy. The plans to create a permanent venue on the site of the 1969 festival began in 2002 – and two years later, construction work on a $150m amphitheatre, arts centre and museum began.
View image of Interior of Woodstock Museum (Credit: Getty Images)
The centre opened in July 2006 with a concert by the New York Philharmonic, followed by a gig from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, who played 27 years after their appearance at the original festival.
2017 – the year the site was put on the National Register of Historic Places
Woodstock left an indelible impression on the psyches of an American generation. Nearly 50 years later, that impression was enshrined its registration as a historic place.
Woodstock joined a roster of historical sites which includes the Erie Canal, the Hoover Dam and Blackbeard’s Castle in the US Virgin Islands. The recognition came just a few years before the festival’s 50
anniversary – by which time the museum was sufficiently clear-eyed enough to mount an exhibition called Love For Sale, looking at the commercialisation of the hippie ethos.
Concert For Bangladesh – inspired by Woodstock’s success
In November 1970, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was hit by what is now regarded as the most powerful typhoon of modern times. The impact was catastrophic. The storm created a 10m (33ft) high surge across the Ganges Delta. The surge and flooding killed some 500,000 people and destroyed countless acres of farmland. Months later, a West Pakistan crackdown on the Bengali independence movement is thought to have killed at least 300,000 people and as many as three million. They would lead to East Pakistan declaring independence as Bangladesh by the end of 1971.
View image of Woodstock sign and van (Credit: Getty Images)
The enormous loss of life galvanised public support in the West, and pop music had its part to play. The 1971 Concert for Bangladesh was masterminded by former Beatle George Harrison, who espoused many of the same pro-peace anti-war sentiments as the crowd at Woodstock. The concert was an enormous success, and paved the way for similarly humanitarian efforts such as Live Aid in the 1980s.
2019 – 50th anniversary show announced, but then cancelled
They hoped to attract as many people – 400,000 – as the original festival. The line-up was going to feature Jay-Z and The Killers alongside reminders of the original festival, such as former members of The Grateful Dead. But it was a line-up without a venue, and by the time a site was found, it was a venue without a line-up.
View image of Plaque at Woodstock site (Credit: Getty Images)
Michael Lang’s attempts to host another Woodstock, 20 years after the debacle of Woodstock ’99, suffered several setbacks. The initial attempts to hold it in upstate New York failed after venue after venue pulled out, and even when a site was found in Maryland, it was too late. Perhaps tomorrow’s music fans will have to wait for Woodstock 75.
Woodstock – Snoopy’s faithful friend
Peanuts creator Charles M Schulz introduced a new character to the world of Peanuts in 1966 when a mother bird laid two eggs on a sleeping Snoopy’s stomach. One of them would become his friend and companion – even featuring as the mechanic in the beagle’s fantasies about being a World War One flying ace.
But it wasn’t until 1970 that Schulz gave the impish little character a name – Woodstock, inspired by the bird which perches on the neck of the guitar on the poster.