Cody Larriviere is an Account Manager at CEB in Chicago, Illinois.
Sure, you’ve heard of Woodstock and all its prestige, but do you really know anything about the actual event? I didn’t. 47 years ago today, Jimi Hendrix closed out one of the most iconic festivals in the history of the United States. The festival was originally planned to be August 15th-17th (Friday-Sunday), but heavy rain pushed the final performances back to the early morning of the 18th. The Woodstock Music and Art Fair was originally labeled “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” and held roughly 43 miles away from Woodstock, New York. The event moved location multiple times due to permit issues, but finally settled in Bethel, NY thanks to a dairy farmer offering up a couple tracts of land in his hay fields. With all the logistical issues organizers were facing, ticketing got placed on the back-burner. Officials attempted to build a fence around the venue and charge $6 per day, but the concert-goers were able to thwart all collection efforts as they arrived in droves. Woodstock Ventures lost a major chunk of cash due to the free concert, but the monetary value of Woodstock’s legacy turned the name Woodstock into an extremely profitable brand for many years to come.
With four to five hundred thousand people attending the 3 day event, Woodstock was one of, if not the, largest attended concert in history. The organizers behind Woodstock Ventures were amateurs at best, having co-hosted multiple festivals prior, but none reaching over 25,000 attendees. No one could have foreseen the massive turnout they had on that August 15th afternoon to see some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. The 32 acts that performed included headliners Grateful Dead, The Who, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. The total bill dispersed across all 32 exceeded $150,000; roughly amounting to $1 million dollars in 2016. Quite the cost to eat for an event far surpassing anyone’s wildest imagination. (Quick math – Had every attendee paid the $6 a day entry fee, the event would have made 7.2 million in ticket sales alone. The equivalent of $45 million today.)
The fair was poorly covered by the media because no one thought the festival would make for a good national news story. Most media outlets, with the exception of local stations in and around Bethel, only covered the negative effects and problems associated with the organizing of the event – Some things never change. The ensuing film “Woodstock” won an Oscar for the Best Documentary in 1970 and was co-directed by Martin Scorsese. Ironically, for a film directed by Scorsese, there were only two recorded deaths at the festival. One fatality was caused by drug overdose and the other from a tractor running over a sleeping patron. In another touch of irony, two births were also recorded during the three day event; however, I’m sure many more were recorded nine months later.
If you were to travel to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm today, you would find the “Bethel Woods Center for Arts” and the “Museum at Bethel Woods” constructed in 2006 and 2008, respectively. The venue has hosted multiple reunion concerts, the most recent being Woodstock’s 40th anniversary in 2009. Even though Max had high praises after the weekend, he and the town of Bethel, refused to allow any such event to ever take place again. Many laws were put into place across New York to ensure festivals as disorganized as Woodstock would never have the opportunity to form again.
Was Woodstock one of America’s greatest mistakes, cap stoning an era of peace and love? Was Woodstock a massive failure ultimately promoting drugs and rebellion all while losing millions of dollars? Was Woodstock one of the greatest weekend parties of all time? Depending on your viewpoint, I guess it could really be all three. All I know is that in a world of negativity and hate sketched by today’s media, we could all take a note or two from the peace, harmony, and love portrayed in Bethel 47 years ago today.