The Woodstock Festival (originally the Woodstock Music and Art Fair) took place August 15-18, 1969, in the town of Bethel, New York (outside of White Lake). The Festival was marked by widespread drug use, fornication, and denial of reality, as well as a search for a better one. The concert was peaceful, with rain storms, mud, hunger and insufficient toilets and shelter adding to the wilderness type experience for the crowd of mainly middle class youth. Time magazine marveled at “the agape-like sharing of food and shelter by total strangers.”
The organizers had told Bethel officials that they were expecting only 50,000 people, though they thought the figure would be at least twice that, but nearly 500,000 people descended on the 600-acre dairy farm property of Max Yasgur to hear rock musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin (both of whom later died from drug overdoses) and others.
The festival was conceived by Artie Kornfeld, 25, a hash-smoking vice president at Capitol Records, and Michael Lang at 2:00 AM after playing bumper pool and smoking marijuana. Lang was owner of a head shop in the state of Florida, and had produced the two-day Miami Pop Festival. They were joined by John Roberts and Joel Rosenman as organizers of the Woodstock Festival. Roberts, who possessed a lieutenant's commission in the Army and had only seen one rock concert (by the Beach Boys), supplied the bulk of the funding, being heir to a drugstore and toothpaste-manufacturing fortune, with a multimillion-dollar trust fund. An organization was formed called Woodstock Ventures, Inc., after the little Ulster County town where Bob Dylan lived, from whence the Woodstock Festival received its name. After Ventures was turned down from playing in Wallkill, due to local opposition and alleged deception by Rosenman, the organizers contracted to pay Max Yasgur (December 15, 1919 - February 9, 1973), the owner of a dairy farm in Bethel, $75,000 for the use of 600 acres of land.
Yasgur was highly respected across Sullivan County as a strong-willed but modest man who kept his word, though much of the area was opposed to him renting his property to hippies. He is reported to have once said to his wife, "When I decide that I have to drive by someone in need of help and not stop, that's not the kind of world I want to live in." On the Sunday of the festival Yasgur briefly addressed the crowd from the stage, commending them that "half a million people can get together and have three days of fun and music, and have nothing but fun and music."
In contrast to the culture Woodstock came to represent, Yasgur was a hardworking Republican businessman/farmer (with only three fingers on his right hand), who supported the Vietnam war. In response to opposition to the Festival by some members of the Town Board in Bethel, Yasgur stated,"I don't particularly like the looks of some of those kids either. I don't particularly like their lifestyle, especially the drugs and free love. And I don't like what some of them are saying about our government." However, he also said he believed that tens of thousands of American soldiers died to provide such freedom. Yasgur was strongly opposed to the use of recreational drugs, in particular LSD. Later in his life, hundreds of festival-goers wrote and said that they quit drugs as a result of Woodstock and Yasgur's personal ideals. Yasgur died in 1973 as a result of a heart condition he had suffered from for many years.
In the aftermath of the festival, Yasgur stated, "The worst thing about Woodstock was that there were just too many. I wouldn't have done it if I knew there were going to be half a million instead of 40,000.... Bethel is a rural town and can't service a crowd that big.... I had no right to have any kind of affair that would block vital services from reaching my neighbors."
The New York Times reported that Yasgur gave large amounts of dairy products away for free, and was upset when he saw locals selling water to the concerts goers, slamming a work-hardened fist down on the table and demanding to some of his friends, "How can anyone ask money for water?" A large sign was placed on his red barn stating, "Free Water".
No formal humanitarian groups are known to have reacted to the unexpected large gathering, with any obvious Christian presence being also absent.
The Woodstock festival became an icon of the 1960s hippie counterculture. Rock historian Pete Fornatale sees the festival, among other things, "as a massive communion ceremony featuring drugs as sacramental substances" and stated, "I wanted to make the case that Woodstock was a spiritual experience." Most all of those who partook in the communal-type atmosphere of Woodstock soon became part of the culture it was presented as an alternative to, with many activists becoming entrepreneurs, though many went on to promote from within the Establishment the negative liberal aspects of the ideology which was behind much of Woodstock, with its deleterious effects. Many who were searching for reality, rather than denying it, became involved in the Jesus people movement, which resulted in large festivals of its own.
Woodstock would be followed later by the 1969 Altamont Free Concert, book-ending the radicalism of the 60's era.
- Time, Aug. 29, 1969
- Elliot Tiber, How Woodstock Happened
- Max B. Yasgur, The Woodstock Festival's Famous Farmer
- New York Times, Farmer With A Soul, Aug. 17, 1969]
- John Cody, Woodstock legacy remains contentious, BC Christian News, September 2009
- Steve Rabey, 40 years later Woodstock.., Religion News Service, 2009
- Revealing Statistics: America in Decline
- Time, Religion: The Jesus Woodstock (Expo '72) Monday, Jun. 26, 1972