Woodstock: What people said the famous music festival was REALLY like (1969)

Woodstock What people said the famous music festival was REALLY like (1969)

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Woodstock Festival (officially the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, and billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music”) was held at a dairy farm in the Catskills near Bethel, New York, on August 15 through August 18, 1969.

Woodstock was supposed to be “3 days of peace and music” — but as these stories from right after the concert describe, it didn’t exactly end up that way.


Here’s the promoted Woodstock concert lineup from those few memorable days:

Friday, August 15
Richie Havens
Bert Sommer
Ravi Shankar
Tim Hardin
Arlo Guthrie
Joan Baez

Woodstock through the eyes of the attendees 1969

Saturday, August 16
Country Joe McDonald
John Sebastian
Keef Hartley Band
The Incredible String Band
Canned Heat
Grateful Dead
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Janis Joplin
Sly & the Family Stone
The Who
Jefferson Airplane

August 17 & 18
The Grease Band
Joe Cocker
Country Joe and the Fish
Ten Years After
The Band
Blood, Sweat & Tears
Johnny Winter
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Jimi Hendrix

Woodstock original music album

Woodstock: Music, Mud

Woodstock report by Patricia Ann Luchak, The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey) August 18, 1969

WHITE LAKE, N.Y. — Four hundred thousand people swarmed like locusts through this small, quiet resort town last weekend, cleaning out every restaurant, grocery, liquor and drug store within miles, leaving three youths dead and almost 5,000 treated for injuries, illness, or adverse drug reaction.

It wasn’t a pretty sight. No, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, advertised as a “weekend of peace and music,” didn’t make it as a music festival. It was just too much to handle — and thousands left without even entering the fairgrounds.

“THERE HAS been no violence whatsoever, which is remarkable for a crowd of this size,” Dr. William Abruzzi, the festival’s chief medical officer, said to the Associated Press. “These people are really beautiful.”

State police and deputies from the Sullivan County sheriff’s office reported no disturbances or even arguments. They arrested only about 80 persons on drug charges, but there was widespread use of marijuana.

“There was so much grass being smoked last night that you could get stoned just sitting there breathing,” said one college youth. “It got so you didn’t even want another drag of anything.”

One of the dead youths was the apparent victim of an overdose of heroin. The other fatalities were a youth-run over by a tractor and another with a burst appendix.

None of the dead was identified.

Dr. Abruzzi told a news conference that two young women who attended the festival gave birth, one in a car along a roadside and the other at a local hospital. Their identities were not available.

Flower power hippie bus van

NOT HEEDING the numerous warnings broadcast all day Friday on radio, I set out that afternoon at five for my weekend of peace and music — mostly music, I hoped. I met a friend at Newark Airport. Traffic began building up on the Garden State Parkway and it never let up all the way to Exit 104 on Route 17.

We got out at the exit and tried — in vain — to get directions to my hotel: “Excuse me, officer, can you tell me how I can…”

“Keep movin’. Just follow the traffic left.”

“But officer, I…”

“Didn’t you hear me? Keep movin’.”

Same scene three times. Suddenly traffic stopped and all I could see for about a mile ahead were cars — in front of me on the road, on the shoulders, between the trees.

I moved less than 500 yards in a half hour, so I pulled over to a phone booth (unbelievable — a parking space) and called my hotel for directions. Of course, I had to turn around.

ALL KINDS and ages of kids were hitching both ways, and I picked up one guy with a heavy pack on his back. He had hitched from Woodstock — the place where the fair originally was to be held — but was leaving after two acts.

“What a bad scene. You can’t see anything. I’m not sure which part of the stage the performers were on, even.”

He was heading back to Woodstock where “at least I can see Jimi Hendrix in a bar, drinking. He might not sing or talk or do anything, but at least I’ll know he’s there and it’s him. God, they could put my mother on the stage and I’d never even know it.”

I dropped him off in semi-civilization, and my friend and I headed out to the hotel where we had reservations. Thank goodness for reservations. Parking spaces with water were going for $8.50 each at one place.

Woodstock the Movie - Vintage ads (3)

THE NEXT MORNING we woke at 10, planning to spend a whole day at the concerts.

We ate a non-hearty breakfast of orange juice, coffee and some toast. Little did I know that would be the last food I’d see for seven or eight hours.

The first part of the drive was good. Moved along at about 30 mph for a few miles — and then…

Well, cars and people both had stopped, and so I pulled into another out-of-the-way spot and began hiking.

I stopped a car (going about two m.p.h.) with Arizona plates. “No, we didn’t come east just for this. We were in Cambridge (Mass.) for the summer, but we drove here from there.”

We kept walking until we couldn’t take it, so we hopped into a car, following the general trend, and rode at the speed we had been walking. Kids were riding on hoods, trunks, tops of vans and on anything they could find. Walking was outrageous in the heat and on the hills.

Scenes from the original Woodstock music festival in 1969 (2)

Jimi Hendrix concert is an experience, all right (1968)

IT SEEMS we were on the main walkway to the fairgrounds. All along the way, townsfolk and summer residents were handing out water and free food to the starving, thirsty hordes of humanity. It was amazing how well the people took the whole scene in.

“We had 5,000 hippies here by Monday evening, and since then we haven’t had any mail, milk or bread deliveries out this way. But the kids aren’t causing any trouble. I hope it stays that way,” one woman along the road said.

One man who worked to alleviate the problems was Max Yasgur, the dairy farmer who rented his 600-acre spread to the festival for a reported $50,000. He sold or gave away quantities of milk, butter and cheese.

He also put up a sign saying “Free Water” on his barn after he heard that some residents were selling water to youths. “How can anyone ask money for water?” he asked angrily of his friends.

The supposed two-mile walk took over an hour.

And there it was. Six hundred acres of wall-to-wall skin, pressed close together, filling every inch. I was dazed. Can 400,000 people be wrong? You bet.

Woodstock festival in Life - August 1969 (3)

THE MUSIC was loud. But it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t hear any of the groups I wanted to.

We were on the grounds from 3 until 11:30 p.m. and heard John Sebastian, in poor form; Keith Hartley, quiet and dull; Canned Heat, loud and repetitious — nothing like their albums; Mountain, which should be renamed Mole Hill, and the Grateful Dead, whom we later walked out on.

After finding an empty patch of mud, I spread out my rubber raincoat as a blanket, and the four of us shared it. Hunger slowly became overpowering, and so we headed west — I think — in search of sustenance.

A long, long way up the road, I had my dinner. One garlic frankfurter, which was more garlic than meat, and two ice cream sandwiches, all for the low, low price of one dollar. Better than some had, I imagine. Watermelons (whole) were going for $3.50 each.

We then searched out water and found a man letting everyone use a hose by his house. Some people really care.

Woodstock - August 17 1969 - 400000 mired in a sea of mud - Daily News newspaper

BACK AT the fairgrounds, we found a new plot of mud to wallow in. As the evening went down, I leaned back and finally wound up lying down. That was it. People stepped on me 14 times, including twice on my hair. It took some doing to get the muddy footprints out of my dungarees, And people were sleeping like this for the whole weekend!

Someone was selling bad LSD, and kids were freaking out all over the place. Word got around quickly not to buy it, but some people just don’t listen.

The announcer — very calm and soothing — got on the loudspeaker telling kids not to buy, and asking those who took acid to go to the makeshift tent hospital. Really bad cases were sent out by helicopter. The ‘copters kept landing and taking off, not helping the acoustics any.

WE WERE all assured that only those people dealing in drugs would be arrested. Those just using them would be left alone. In the dark, three out of every four people around me were turning on with hashish or marijuana. A few others just looked stoned.

At 11:30 we left, figuring that Creedence Clearwater Revival and Janis Joplin wouldn’t be on until 3 or 4 a.m. That walk back was interminable, but eventually, we reached the car and picked up a hitcher. He had come from Chicago just to see Creedence, but he gave up. “The whole scene isn’t worth the hassle; maybe next year…”

Back to the hotel and sleep.

It rained again, and as far as I know, the best acts were canceled. Next year, I think, the whole fair will be canceled.

Sha Na Na: Carefree greasers singing music from the fifties (1970)

Scenes from the original Woodstock music festival in 1969 (3)

SUNDAY MORNING, we spoke to some people at the hotel, and at least five of them planned to sue the producers of the fair.

“Nobody checked tickets (at $18 a person for the three days). There was no organization, no groups, no real music — nothing. They can’t get away with this,” one guy said. Another girl was planning to take it to small claims court.

On the way home, we saw about 100 tents pitched along Route 17, and many more cars pulled over and parked at the exits near the fair. Police didn’t know what to do, so they did nothing.

After leaving my friend at her house, I drove back to good old quiet Middlesex. At Newark Airport, I picked up a hitcher. Sure enough, he was at Woodstock. Wasn’t everybody?

“It just wasn’t worth it. All it was was one big hangout for everyone,” he said.


Woodstock the Movie - Vintage ads (1)

Woodstock Music & Art Fair presents an Aquarian Exposition

3 days of peace & music in Wallkill, NY

Art Show — Paintings and sculptures on trees, on grass, surrounded by the Hudson Valley, will be displayed. Accomplished artists, “Ghetto” artists, and would-be artists will be glad to discuss their work, or the unspoiled splendor of the surroundings, or anything else that might be on your mind. If you’re an artist, and you want to display, write for information.

Crafts Bazaar — If you like creative knickknacks and old junk you’ll love roaming around our bazaar. You’ll see imaginative leather, ceramic, bead, and silver creations, as well as Zodiac Charts, camp clothes, and worn-out shoes.

Work Shops — If you like playing with beads, or improvising on a guitar, or writing poetry, or molding clay, stop by one of our workshops and see what you can give and take.

Food — There will be cokes and hotdogs and dozens of curious food and fruit combinations to experiment with.

Hundreds of Acres to Roam on — Walk around for three days without seeing a skyscraper or a traffic light. Fly a kite, sun yourself. Cook your own food and breathe unspoiled air. Camp out: Tents, water, restrooms, and camping equipment will be available.

Music starts at 4:00 P.M. on Friday, and at 1:00 P.M. on Saturday and Sunday — It’ll run for 12 continuous hours, except for a few short breaks to allow the performers to catch their breath.

Woodstock Music and Art Fair - An Aquarian Exposition - August 1969

Turn on the colors! How to tie-dye clothes ('60s & '70s)

This article, published a week and a half after Woodstock, not only highlights the perspective of six festival attendees, but doesn’t mince words when it comes to the opinion of the New York Times in this story that was syndicated nationwide.

Woodstock: Aquarian revisited by 6 young people

Middletown Times Herald-Record (New York) August 26, 1969

A towering example of the power of music and brotherhood? The depth of drug-and-sex degradation?

The battle of the Aquarian Exposition continues to rage. For our part, we believe that the utter permissiveness and universality of the drug scene at White Lake August 15-17 turned a beautiful idea into a shocking and intolerable bacchanal.

The following interview with some festival-goers sheds light on both aspects of the rock-folk festival.

In the minds of millions of adults who weren’t there, and who still imagine that popular music means Perry Como and Dinah Shore, it started out as a disaster, the kind of thing that makes governors call out their national guards, a man-made — or rather youth-made — hurricane Camille.

News bulletins told of the horrendous traffic jams, shortages of food, limited sanitary facilities. threats of epidemics and “bad trips” on drugs. Most of the adult world concluded that clearly it was all an inevitable consequence or the mindlessness and rootlessness of today’s youth.

Vintage Woodstock movie poster

But many soon found their first judgments inadequate as the learned more about the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, the most ambitious rock music festival ever held, which a week ago drew 450,000 young men and women to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in White Lake.

For it gradually became apparent that the young people were not only oblivious to discomfort, but they also were surprisingly well-behaved for so great a crowd, at peace with themselves almost to the point of ecstasy. American culture, it seemed, had produced a new kind of mass phenomenon.

To discover what the festival meant to those who were there, and to answer questions in the minds of many adults, The New York Times last week invited five young men and one young woman to sit down with members of its staff for an open, spontaneous discussion of the weekend in all its aspects:

The rock music that drew them to what they invariably called Woodstock but actually was White Lake, their experiences there, and what they felt about their hopes for the future.

The conversation lasted about 2-1/2 hours. Its main themes have been distilled from a long transcript. Because of the wishes of parents — or, in one case, because a participant was on probation for a drug offense — the full names of the young people are withheld.

The oldest was Steve, a 22-year-old New Yorker who graduated from City College in June; the youngest, Lindsey, a 16-year-old junior at one of the city’s better private schools. Two — Judy and Bill — were not New Yorkers; the others — Jimmy and Dan — went to colleges outside the city.

All were from comfortable middle-class backgrounds. Most important, all felt they wouldn’t have missed the Aquarian Exposition for anything, that the weekend had been “heavy” — significant — not only with the excitement of Jimi Hendrix or The Who or the Jefferson Airplane, but also with portents for their generation’s future and the country’s.

Woodstock traffic at standstill - Newspaper August 1969

Talking about the scene at Woodstock

The discussion began with the reasons they went, the preparations they made for going and their first impressions when they reached “the scene.”

Q: Why did you want to go?

Lindsey: It was the music. I wanted to go because of the music. That was the only reason.

Judy: They had the most fantastic line-up of stars that I’ve ever heard about, more than any place I’ve ever heard of, better than Newport.

Q: Did you have any idea where you’d sleep or what there would be to eat?

Judy: Well, we drove down in a caravan of two cars — there were four girls and two guys — but we were supposed to meet 20 or 30 other people who were driving down from New Hampshire and they were supposed to bring a tent, but we never met each other. We just scattered.

Woodstock - August 17 1969 - 400000 mired in a sea of mud

Q: What about food?

Judy: We brought a bag of carrots. And some soda.

Q: Did you expect to be able to buy more there?

Judy: We never really thought about it.

Q: At any point did your interest and excitement go beyond the music to just being there, being at the scene?

Lindsey: When we got up there and saw the people — the way they were dressed and talking. Everything was just so great — the attitudes, the atmosphere.

Judy: I just had a feeling that, wow, there are so many of us, we really have power. I’d always felt like such a minority. But I thought, wow, we’re a majority — it felt like that. I felt, here’s the answer to anyone who calls us deviates.

Q: Was that before you heard any music?

Judy: I never made it to the concert. I never heard any music at all.

Q: The whole weekend?

Judy: Yeah. The whole weekend.

Q: Were you sorry then that you went?

Judy: Oh, definitely not.

Q: Could you describe the group that was up there?

Steve: It was very, very representative of the age group involved.

Q: Wasn’t it white middle class?

Steve: I guess the proportion of blacks to whites was that there were many more whites than there would be normally. You’re probably right about that. But the people had many varied interests outside of, say, just rock.

Q: What was the age group? If a guy was 30, did he stand out?

Bill: Yeh. He probably had a beard and long hair.

Steve: Some of them were using cocaine.

Q: The older ones? How old?

Judy: About 24 or 26.

(All the participants stressed a sense of what they called “community.” The question of whether this feeling had been spontaneously generated touched off debate.)

Steve: Everyone came there to be together — not that everyone would cease to be an individual, but everyone came there to be able to express their lifestyle.

Several Voices: No, no, no.

Jimmy: Everyone came to listen to the music. Nobody knew everybody was going to be up there and feel all together and have that feeling.

Woodstock festival in Life - August 1969 (1)

Q: Have you experienced that feeling before?

Bill: I went to the peace march in Chicago and I found the same thing happening. You’d pass someone young or someone with long hair and you’d smile at each other. Or you’d give each other the peace sign, or know that he was thinking the same way you were thinking. And like the blacks go by each other and say “Brother.” It gave you the type of unity.

Steve: I think it’s wrong maybe to compare what happened at Woodstock to a peace march.

Lindsey: I was at the Chicago convention and the whole difference was that there you were demonstrating against something and here you were for something.

Q: Was there a lot of sharing?

A Voice: Everything was shared.

Lindsey: You’d walk along and see a guy with soda and you’d say, “Hey, can I have a drop? Can I give some of the rest some soda?”

Steve: We went to sleep Friday night, just me and my girlfriend, when I woke up there were a dozen people under our canopy. We all woke up together and we stayed together for the rest of the time up there. We shared food, we shared tents.

Scenes from the original Woodstock music festival in 1969 (1)

Q: Were you ever worried about things collapsing?

Jimmy: Remember some New York City policemen were supposed to be there and then they were ordered not to go? Well, as soon as I heard that I thought, if there is going to be a lack of policemen, then this will be the final test. To see what’s really going on, like who causes the trouble where.

All the panel participants carried some kind of drug to the festival — mostly marijuana known as “grass” or “pot.” But there was also hashish, abbreviated as “hash”, barbiturates, “downs,” and LSD called “acid” after its chemical name, lysergic acid diethylamide.

On the way to Bethel, the participants worried about being searched by the police. One concealed drugs in a hollowed-out armrest of a car; another hid his on the floor, ready to ram it through a hole if a search began. A third said he was prepared to hide his in his underwear and demand that the officers produce a warrant made out in his name. None was searched.

Once they reached the festival their caution evaporated in air made sweetish by thousands of burning “joints” (cigarettes hand-filled with marijuana ). Anything they didn’t bring seemed to be readily available, even heroin called “skag,” though none of the participants actually sought or saw any.

Not infrequently drugs were given away by young people eager to share. What couldn’t be had free could be bought from dealers roaming freely through the crowd, or others who stayed back in the woods on what they took to calling “High Street.”

Most of the participants regarded the drugs as an essential part of the scene — like flags at a Fourth of July celebration.

Woodstock festival in Life - August 1969 (2)

Q: How much of the time were you people up there stoned?

Lindsey: About 102 percent. (Laughter.)

Steve: Every minute of the waking hours. We would eat and in between eggs we would pass around the hash pipe.

Q: Were you smoking openly from the start or were you a little apprehensive?

Lindsey: We started in the parking lot. We didn’t stay in the cars, but we looked. You know, we kept an eye open.

Jimmy: When I walked into the concert on Saturday afternoon, there was a guy sitting there selling acid as if it was hot dogs. I mean like just doing it, like, “Hey, get your drugs here,” or you know, “Last stop before the concert! Really good acid!”

Q: What was the biggest thing going next to grass?

Several voices: Acid. Acid was next.

Steve: There was a lot of downs. And speed.

Q: Were there any people who were taking things for the first time?

Lindsey: Yeh, mescaline. I know a lot of people who took their first mescaline up there.

Q: Were they frightened?

Lindsey: Not really, no. Because there were so many people. The only fear that I found was with the acid.

Q: Did your attitudes on drugs change at all during the weekend?

Jimmy: I was sorry to see that so many people were still into acid. I thought it was going to be, you know, like a fad. I thought acid would sort of drift its way out of the culture.

Q: Could you have had the festival without the drugs?

Steve: I’m sure there were people there you would have had trouble with if there had not been drugs there.

Lindsey: You can’t make that point, simply because drugs are a part of this society now. You cannot take a part of it away and leave the other part.

Steve: I’m saying that it wouldn’t have been as peaceful if they had no drugs at all up there.

Booklet: New facts about marijuana (1970)

Vintage Woodstock Music and Art fair in Wallkill NY - 3 Days of Peace and Music 1969

Peace & music at Woodstock

Woodstock Festival posters (1969)

Woodstock the Movie - Vintage ads (2)

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Comments on this story

5 Responses

  1. Whoooaaaa! I had to look you guys up: I just found myself in the b&w Woodstock photo with the dancing couple in the foreground. I’m just above and to the right with long dark hair and no shirt. It was in a Woodstock doc on youtube. I found another one taken from a different angle in another video!! What’s the chance of that??

    By the way, last year I came across a 1968 photo of me and ‘Valentine’ bandmate Frank Stallone (we came up from Philly) taken randomly on Macdougal St in front of Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. And that verifies it’s really me at Woodstock – although I always knew I was there… :) Please let me know if you want it.

    It’s also clear that some folks had more fun at Woodstock than others!

  2. My friends and I drove and brought tents and food. We set up camp about 10 miles from the festival. We drove 7 miles and left our car there. Then we walked the remaining way to the festival. It was great!!! So calm and peaceful. We couldn’t get close to the music, because of the mud. If we would have been really aggressive, we might have gotten down nearer the stage to hear the music. However we didn’t want to get really muddy!! We stayed in a wooded area up on the hill behind the crowd. My boyfriend got up in a tree to see the stage. I don’t think he saw much, because we were far away! We just heard little bits of music blowing in the winds, sort of like notes of music blowing around. It was fun to just be there. I was straight most of the time. I might have smoked grass once. I didn’t feel a need for drugs. It was just great to be there!! We went back to the campground at night, and we had our food there. We were very fortunate to have brought our own good, because the stuff they handed out was horrible! But the farmers did help everyone so that was very good! We walked around and looked at the leather goods and beads. It was fun! We went back the next day, but I can’t remember if we left after that. I think so. The people I went with are mostly deceased now. My one friend died this Jan.of Corona virus. Very sad!! I also saw kids washing naked in the lake! All in all, really glad I went, and I tell everyone it was ‘peace, joy and love.’

    1. Wow – what wonderful memories! I love how you described it – seems unique and peaceful in its own way. :-)

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