What goes through your head when you hear Woodstock? Maybe you picture Snoopy’s best friend. Not that Woodstock, silly! Although, fun fact: the little yellow bird was named after the festival. But what actually comes to mind is probably more along the lines of this: 3 peaceful days filled with legendary music, free love, and celebratory protest. A gathering of peace-loving hippies, partying for a cause. Blue skies and green fields. Heaven on earth.
Later generations typically hold this idyllic image of the famous festival of ’69. It tends to get very romanticized. I’m not saying I wouldn’t hop in a time machine and beam myself to the summer of ’69 to see Jimi Hendrix playing the Star-Spangled Banner if I could.
Woodstock was a one of a kind event that will forever go down in American music history. Those who experienced it are envied by many.
Although you know what they say, if you can remember it, you probably weren’t there.
Still, there’s so much more to Woodstock than meets the eye. So, I’ve done some digging and have uncovered some of the lesser-known stories. Stories that give a raw, uncut glimpse into what it was like to experience Woodstock in real-time. So, sit back, strap in, and for the love of God, don’t take the brown acid!
But before I get started, let’s get one thing straight:
1. Woodstock Wasn’t in Woodstock. Wait, What?
One more time for the people in the back. Woodstock WAS NOT actually in Woodstock. It was in a small farm town called Bethel, 46 miles away from Woodstock, to be exact.
Why Was It Called Woodstock?
You may be wondering, then why was it called Woodstock? Well, that’s because the festival was named after the investment group that backed it- Woodstock Ventures.
What’s more, Bethel happened to be the only town in a several-mile radius that gave the green light to the festival. In fact, it was only a month before the festival happened when the venue was finally settled on. Several towns before Bethel had even rejected hosting the festival on their grounds. Fast-forwarding to the damage caused by Woodstock, these towns dodged a major bullet!
2. What a Disaster
Literally! Did you know that Woodstock was declared a disaster area by New York Governor, Nelson Rockefeller? The organizers of the festival knew they would bring in quite a crowd, especially with such a killer line-up. Things started out as planned- $18 for a weekend pass, food and water vendors available, plenty of space for tents and campers.
What they didn’t plan for was the tsunami of hippies that would flood their modest town. The original forecast was for 50,000 attendees to enjoy a music-filled weekend. To their surprise, 100,000 pre-sale tickets were quickly sold. Ok, so a bit bigger a crowd than expected, but no big deal. When things went wrong is when festival organizers failed to build fencing and ticket booths on time. 300,000 Tickets were unpaid.
How Woodstock Became a Free Show
Before anyone even knew how to react, an estimated 1 million funkadelic flower children pushed their way towards the tiny town of Bethel. Roughly 400,000 people actually made it into the festival grounds. The rest, well, sat in some pretty gnarly traffic for the weekend. Even the traffic-jammed roads turned into a party.
3. It’s Raining Sandwiches!
Since there was a surplus of at least 300,000 attendees, of course, there were limited supplies of food and water. As a reaction, some of the food vendors began price-gouging and setting their food prices higher. This was a terrible idea, especially at an event hosting a charged-up group of civil-rights-protesting party people.
12 Food Stands Were Burned to The Ground
Yes, you read that right. Woodstock attendees actually came together and burned food stands to the ground. So not only was there not enough food but now the vendors had no way to prepare the food. So, this is when things got creative.
Festival organizers, at this point, arranged for army helicopters to drop supplies from the sky to the hungry hippies. Sandwiches, water, fruit and other supplies dropped from the heavens. Trust me when I say- Phew! That was a close one! With all of the other substances running through the veins of Woodstock’s attendees, the last thing you want is for them to be food or water deprived!
4. Everything from Birth to Death
Ok, so there’s a woman named Julia Dawes who claims to have been born onstage at Woodstock. No proof has supported this claim and it’s a little hard to believe. I’ll let you come to your own conclusion on this one. But if that were true, JUST IMAGINE! Aside from this story, there were two women who went into labor during the festival. One was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where she was able to give birth. The other gave birth while stuck in traffic outside of the festival venue. Yikes!
On the other side of things, there were just as many deaths involved with the festival as were births. Two of the festival-goers are reported to have died during the eventful weekend. Sadly, one man died of a drug overdose, while the other was killed in a freak accident. The latter was said to have been asleep in a sleeping bag when a tractor ran him over. He probably would have been seen and the accident could have been avoided, had he not been sleeping atop a pile of garbage and other abandoned sleeping bags. Still, quite a tragic way to go at a young age of 17.
5. Wild Animals at Woodstock
It wasn’t just people jamming out to Grateful Dead at Woodstock. Did you ever hear about the girl and her monkey that attended? Seriously, check out the picture. So random! No one has been able to identify the pair, but plenty of witnesses have vouched for seeing the furry attendee. One man even recalls “sharing a coffee can of water with a monkey” according to Kathryn Walsh’s article, Read Firsthand Festival Accounts From the Woodstock Generation.
Also, you have to keep in mind all of the cows in Bethel that involuntarily attended Woodstock. What a strange experience that must have been for them! The cows must have been deeply
disturbed because one farmer sued (and won) the festival promoters since his cow wouldn’t produce milk during the raging weekend.
6. Not Everybody at Woodstock Had a Good Time
Besides the cows who involuntarily attended Woodstock, there was also a famous musician having a horrible experience. Robert Daltrey from The Who describes his unpleasant time at Woodstock in his memoir, Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite. He recalls how all of the food prepared for the entertainers was laced. Even the ice cubes! Which he managed to avoid… at first.
“Fortunately, I’d brought in my own bottle of Southern Comfort, so I was fine right up until the moment I decided to have a cup of tea. That’s how they got me. A nice cup of hallucinogenic tea.”Robert Daltrey
When asked to explain his experience at Woodstock, Robert Daltrey describes it as chaotic and exhausting. I guess not everyone saw the weekend through rose-colored glasses!
7. Some Were United, Others Were Divided
Maybe you’ve seen pictures of Woodstock’s most famous sweethearts. But perhaps you haven’t heard the story behind them. For these two couples, Woodstock became a symbolic part of their relationships.
One couple named Judy and Jerry met at the festival and have been inseparable since. For 50 years they searched for a photo of them together in the place where it all started. Until one day, a friend of the couple sent a photo they had seen in the PBS documentary, Woodstock: 3 Days That Defined a Generation. To their surprise, it really was the two of them in the photo from Woodstock ’69.
The second couple, Bobbi and Nick, had come to the festival already as a pair. At the time, they had no idea how iconic the two of them would become to Woodstock. A photographer named Burk Uzzle captured the candid moment of the two snugglings up under a blanket in a field full of Woodstock hippies. The couple, who doesn’t even recall the photo being taken, were mind-blown to see themselves on the cover of the festival’s album. Bobbi and Nick’s story also lead to happily-ever-after, with their marriage still going strong to this day.
Others who attended the festival didn’t have so much luck in sticking together. From Kathryn Walsh’s article, Read Firsthand Festival Accounts From the Woodstock Generation, she includes the memoir of a young man who got separated from his friends. They lost touch on the very first day of the festival. At the end of the weekend, he ends up getting back to his car and heading home, without his friends.
“They ended up hitch-hiking back to Newburgh. Sorry, guys”
Just imagine- you and your friends being at the same event at the same time, but unable to find each other the entire weekend. It really puts into perspective how swamped Woodstock was. And not just figuratively, but literally swamped with rain and mud and the likes. But to be honest, I’m sure most of the trippy hippies barely noticed the crowds and poor weather with all psychedelic escapades being had. When at Woodstock!
Another attendee named Debra Garvey tells her memory as a 14-year-old experiencing Woodstock. She came to the festival with her siblings and somehow lost connection with them along the way. It was her first time being so far from home, and wandering alone at the festival made her anxious. She even recalls winding up in Ken Kesey’s psychedelic bus at one point.
8. When Life Gives You a Pond, Go Skinny Dipping
Max Yasgur’s farm was the original piece of land designated for Woodstock. But when tickets sold like hotcakes, William Fillipini agreed to rent out his neighboring land. The rolling fields of Mr. Fillipini’s land gave formation to a pond between hills. So, what did festival-goers do? Go skinny dipping, of course!
The Woodstock attendees didn’t stop at that. Some also found shelter in the farm’s chicken coops, which must have felt like a luxury, considering that the hen houses were some of the only spots that stayed dry during the weekend.
9. Jimi Hendrix’s Nervous Breakdown
Now, I’m not sure why an incredible musician such as Jimi Hendrix would ever have anxiety before a performance. But apparently, Hendrix occasionally experienced this.
I didn’t know what was happening. I was so exhausted, you know. It’s like a… A nervous breakdown or whateverHendrix explained on The Dick Cavett Show
The ironic thing is that Jimi Hendrix’s crowd was far smaller than the crowd faced by most other bands. This is because the rock-god was booked in a second-rate time slot; Monday at 9: 00 a.m. Plus, the rainstorm this morning was so terrible, it drove people to hit the roads early. At most, Hendrix performed half of the crowd that most of the other bands performed for. Let me tell you, though, those who were there to witness it can consider themselves the lucky ones. Hendrix’s performance went down as one of the most famous two hours at Woodstock.
10. What’s the Damage?
After the weekend of peace, love, and a whole lot of mud came to wraps, festival organizers had a long list of losses to sort out. It’s approximated that at least 80 lawsuits were filed against the group of 20-something-year-olds for the damage caused to the town. The lawsuit debt accrued from the weekend totaled $1.4 million. On top of this, the cost of putting on the festival brought the promoters to a total of $3.1 million in debt.
How Much Did Woodstock Earn?
Well let’s see, the earnings from the weekend totaled $1.8 million, so this put them $1.3 million in the hole! Wowzers! And it actually wasn’t until at least a decade later when the event finally turned a profit for Woodstock Ventures. The profits came largely from the release of the film, Woodstock.
The Truth Is in The Eye of The Beholder
At the end of the day, the weekend of Woodstock was one with many stories. Each person with their own experience and idea of what the festival was to them. I’m sure if you were one of the happy hippies cuddled up in a chicken coop, or one that came home with the new-found love of your life- you would have nothing but positive feelings towards Woodstock. But if you were one who lost your friends or were caught off guard by a potent dosing- you would have a rather different opinion. But one thing that neither side could deny, is the lasting impact Woodstock had on American music culture that will resonate for decades to come.