Woodstock’s Legacy, 44 Years Later

Forty-Four years ago today, in Bethel, NY, the world was changed with the original Woodstock concert. Lasting for three days (and eventually part of a fourth day), the concert was organized by Michael Lang, John P. Roberts, Joel Rosenman, and Artie Kornfeld and featured 32 acts to perform for the attendants. At this time, America was a torn nation in the middle of one of the most horrific wars in our history and the concert was an attempt to give people a peaceful, enjoyable time, away from the darkness that surrounded our country.

Held at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm, the concert featured some of the biggest musical acts of the time. The first band to sign a contract to play was Creedence Clearwater Revival. They were followed by other big names such as Joan Baez, Santana, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who, Joe Cocker, and Jimi Hendrix. And while the concert featured an amazing lineup, several popular acts declined to play, including The Beatles/John Lennon, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Bob Dylan. But no matter who was or wasn’t there, that did not stop the people from having a good time.

The attendance at the three-day festival was around 400,000. And despite poor weather, food shortages, and poor sanitation, these concert-goers braved it out and enjoyed their moment. Many people think the concert was free, but that was the case only after there was a late change in venue and too many people showed up. The tickets were actually $18 in advance and $24 at the gate, but the people in charge decided to ignore this and let people who showed up enjoy the show. This act, as much as any, showed the spirit behind this festival.

After three days of peace, love, and music (and lots of experimental drugs), the last act of the concert, Jimi Hendrix, took the stage at around 8:30 am on Monday morning. Despite the fact that the concert should have been over and most of those in attendance had left, Hendrix finished the festival on a high note by putting on one of the most remembered performances in music history. The highlight of his performance is his searing rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. The sound of his guitar playing our nation’s anthem will forever be linked to this groundbreaking concert.

Woodstock 1969 is not just a piece of music history. It is American history. Rolling Stone magazine listed the original Woodstock as one of the “50 Moments that changed the History of Rock and Roll”. In June 2008, the Museum at Bethel Woods was opened to commemorate the festival. Featuring memorabilia, interactive displays and more. There is also an Academy Award-Winning documentary on the festival that is available on DVD and Blu Ray. The concert has also been recorded on multiple albums for future listening. But the spirit was the festival was far from fading.

In 1994, Woodstock ’94 was held on the 25th anniversary of the original and aimed to bring the same experience to a new generation of music fans. On the weekend of August 13-15 in Saugerties, NY, and estimated crowd of around 350,000 people joined together to enjoy “2 more days of peace and music” (the third day was added later). The festival featured returning acts such as Joe Cocker and Santana. Bob Dylan decided to play this Woodstock after declining the invitation to the original.

“Mudstock”, as it has also become known, also featured popular acts from the time such as Candlebox, Collective Soul, Blind Melon, Live, Cypress Hill, Nine Inch Nails, Aerosmith, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica. The 25th anniversary festival featured a great blend of music from the era of the original concert and current music.

I remember when the festival took place and many things stick out in my mind. Shannon Hoon, lead singer of Blind Melon, wore his girlfriend’s dress on stage and was, reportedly, tripping on LSD while performing. Nine Inch Nails covered themselves from head to toe in mud before taking the stage to play their set. And speaking of mud, Green Day started what has to go down as the world’s largest mud fight. It was such a beautiful/chaotic thing to see and is probably one of the most famous images from the concert. (Sorry, but the video is not the best quality but you get the picture)

But just as with the original, some very high profile artists once again declined the invitation to be a part of the festival. Johnny Cash declined the invite once he was informed he would not be playing on the main stage. Alice in Chains also declined due to the continuing drug problems of Layne Staley. But, as with the original, the festival was considered a success by many no matter who played.

Woodstock ’94, despite growing costs, was successful in celebrating the original while introducing the festival to a new generation. One performance from each major artist was released on a double CD and a VHS. So, if you want to enjoy performances from the festival, find the old, trusty VCR, pop the tape in and enjoy. After Woodstock ’94, the festival would rise again in 1999, but the successes of the previous two would not follow.

For the 30th anniversary, Woodstock ’99 was held in Rome, NY in July and featured three days filled with music for everyone. But this time, the festival would end marred by violence, rape, and fires. The violence that took place effectively ended the Woodstock altogether. But before the concert came crashing down, it was supposed to be another great experience.

30 years after the original, the tickets increased to $150 for the estimated 200,000 that attended and that was just the price of entry. The people also had to eat and drink and that wasn’t cheap either. A single-serving of pizza was said to cost $12 while a 20 oz. bottle of water was $4. This was quite expensive for the time and made it difficult for people to stay hydrated and eat regularly. But, outside of the financial tolls, the promoters delivered a great lineup of musicians.

The lineup for Woodstock ’99 was extraordinary for fans of many music genres. Lit, Buckcherry, Godsmack, Sevendust, and Creed all played while still early in their careers. Popular artists such as Kid Rock, DMX, Ice Cube, Dave Matthews Band, Sheryl Crow, Jewel, Fatboy Slim, Alanis Morissette, Limp Bizkit, Live, Korn, Rage Against the Machine, Bush, Megadeth, and Metallica were huge acts to see throughout the weekend. And even legendary acts like George Clinton & the P.Funk All-Stars and James Brown joined the festival this time around and put on a great show. But by the time the Red Hot Chili Peppers finished the weekend, the festival had changed from a peaceful gathering to weekend of violence.

Rapes were reported throughout the weekend. Violence and hatred seemed to spew from some of the people in attendance. And by the end of the festival, fires raged uncontrollably as people tried to finish having a good time. Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst took most of the blame for getting people riled up on Saturday night. But I don’t think that the destruction that took place or the rapes that occurred can be pinned to any one except those that committed these acts. While the music was definitely harder and edgier than previous Woodstock festivals, that does not allow people to act like criminals. Tom Morello, guitarist from Rage Against the Machine, may have said it best on Neil Strauss’s New York Times column:

“Hey man, leave the kids alone. I’ve had enough of the frenzied demonization of young people surrounding Woodstock ’99.””Yes, Woodstock was filled with predators: the degenerate idiots who assaulted those women, the greedy promoters who wrung every cent out of thirsty concertgoers, and last but not least, the predator media that turned a blind eye to real violence and scapegoated the quarter of a million music fans at Woodstock ’99, the vast majority of whom had the time of their lives.”

Despite the great music that was heard over the three day festival, Woodstock ’99 ended in failure. The high prices and violence and rape took the Woodstock name through the mud and it has yet to recover. It may never fully recovered as a matter of fact. Woodstock ’99 seemed like more of a money-making venture than anything with MTV there broadcasting all weekend and the entire event available for purchase on PPV. As with its predecessor, the event was captured on a doubl