Woodstock Festival &
Listen to the Revolution
In August of 1969 Bethel, New York, over 450,000 young Americans set up camp for three days on the green fields of Max Yasgur's farm. Residents of Bethel sat on street corners and watched swarms of cars pass through their tiny town, comparing the experience to an army invasion during wartime. "How many more will come?" and "Will they really pull it off?" were some of the more 'sober' questions town residents asked themselves.
Young people from all over were converging on Yasgur's farm in Bethel, New York to celebrate '3 Days of Peace and Music' at the Woodstock Music Festival. Musicians like Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash played on the stage as event-goers camped out, shared food, and lived peace. For three days, they braved the rain, played in the mud, took drugs, and skinny-dipped amidst the lyrical sounds of revolution.
Music has always been a profound form of communication. Musical artists and lyrics of the 60's, unlike previous decades, reached out to their audiences with challenging social ideas and innovative harmonies. Michael Lang knew he was capturing the energy of a unique era when he organized the three day festival. He understood something new was going on. He knew that music cut deep into the culture, that it struck a chord of solidarity amongst the youth and provided them a rhythm for change.
Indeed, the music of the sixties was as diverse and influential as its politics. It was angry and melodic, rebellious and political, furious and fun. In the early part of the 60's, musicians like Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan created songs to support the civil rights movement and to protest the Vietnam War. In the latter half of the decade, psychedelic rock emerged in the San Francisco Bay Area and bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead sang about love and drugs and revolution. The music of Motown mixed R&B, soul, and pop and continued to break down the barrier between 'white' and 'black' rhythms. Bands like the Beatles, all the way from the United Kingdom, made statements about social alienation and fed into youthful discontent with the 50's ideal of the American dream.
The message of the music rang out into the lives of 60's youth. Young people began to experiment with alternative living, to fight the establishment, and to create a new status quo (Nick just visited Hippie HQ in San Francisco!!!).
At Woodstock, a predominantly white crowd of hippies created a space for themselves to express their ideas of peace, love, and solidarity. For a period of three days, they created a veritable nation of people and music. The youth there revealed an unforeseen cohesiveness in the 60's peace movement as they demonstrated a unity between the message of their music and contemporary living. Michael Lang had no idea that so many people would come to celebrate at Woodstock. Unexpected crowds of people overwhelmed gas stations and food supplies. Traffic backed up 12 miles outside of Bethel and actually forced the New York State Thruway to be shut down. By the second day of the festival, Max Yasgur's farm was designated a disaster area and emergency supplies had to be flown in.
Unlike the commemorative Woodstock celebration in 1999, at the original festival there was no police, no violence, no hassles. Despite the overwhelming crowds, the rain, and the lack of food, Woodstock goers maintained their ideals of peace, community, and integrity. They were listening to the message of their music. They were changing the world and having fun doing it. After 1969, the music scene in the US changed. In the 1970's, popular artists were swept up by corporate labels and lyrics became more commercial than revolutionary. At the Rolling Stones' Altamant concert in 1970, a concert goer died from stab wounds and with him the essence of the 60's.
Like in 1999, people have tried to recreate the energy of Woodstock 69', but it was the crowning moment of a musical revolution and the end of an era.
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Links to Other Dispatches
Irene - FBI spies, Pigasus for President and Yippie hippies
Neda - Commune with a refrigerator full of cheese!
Nick - Hangin' in the Haight with Wavy Gravy
MAD - Drugs: Take a stand against life in the $60 billion