Scoot: On the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, what that event tells us about today’s establishment

August 15, 2019 - 10:41 am

A single event that would become a cornerstone in the foundation of a young generation began on this day - August 15, 1969.  The music festival known as “Woodstock” was 50 years ago today and serves as a milepost in the journey of a young, idealistic generation that rebelled against the establishment.  Ironically, that young generation from 50 years ago has become the new establishment in America.

Woodstock took place one year after the turbulent 1968 - the year Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.  The festival followed the year of youth-driven protests against the U.S. government for America’s involvement in the Vietnam War and the violent riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.  Woodstock was an answer to one of the worst years in American history and was a young generation’s way of promoting love and peace.

Woodstock took place from August 15-18, 1969 on Max Yasgur’s 600 acre farm in Bethel, New York, which was about 40 miles from the original festival site in Woodstock, New York.  From the beginning, Woodstock was a logistical nightmare for the promoters. Plans to hold the festival in the original area were cancelled when the town passed a law banning concerts about a month before it was scheduled to begin. Early estimates of 50,000 scared locals into supporting a ban on the festival.

Daily admission for Woodstock was $6, but word of the music fest spread like gospel through a young generation that was continuing to define its counterculture status.  So many young people made the pilgrimage to Woodstock that it became impossible for promoters to take tickets from concert-goers. So, along with people literally climbing over and knocking down fencing, the doors were opened to everyone; and Woodstock became a free concert for many.

Mass traffic jams on two-lane highways leading to the festival grounds led to delays in musicians getting to the venue.  Richie Havens was the first performer at Woodstock, despite a different band, Sweetwater, being scheduled to open.  Sweetwater was unable to get to Woodstock because of traffic build-ups, so folk singer Richie Havens was asked to go on first. Havens’ set went on for 3 hours; and after running through his setlist, he started to improvise, which that included covers of Beatles songs like, “Strawberry Fields Forever.”  Havens’ finally left the stage after promoters arranged to charter a U.S. Army helicopter to bring performers in the festival area.

Rain caused further delays and the final act - Jimi Hendrix - did not hit the stage until 9:00 am Monday morning.  The concert was scheduled to end Sunday; and before Hendrix played many of the concert fans had already left the festival grounds.  Hendrix was expensive - demanding the equivalent of $200,000 in today’s money in advance; and it was written in his contract that no band or artist could perform after him, which is why promoters were unable to move him up in the line-up to a time when the crowd was at its peak.

Here are a few of the big names that performed at Woodstock 50 years ago today:

  • Janis Joplin
  • Jefferson Airplane
  • The Who
  • Santana
  • The Grateful Dead
  • Canned Heat
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Sly & The Family Stone
  • Joe Cocker
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  • Richie Havens
  • Sha Na Na
  • Jimi Hendrix

Promoted as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Love,” and considering the ultimate crowd size was somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 and the chaos that marred the opening of the fest, Woodstock was a peaceful event the reflected the growing influence of the hippy movement.  There were 3 deaths at Woodstock - three young men died, two from drug overdoses and one 17-year-old was killed after being run over by a tractor collecting trash while he was asleep in his sleeping bag.  And contrary to rumors - there were no confirmed births at Woodstock, but 8 miscarriages.  Relative to the crowd size and spending days in the elements, the number of miscarriages may not be significant.  Some of the miscarriages may have been with girls that were not even aware they were pregnant at the time.

In New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast region - daily news of Woodstock was shrouded by news of a potentially severe hurricane that was a tropical depression that by August 15 was passing Cuba on its way into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  The rest is history.

Even a young generation was consumed with the approach and then the devastating aftermath of Camille, and news about Woodstock was not their focus of attention.  But soon after the storm - a young generation in this part of the country was quickly learning about Woodstock and vicariously took ownership in a movement and a new type of music festival.

Today’s new establishment is that young, unhinged generation that spawned Woodstock and the peace and love musical movement that wasps follow.  Today, that generation has much to reconcile about their beliefs then and their beliefs now. 

Once a generation that aggressively promoted equality and criticized the then-establishment for its judgment of people based on race, gender, religion and sexual orientation has evolved into a generation that has fueled judgment on many fronts.  It is difficult for me to imagine that a generation that once stood for acceptance of the LGBTQ community was the generation that aggressively opposed gay rights and same-sex marriage. 

As the anti-establishment generation, Boomers developed a collective greed when they reached the status of the establishment.  That greed has contributed to that generation leaving a massive debt and deep financial problems for the next generation.  Maybe that’s a common occurrence,

But 50 years after Woodstock, we should accept some responsibility for the stark contrasts in our collective psyche.

For the inconsistencies that live in the past relative to the present - I often feel like a “hostile witness to the Baby Boomer generation.”  But there is much I am proud of about my generation.

Fifty years later - that young, anti-establishment generation can only see Woodstock as a distant reflection of a relinquished philosophy - but also own Woodstock as a reminder that the rock in their souls never died.

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