The 1969 Woodstock Music & Arts Festival

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The Woodstock Music and Arts Festival took place on August 15th – 18th, 1969 and was one of the most profound events in the history of music. Woodstock, was a spectacular gathering made up of 32 live musical performances by performers including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, Creedence clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, and many other historical greats shaping the legacy rock and roll music and the counterculture of the late 60’s and 70’s along with an audience of about 500,000 Americans, one of the largest yet peaceful, gatherings in U.S history. It profoundly affected the people who attended, including my uncle Allen Stanton and my father Gary Staryk, along with millions of other Americans who did not attend.  It was held on a six hundred acre dairy farm in the township of Bethel, New York owned by a gentleman named Max Yasgur.

The event was called ‘An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’. The festival and its financiers did not expect for the arrival of about a half a million Americans, therefore the festival turned out to be a free event. Thus, it became a failed economic venture and quite a ‘helter-skelter’ moment in U.S history due to the lack of preparation involving concerns such as poor weather, critical shortages of food, drinking water, and toilet facilities, public safety concerns, surrounding neighborly problems, and security concerns. But despite all these problems, the festival was regarded as a great success.  It can be recognized as the start and end of an era by people who both did and did not attend, and a gathering that has come to represent a decade’s counterculture that’s presence will forever be felt even on generations to come.

Woodstock was originally a commercial effort financed by John Roberts and Joel Rosenman in the assumption that there was great economic profit to be made. But as stated above, it became a free concert, and so there was little profit actually made. With the festival now made free, the view or opinion of the festival became more about peace, love, positivity and anti war sentiments protesting the Vietnam war and less about tickets, economic success, fences, greed, money, and selfishness, which left a much more profound and positive impact on history by creating, listening and supporting music with a much deeper purpose of expressing shared public views of the war and the importance to maintain peace, prosperity, and happiness for all, especially in times of despair and hardship, which Vietnam most certainly brought. At the time of the festival, the Vietnam War was raging in full force, and it was gaining more and more opposition in America. “The Vietnam War was the longest war in American history and the most unpopular American war of the 20th century. It resulted in nearly 60,000 American deaths and in an estimated two million Vietnamese deaths.

Even today, many Americans still ask whether the American effort in Vietnam was a sin, a blunder, a necessary war, or whether it was a noble cause, or an idealistic, if failed, effort to protect the South Vietnamese from totalitarian government.” Therefore, the war gathered huge opposition in the home front, especially after the Tet Offensive. “The Tet Offensive was an attempt by the communist North of Vietnam to take out the southern opposition in one blow. While the attack caught the United States and southern Vietnam off guard because it was on a holiday where the southern forces were completely unprepared. However, most of the attacks were beaten down and ended up as a loss for the guerrilla forces of the North.

The Northern forces took huge losses, and militarily, the Tet Offensive was a major loss. But the attack had huge psychological repercussions on the American home front. The battle convinced us that we were fighting a losing battle, and opposition for the war grew exponentially.” Through this, the connection to Woodstock and its cultural, social, concerns’ and ideas’ can be made through the anti-war sentiment growing larger and larger and represented so uniquely in the counterculture of the hippies. The peace loving sentiments of the hippies spread and eventually led to the Woodstock festival, which hippies saw as a accumulation of all the frustrations of the war. These so called hippies that attended the Woodstock festival were eventually classified as the drug and sex crazed kids of the counterculture era.

Many people failed to realize that, underneath the hedonistic or guilty pleasures these hippies shared, the true motive was an end of war, and a desire for peace and generosity brought forth with the help from music written and performed of that time and at the festival. For example, one ‘hippie’ of that time was the highly-influential folk musician Bob Dylan, who recorded hundreds of poetic and socially influential songs including “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Written in 1963, just before the U.S public began to disapprove of America’s involvement in the war against Vietnam, the song features a simple yet catchy melody played by Dylan’s famous acoustic guitar and harmonica. The lines “There’s a battle outside/and it’s ragin’/it’ll soon shake your windows/rattle your walls” are an obvious reference to the Vietnam War.

Dylan goes further and sings lines saying, “Come mothers and fathers/throughout the land/and don’t criticize/what you can’t understand/your sons and daughters are beyond your command.” Here we could interpret that Dylan could be pleading with the public to stop trying to understand or ‘fix’ the war, Dylan is in fact trying to tell us something else.” In poetic terms, he is singing the feelings of mass confusion and frustration at how many innocent and sons and daughters were sent off to war. With this, it is easy to see that Woodstock and it’s artists made up an undoubtedly provocative, lively event in the music of the time as well as in the meaning behind the music created because we can see music began to be created for beneficial, communicative reasons rather than financial ones.

Music In the Woodstock era became a creative form of expression that changed the way music was created and the way to stand up, speak out, and peacefully get behind social beliefs and ideals of that time, reshaping our nation’s culture. By peacefully representing those frustrations of the time with the war through musicians and artists of the Woodstock era along with the counterculture and the beliefs of the cultures’ hippies and young adults, those frustrations brought the Vietnam war to an end.

Although I didn’t get to experience the one in a lifetime Woodstock festival for myself, amazingly, two of my closest family members, my Dad Gary Staryk and my Uncle Allen Stanton, did, and went to the venue together to experience it first hand. Their insight, knowledge, and enjoyment on the experience made background knowledge on the topic much more fulfilled and enjoyable to learn about as well as their musical tastes being that of the artists and bands in the Woodstock era, significantly ‘rubbed off’ on me in my music genres that I listen to today, especially the songs I play on guitar with my band. However, they both explained their experiences as something that “defined [their] teen-age lives and was the most remarkable gathering of people they had ever seen, all coming together for one thing, and that was good music.” I was able to sit down with my uncle and father for a while and have them explain to me what they remember from their experience.

My uncle went on explaining the drive saying “since your father and I lived in Long Island NY, the drive to Bethel was about 2 and half hrs and so we just hopped in my [Allen’s] Volkswagen on Saturday morning reasonably early, stopped at the market for a couple 12 racks of beer, and started are journey. Once we got closer, there was absolutely no parking and traffic was at a stand still even as we got passed Smallwood, NY, about a half hr outside of where the festival was and by the time we got close enough to get to the festival, it ended up taking us like 6 hrs to get settled. Everyone was getting out of their cars to walk to the festival and it looked like a sea of people described in some type of tall tale. Once we finally made it into the festival it wreaked of ‘B-O’ and weed.

We arrived somewhat ‘late’ so we missed the morning performances but as we got settled in we listened to Mountain perform their classic hit ‘Mississippi Queen’ which was always one of my favorites. My uncle went onto telling me how Jake, you could’ve never believed this to be true or even prepared to know what Woodstock would behold. I met so many interesting, unique, enjoyable, and priceless characters their that represented the teenage culture of the late 60’s so accurately from the dancing, to the sex, to the free-spirits and not to mention, some of the best musicians set forth on this earth playing 100 yards away from me and your father watching Keith Richards shred the drums for The Who with Jimi Hendrix getting on stage to perform the star spangled banner that set the bar for one of the best guitar solos in musical history in my opinion.”

My dad doesn’t remember much because he was only 13 and my uncle was ‘the responsible guardian’ for him at the time but my dad did explain how he “was so happy [he] didn’t miss out on the experience and although I took part in a lot of things 13 yr olds should never do, the people around me were fantastic and extremely kind, the women were beautiful, and listening to Country Joe’s Antiwar Vietnam protest song was my favorite by far. It so catchy, funny, and really opened up my eyes to the historical events that were unfolding at that time, even though I was young.” Listening to my uncle’s and father’s feedback on Woodstock was extremely insightful and made this topic for research enjoyable yet somehow challenging, by trying to find ideas in my research that they didn’t know about or didn’t express with me to further their knowledge about this event as they did for me.

One question that I have asked both my dad and my uncle and has always had a great deal of interest to me and I’m sure many others who weren’t able to attend the Woodstock festival or didn’t grow up in that generation to know much about it is: What made the 1969 Woodstock Festival different from all other music festivals? Why is it spoken upon so much in regards to our U.S musical history. There is not one, finalized answer, thus, the answer can be found in a variety of different factors.

First, the festival featured one of the largest and most anticipated line-ups of musical talent ever created and provided the largest live audience in history for these artists and bands to showcase their talents and songs of the era. For example, one of the most memorable and honorable patriotic moments at the Woodstock festival was the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ guitar solo performance by Jimi Hendrix . His guitar solo performance encapsulated the link between the boiling Vietnam War and the raw emotions and embraced by the 1960s counterculture. Vernon Reid, guitarist of Living Color and co-founder of the Black Rock Coalition, comments on the emotional and psychological authenticity of Hendrix’s performance of the Star Spangled Banner, saying that, “Hendrix tapped into the whole Vietnam experience. He is in it, completely immersed, and it is beyond playing.

Even the feedback sounds like people crying and it sounds like napalmed villages… he plugged into something deep, beyond good or bad” (Murray 1991, 23). A festival at the scale of what Woodstock turned out to become had never been before seen, yet alone accomplished which is why so many Americans are at least familiar with Woodstock or with some of the artists or songs that were played their. Another factor of Woodstock’s exceptionalism was the notable lack of violence and peace among the festival goers.  “Medical personnel noted no injuries caused by violence, despite the plethora of deplorable conditions already documented.

The number of people treated for adverse recreational drug reactions, reported by Dr. William Abruzzi, Festival Medical Director was relatively small: around 800 cases in the three-day period, a minuscule figure in proportion to the size of the crowd compared with later festivals that drew equal or smaller numbers of people. Furthermore, More than one commentator has remarked that the feeling of elan or energy, bonhomie, and the spirit of cooperation that marked the Woodstock Festival was due in part to the prevalence of psychotropic substances rather than hard drugs such as methedrine, heroin, and cocaine, in addition to alcohol, which were much more in evidence at subsequent festivals and with that, a number of those gatherings were also marred by outbreaks of violence and rioting.” Finally, not one other festival had ever been close to being organized on the scale Woodstock turned out to be although ironically it was not intended at first as mentioned earlier.

The Woodstock Festival took on the aspect of a high stakes experiment where both organizers, performers, and attendees understood the need to improvise solutions to the many challenges they were faced with. Therefore, festival goers like my uncle stated and felt a “sense of accomplishment and awe” by finding solutions to these problems at the festival and many like my uncle were “proud to be apart such a unique event that had never happened before in history and although many reorganized and tried to duplicate it, those later, replicated, festivals never lived up to the standards and significance of the Woodstock festival and its time period in U.S history hands down.”

Cite this paper

The 1969 Woodstock Music & Arts Festival. (2021, Aug 13). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-1969-woodstock-music-arts-festival/

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