Paula Redmond recalls the ‘Summer of ‘69’ and a music festival that became a cultural and historical symbol of the era
The Woodstock music festival of 1969 is regarded as an iconic moment in music history. The event took place between August 15-18th and drew a crowd of approximately half a million. Now synonymous with the hippie counter culture of the late 1960s, the festival was advertised as ‘An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’.
The event was organised by four men, all in their twenties: Joel Rosenman, John Roberts, Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang. Kornfeld was the vice president of Capitol Records and Lang had organised the Miami Music Festival in 1968. Roseman and Roberts were wealthy college graduates and entrepreneurs who provided the funding for the event.
They had planned to make a television series about a young man who invested in ridiculous business ideas. To come up with scenarios for the show they had taken an advert out in the The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times in 1968 reading, “Young man with unlimited capital looking for legitimate and interesting investing opportunities and business propositions.”
One of the proposals received turned into a serious business venture – the formation of a recording studio called Media Sound in New York. It was through this that the duo met Kornfeld and Lang.
The initial idea was to hold the festival in Wallkill in upstate New York. At the time the area was becoming a haven for luminaries of the rock music world, such as Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Van Morrison.
The promoters planned to open a recording studio in nearby Woodstock to cater for this growing population of artists and thought that revenue generated from the event could help to fund the venture.
Initial verbal agreement was secured from town officials for the festival. However, when residents became concerned about large numbers of hippies descending on the area, local government passed a law to prevent the event being held there.
By July the promoters had still not secured a suitable venue. Salvation came in the form of dairy farmer Max Yasgur, who rented out approximately 600 acres of his land at White Lake, Bethel, New York. The site provided a natural amphitheatre, with hills sloping down to a flat stage area, and organisers believed it could accommodate the 50,000 people they expected.