We mark the opening of the so-called “Woodstock Festival” on August 15, 1969 – 53 years ago today – “so-called” for the following reasons.
“Woodstock.” Even without considering the original festival that bears its name, “Woodstock”, as a placename has a homey, countryside-like quality to it. And a beautiful, quaint town it is, with a population – in 1970 – of 5714 people (it’s just about the same today). Eighty-eight miles north of New York City, within the borders of the Catskill Mountains Park, Woodstock has been a hub for musicians, writers, artists, and actors going back to the 1940s.
(Even a short list of just the musicians associated with Woodstock should make our saliva run down our chins. That short list includes The Band [the members of which shared a house and two of whom – Rick Danko and Levon Helm – are buried in Woodstock Cemetery], Carla Bley, David Bowie, Jimmy Cobb, Henry Cowell, Jack DeJohnette, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Pat Metheny, Charlie Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Van Morrison, Pauline Oliveros, Graham Parker, Bonnie Raitt, Sonny Rollins, Todd Rundgren, David Sandborn, Carlos Santana, and Peter Schickele [“P.D.Q. Bach” his very self!])
The festival was created by an operation called “Woodstock Ventures”, which was run by three producers – Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, and Joel Rosenman – and one money man, John Roberts, who bankrolled the operation. The original plan was to hold the festival in Woodstock, NY, where it would bask in the reflected glory of the town’s storied artistic reputation. But the locals nixed the idea almost immediately; they had zero interest in hosting what was then projected to be 50,000 assorted rock ‘n’ rollers/hippies/druggies in what was their backyard. Organizers Joel Rosenman and John Roberts then came upon a 300-acre site at Mills Industrial Park in the town of Wallkill, New York, some 40 miles south of Woodstock. Woodstock Ventures leased the site for $10,000 (roughly $80,000 today) in the Spring of 1969. But the Wallkill Town Council was no happier about hosting the festival than had been the good people of Woodstock, and it created a byzantine permitting process that made the festival an impossibility.
As the projected date of the festival approached and a venue had yet been secured, we would imagine that a lot of hair was ripped and clothing rent from the heads and bodies of Messrs. Lang, Kornfeld, Rosenman, and Roberts.…Become a Patron!