By Ben Bourgeois
August 27, 2009
From hearing Jimi Hendrix's historic rendition of "The Star-Spangled
Banner" to jamming with The Who at 4 a.m., 400,000 concert-goers saw
it all at Woodstock.
Last weekend marked the 40th anniversary of the original 1969 concert.
With a diverse lineup, including Sly and the Family Stone, Santana
and Janis Joplin, an entire generation expressed feelings through
music at Woodstock.
Charles Shindo, who teaches popular music and American culture at the
University, said the festival was advertised as "Three Days of Peace
and Music" but lacked blatant political intentions.
"It wasn't an overt political thing; you don't have speeches on the
war," he said. "It was a group expression of ideas," he said. "People
were expressing their lifestyle drug use, casual sex, their appearances."
Woodstock was held in the midst of a large counterculture movement
among the younger generation and backlash against the Vietnam War,
but the festival did not have any real political significance, Shindo said.
"It's not like this brought attention to those [political] ideas," he
said. "Its main significance is that it expresses their ideals, but
it shows you how unsuccessful those ideals [of the '60s] were."
While many students were not alive to witness Woodstock, a slew of
memorabilia and other media exists to commemorate what many believe
defined a generation.
A director's cut of the concert footage was released June 9, and
original Woodstock producer Michael Lang released a memoir and
remastered concert CD on June 30. The History Channel also began
airing a documentary, "Woodstock: Now & Then," Aug. 17 and
Ang Lee's comedy "Taking Woodstock" was released in select cities yesterday.
Though the anniversary led to the release of much nostalgic media,
Lang told Rolling Stone fans won't be getting a full-fledged reunion
concert because of a lack of sponsors.
Even though most are done with sincere intentions, attempts to
recreate the historic concert cannot capture the original Woodstock,
"The concert's gained a mystic ability now; other attempts to
recreate that have failed," he said. "What made it unique was the
innocence they had going into it, and you can't get that back."
The idea that the concert was spontaneous or destined to fail has
contributed to the "mythical" view of the concert being something
that could never happen again, Shindo said.
"The belief that it was spontaneous even though it was organized
created the myth that it was organic," he said. "That's impossible
you can't spontaneously chopper musicians onto the stage."
Lang and other promoters commemorated the original festival in 1994
and 1999 for its 25th and 30th anniversaries, respectively. Even
though they could not replicate the "magic" of the original concert,
Lang said he is proud of the acts that came support the cause.
"You have to keep in mind that neither one of these were trying to
recreate Woodstock but [instead were] celebrations of the festival's
25th anniversary," Lang told History.com. "The 25th was wonderful in
that we had a bridge of some of the original acts of Woodstock and
acts that were more contemporary and cutting edge."
The original Woodstock is remembered as a peaceful gathering of an
enormous amount of people without any notable incidents of fights or
damages. But the 30th anniversary concert in 1999 was considered
disastrous because of numerous bonfires and fights.
"There were a couple hundred kids who were hell-bent on causing
problems," Lang said.
"STRUNG OUT OF THE GROUND"
Woodstock is also remembered for how spontaneously it was supposedly
put together. Many promoters and fans felt they pulled off something
that was destined to fail.
Lang wrote in "The Road to Woodstock" that he was barely able to
successfully book Jimi Hendrix for the festival in time.
"He'd just earned $150,000 at Madison Square Garden, [but] my
favored-nations policy for booking the bigger acts had a cap of
$15,000," Lang wrote. "So, I offered [his manager] a solution:
$30,000 to play two sets. Jimi would open the festival with an
acoustic set and close with his band. After I threw in $2,000 for
expenses, he agreed."
But even though many remember the concert being a hugely spontaneous
event, Lang recalls it as one of his "favorite" misconceptions of Woodstock.
"I guess my favorite misconception is that Woodstock was strung out
of the ground, never fully formed or that it was a happy accident of
bands who just happened to be in the area, with kids who happened to
come," Lang said. "Woodstock has taken on the persona of a
spontaneous event when it actually took a year to plan, a lot of
time, effort and money and luck, I guess."
Many large festivals today attempt to recreate some of the
characteristics of Woodstock, Lang said.
"Modern festivals such as Bonnaroo and Coachella are very much
modeled after Woodstock," Lang told History.com. "They do it well,
and they have learned a lot from us."
Though nothing can compare to Woodstock's size, festivals today are
no stranger to managing chaos.
Stephen Rehage, New Orleans Voodoo Fest founder and producer, said
putting on the festival less than three months after Hurricane
Katrina was nearly impossible.
"That year we did the free show, [and] it was 32,000 people," Rehage
said. "It was complete chaos we did the event for free 59 days
after the levees broke; some bands slept in a sleeping bag."
But Rehage said he still appreciates what happened at Woodstock.
"There's situations like Woodstock where the crowd takes over," he said.
Some students enjoy many of the national festivals like Bonnaroo and
Coachella but think they lack much of the magic Woodstock had.
Jean Paul Caron, history senior, said he tries to attend a major
festival every summer but thinks its impossible to replicate Woodstock.
"Woodstock wasn't very commercialized at all; now [at festivals] they
have Sony Playstation tents where you can try out new games,"
Festivals since Woodstock have also sometimes been the sites of
violence and riots.
The Altamont Speedway Free Festival, held the year after Woodstock in
1970 and considered to be the "Woodstock of the West," became
infamous for the numerous fights and eventual homicide.
"The Grateful Dead didn't even go on because they heard of people
getting stabbed and even musicians getting stabbed," Shindo said.
Many remember Woodstock for being three days of peace, love and music
or representing the ideals of an entire generation. But what makes
the festival mostly significant was its stellar, diverse lineup, Shindo said.
Some of those who attended the festival look back now and see a
staple of the generation, and Woodstock's detractors see a
counterculture gathering of youth partaking in psychedelic drugs and
open sexual relationships, he said.
But as headliner Jimi Hendrix wrote in his song "If 6 Was 9," "If six
turned out to be nine, I don't mind. If all the hippies cut off all
their hair, oh I don't care. Oh I don't care."
Contact Ben Bourgeois at email@example.com