By Spencer Bright
08th August 2009
Woodstock, the most famous music festival in rock 'n' roll history,
took place 40 years ago on August 15-18, 1969. To celebrate, here are
40 things you didn't know about it...
1. Beatniks, hippies, flower children and rock legends gathered
together not in Woodstock, but in the little town of Bethel, rural
New York State.
2. The idea for the festival came from band manager Michael Lang and
Artie Kornfeld, a songwriter turned record company executive. They
wanted to raise money to build a recording studio in Woodstock,
upstate New York, a haven for artists including Bob Dylan, The Band
and Van Morrison.
3. There was no suitable site in Woodstock, so organisers opted for
Wallkill, 40 miles away. But residents blocked their plans, so dairy
farmer Max Yasgur stepped in to offer his alfalfa field, in the
neighbouring hamlet of Bethel. A deal was struck for $75,000.
4. Melanie Safka (remember 'I've got a brand new pair of
rollerskates'?) failed to get a performer's pass and had to sing her
song, Beautiful People, to the security guards to get backstage.
5. Joni Mitchell wrote the festival's eponymous song, with the lyrics
'We are stardust we are golden', from what she heard of the event
from then-boyfriend Graham Nash, ex-Hollies and one quarter of
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. But she never made it to Woodstock.
Taking the advice of her manager, she chose to guest on the Dick
Cavett Show and then watched the festival unfold on TV, tears
streaming down her face.
6. Any decent flower child worth their name was there to protest
against the Vietnam war abroad and racial tension at home.
7. With storm clouds approaching, the crowd was urged: 'Let's think
hard to get rid of the rain.' A chant went up: 'No rain, no rain, no
rain.' But it didn't stop the deluge and in three hours, five inches
of rain fell and the festival became a mudfest. Joan Baez famously
sang 'We shall overcome' during a full-on thunderstorm.
8. During the downpour there were fears some artists would get
electrocuted. Alvin Lee, of Ten Years After, was warned of the risk
as it was still raining when his turn came to go on. 'Oh come on, if
I get electrocuted at Woodstock we'll sell lots of records,' he said.
9. The performance of The Star-Spangled Banner by Jimi Hendrix that
closed Woodstock was described by the rock critic from the New York
Post as 'the single greatest moment of the Sixties'. Yet it was
witnessed by just a fraction of the crowd. Most had gone home by the
time Hendrix came on stage, at 9am on a Monday morning.
10. British artists were represented by Ten Years After, The Who, The
Incredible String Band, the Keef Hartley Band, Graham Nash and Mitch
Mitchell, drummer in Jimi Hendrix's band.
11. The British artist who really made his mark was Joe Cocker, whose
soulful rendition of The Beatles song With A Little Help From My
Friends was one of the greatest performances.
12. Thirty-two bands were listed to play, but Iron Butterfly got
stuck at the airport and didn't make it because the helicopter booked
to ferry them to the site didn't arrive. Organisers were, in fact,
worried their hippy heavy-metal music would incite violence.
13. The Jeff Beck Group, featuring Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, were
booked to play, but they split acrimoniously on the eve of their
14. John Lennon told organisers he had wanted to be a part of
Woodstock, but he was in Canada and the U.S. government had refused
him an entry visa.
15. There were ten million yards of blue jeans and striped T-shirt
material at Woodstock.
16. The dove perched on a guitar neck in the famous poster announcing
'Three Days of Peace and Music' is really a catbird, an American
perching bird known for its catlike calls.
17. Though Bob Dylan was one of the original inspirations for the
festival, and his backing group, The Band, played to the massive
audience, the great man never made it, as one of his children was
hospitalised over that weekend.
18. Scottish folk quartet The Incredible String Band told writer Mark
Ellen about appearing on the Woodstock stage. 'It was incredibly high
and three out of the four of us had vertigo. Little flimsy dresses on
the girls, acoustic guitars out of tune, the drums damp from the
tent, it was like playing off the Forth Bridge to this sea of people
cooking beans in the mud.'
19. Eight women suffered miscarriages, while there are varying
reports of babies born. John Sebastian, lead singer with Lovin'
Spoonful, announced from
the stage: 'Some cat's old lady just had a baby, a kid destined to be
far out!' Reports suggest a birth at a local hospital to a mother
flown from the event by helicopter and another involving a woman in a
car in the nine-mile traffic jam.
20. 'Hippy' is derived from 'hipster' and was used to describe
beatniks who moved to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district for the
Summer of Love in 1967. Yippies (the left-wing Youth International
Party led by Abbie Hoffman) were sufficiently motivated by money to
demand $10,000 from Woodstock's organisers to avoid any unpleasant
disruption of proceedings.
21. The organisers played down the numbers they anticipated, telling
the authorities they expected 50,000, while selling 186,000 tickets
in advance (costing six dollars for each day) and planning for
200,000. In the end 500,000 attended. Another million had to turn
back because of traffic. It was originally advertised as 'A Weekend
in the Country.'
22. As an unknown and unproven business concern, the organisers,
Woodstock Ventures, had to pay inflated sums to get the top rockers
to sign up. Jefferson Airplane were the first, paid $12,000, double
their usual fee. Even hippy band The Grateful Dead demanded cash in
hand before they would play, as did Janis Joplin and The Who.
23. Off-duty police officers were banned from providing security, so
a New Mexico commune known as the Hog Farm were hired to form a
'Please Force.' The Hog Farmers were led by Wavy Gravy, a toothless
former beatnik comic, who put on a Smokey-the-Bear suit and warned
troublemakers they would be doused in fizzy water or hit with custard pies.
24. About two dozen ticket booths should have been in place to charge
$24 admission, but they were never installed because of the crush of
festival-goers. Attempts to get people to pay were abandoned on day
one, the fences were torn down and Woodstock was declared a free event.
25. As well as forming the Please Force, The Hog Farm were in charge
of catering, ordering in bushels of brown rice, buying 160,000 paper
plates, forks, knives and spoons and 30,000 paper cups. They fed
between 160,000-190,000 people at the Hog Farm Free Kitchen, 5,000 at a time.
26. The Food For Love concession was running low on burgers so it
raised prices from 25 cents to $1. Festival-goers saw it as
capitalist exploitation, against the spirit of the festival, so burnt
the stand down.
27. Hearing there was a shortage of food, a Jewish community centre
made sandwiches with 200 loaves of bread, 40 pounds of meat cuts and
two gallons of pickles, which were distributed by nuns.
28. Sweetwater, a psychedelic rock band scheduled to open the
festival, were stuck in traffic. Instead, the crowd was entertained
by one of the Hog Farmers, who led them through a series of yoga
exercises. Sweetwater were on fifth.
29. With the festival start-time running over an hour late, there was
panic to find a performer ready. Tim Hardin, (who later died of a
heroin overdose), was too stoned, so Richie Havens went on. When
Havens finished his set he kept trying to leave but was told to do
more encores as the next band was not ready. His song Freedom was
improvised and became a worldwide hit.
30. Though the festival mood was anti-war, ironically the festival
would most likely have turned to tragedy without the U.S. Army, who
airlifted in food, medical teams and performers. The hippy crowd was
told: 'They are with us man, they are not against us. Forty five
doctors or more are here without pay because they dig what this is into.'
31. John Sebastian's performance was unexpected. Spotted visiting
backstage, he was urged to appear. He admitted he had smoked a joint
and taken LSD, which could explain his shambolic performance,
shouting: 'Far out! Far up! Far down! Far around! You're really
amazing, you're a whole city.'
32. The revolving stage was designed to minimise wait-times, turning
when one act finished with the equipment in place for the next one.
But it could not support the weight of so many people on the side of
the stage watching the performances, and the wheels fell off. 'Grace
Slick and Janis Joplin and everybody were standing on it and you
can't just sweep them off with a broom,' explained one of the crew.
33. For those lost and confused there were two wooden signposts
nailed to a tree. Chalked on one was 'Groovy Way' with arrows in
opposite directions. On the other was 'Gentle Path' and underneath
'High Way' pointing to the left.
34. Nine out of ten festival-goers smoked marijuana on site and 33
were arrested on drugs charges.
35. Two people died at Woodstock - one man from a heroin overdose
and a teenager in a sleeping bag who was killed when a tractor ran
over him. The driver was never traced.
36. For the weekend of the festival it had become the third largest
city in New York State. But due to lack of basic amenities, Governor
Nelson Rockefeller declared it a disaster area. The health department
documented 5,162 medical cases, including 797 instances of drug
abuse. But Time magazine called it 'The greatest peaceful event in history.'
37. While most acts revelled in having appeared there, sitar player
Ravi Shankar found it a 'terrifying experience' and said the crowd in
the mud reminded him of the water buffaloes at home in India.
38. Actor and country singer Roy Rogers - billed as King of the
Cowboys for his western movies - was asked to close the show,
singing his trademark song, Happy Trails To You. But Rogers' manager
vetoed it, and years later Rogers admitted: 'I would have been booed
off stage by all those goddam hippies.'
39. There have been four attempts to recreate the festival on
different sites: in 1979, 1989, 1994, and the disastrous 1999
festival, which was shut down amid riots and violence. Commemorative
events are taking place across America and Europe.
40. Organisers at Woodstock Ventures were at least $1.3m in debt
afterwards. It took more than a decade for backers to recoup money,
through audio and recording rights.
• THE 40th anniversary edition four-DVD set of the filmWoodstock: 3
Days Of Peace And Music is out now.
I was never a hippy, festival icon Melanie insists
If the spirit of Woodstock still exists, then it is embodied in
Melanie Safka. The long, flowing robes - a 2009 version of her
Sixties ethnic gowns - and the welcoming hug comfort as if you're
in a time warp.
When she walked on stage in front of 500,000 people at Woodstock 40
years ago, she was an unknown 19-year-old folk singer. She sang
Beautiful People to the beautiful people, as the hippies of the time
were called. 'I was just about as unworldly as a girl could be,' she
recalls now. 'I had no experience - I just wanted to sing. But
something clicked and by the time I came off stage, I was a
celebrity. It was an unbelievable moment.'
Her dressing room was a small teepee. Hearing her cough from a
neighbouring tent, Joan Baez sent her a pot of herbal tea, honey and lemon.
No one could have predicted that Melanie - fragile, dry-mouthed and
shaking with nerves - would become the festival's enduring icon.
She gained worldwide fame thanks to songs such as Lay Down (Candles
In The Rain), about her Woodstock experience, Beautiful People, Brand
New Key, which reached number one in the U.S. and number four in the
UK, and a classic, emotional reworking of Mick Jagger's and Keith
Richards's song Ruby Tuesday.
She is 62 now and has two daughters and two grandchildren. However,
she insists she remains true to the cause of peace that Woodstock
espoused. Melanie has worked for the United Nations as a peace
ambassador since the Seventies.
'But I'm not a hippy, never was,' she insists. 'I don't like the
word - it sounds so lightweight and ineffectual. What am I, then? Just me.'
• MELANIE is appearing at Memories Of Woodstock, West Midlands
Showground, Shrewsbury, on Sunday.