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Woodstock 1969: How a Music Festival That Should've Been a Disaster Became Iconic Instead

April 23, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

Things were not looking good for the music festival. A month out, the organizers had lost their permit and were scrambling to find another location. In the scramble, the organizers couldn’t get everything ready in time. When the festival-goers poured in, there weren’t enough toilets or medical facilities, and there certainly wasn’t enough food or water. To top it off, the festival grounds were hot, humid, rainy and muddy.

No, this wasn’t Fyre Festival. This was the original . “The monitors kept breaking. The sound was sh**.”

So why is Woodstock remembered as the greatest rock concert ever? For starters, “it was definitely the launchpad for a number of acts,” Makower says. This was especially true if the acts were featured in the Woodstock documentary that Warner Brothers released several months after the festival. “A lot of people really lived Woodstock through the movie,” Makower says. “And so the movie influenced, I think, more people than the actual event.”

Carlos Santana (right) and bassist David Brown perform with the group Santana at the Woodstock Music Festival.

Carlos Santana’s band wasn’t very well-known before it played Woodstock and appeared in the film. Joe Cocker, too, became famous for his unusual singing movements and his unique cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends” that appeared in the documentary (his cover later became the theme song for The Wonder Years). Richie Havens’ opening act, also captured in the film, expanded his audience beyond the folk scene.

In addition, Woodstock was one of the first concerts at which Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young played together as a group. In one memorable part of the concert and the documentary, Stephen Stills tells the crowd: “This is the second time we’ve ever played in front of people, man. We’re scared sh**less.”

Both Makower and Perone say that, for many of the festival-goers, the music wasn’t the most important part of Woodstock—it was the general atmosphere that made it memorable. That’s not to say that everything was perfect. There were plenty of people who had a bad time or a bad trip, as well as one person who died of a drug overdose and another who died from being run over by a tractor in his sleep. But despite Woodstock’s extremely poor conditions, the crowds remained relatively peaceful and nonviolent.

Jimi Hendrix performing ​at the Woodstock Music Festiva​l.

The fact that Woodstock was …read more


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