BBC – Culture – 50 facts about Woodstock at 50: The festival



47 West 57th Street – the address of the festivals’ production office

The festival may have taken place in the bucolic backwoods of upstate New York, but it was birthed in the heart of New York City. This being 1969 – the era of psychedelic rock and Andy Warhol’s Factory – the office was dazzlingly decorated by design group Curtain Call Productions. What’s there now? A high-end store selling “luxury Italian menswear”. Probably not, it would be fair to say, the threads to be wearing in a mud-soaked dairy farm.

Bethel – the town where the festival took place

The Woodstock team – Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman, and John P Roberts – confirmed the venue with only 29 days to go until showtime. The original plan was to hold the festival near Woodstock, partly because of the town’s links to Bob Dylan and The Band. The original site, near the town of Wallkill, fell through, mostly due to residents’ objections. Another proposed venue, Saugerties, fell through too. Finally, came salvation in the shape of Max Yasgur’s farm, not far from the town of Bethel, and around 50 miles away from Woodstock.

Bethel’s population at the time was around 2,700 – the festival swamped the town with more than 400,000 visitors. Each resident of the town was outnumbered 150 to one.

Catbird – the bird featured on the festival poster

The festival poster has become a piece of pop cultural design, with many assuming the bird is a dove. But not so. The bird is in fact a catbird, one of several species of the genus Ailuroedus, so named because of its cat-like song. Makes perfect sense.

Woodstock Bins – the name of the festival’s PA

The festival’s legacy goes beyond the music and free love. To project the sound out to the huddled masses, the festivals’ team needed to come up with something special. “I was trying to find someone who could do a sound system for Woodstock, and there was no one who had ever done something like that before,” organiser Michael Lang told the Woodstock Preservation Archives. “Then there was this crazy guy in Boston who might want to take a shot at it.”

Sound engineer Billy Hanley turned up on Max Yasgur’s farm and visualised where the sound towers would need to be set up, and how to make sure sound from the two festival stages wouldn’t bleed into each other. The design Hanley came up with – using robust marine cabinets – is still today known as “Woodstock bins”.

Revolving stage – broke because of the number of people standing on the sides

In order to get the bands changed over in an orderly fashion, Woodstock’s main stage had a revolving stage that meant one band could set up backstage while another was performing. It worked perfectly on paper, and in practice… for a while. Either the amount of equipment was too much, or there were too many people on each side of the stage watching the proceedings, but the casters snapped and the stage wouldn’t turn anymore.

12 – the number of spotlights used to light the main stage

E H Beresford “Chip” Monck, a 30-year-old New York lighting designer with a decade’s experience of lighting pop and folk concerts, was introduced to organiser Michael Lang after being told by a friend about the festival’s ambitions. He suddenly had to come up with professional-level lighting for a festival that was struggling to build its stage.

“It was particularly difficult to try and re-create what we had in design,” Monck told the Houston Chronicle in 2009. “And obviously, as you know, no ticket booths, no fences, no staging roof, no ability to hang the light show, no ability to hang the 650,000 watts that were underneath the stage, no ability to build a secure barrier, which was a great help in a strange way. Lots of things were missing.”

Monck’s Woodstock was eventful. The planned roof couldn’t be built in time and so tonnes of mounted lights were left unused. There was no festival MC, so Monck was roped in to address the entire festival – it was he who gave the famous warning about the “brown acid”.

Then, the heavens opened and enough rain fell to cause the roof to start sagging. The crew cut the centre of the tarpaulin roof to let the water escape. “Which is in fact a very good way of getting rid water on the roof, except for the fact that Joe Cocker was directly underneath in the middle of a set,” Monck told the Houston Chronicle. “He looked like everybody else – (like) a drowned rat.”

400,000 to 500,000 – estimated number of festivalgoers

When the trio behind Woodstock were touring for a venue, they told prospective towns there would be no more than 50,000 attendees. Privately, they were preparing for more than 200,000, and had pre-sold more than 180,000 tickets before the gates opened (and were expecting to sell more from walk-ups).

A lack of fencing meant charging latecomers proved to be impossible. Partly because of the roster of acts the festival had attracted – Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Grateful Dead – partly because of the increasing coverage as town after town denied permission, and partly the mood of the times (Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the end of the decade), meant that tens of thousands of people decided there was no other place to be that weekend than Max Yasgur’s farm. For one weekend, Bethel was most likely in the Top 30 population list of US cities.

Please Force – the festival’s own security team

Though the festival was billed as “three days of peace and music”, the festival’s organisers realised there would have to be some way of controlling unruly elements, and uniformed police might not be the best option. They ruled out having teams of off-duty cops, and instead policed the site with a team from Hog Farm, a well-known Californian hippie commune. Led by clown and peace activist Wavy Gravy, instead of stun guns and handcuffs, the team threatened to douse the wayward with soda water or hurl custard pies at them to protect the Woodstock vibe.

Eight hours – time it took to drive from New York City

The drive from New York City to Bethel normally took two hours – but the traffic got so clogged that police departments closed them altogether. Thousands of motorists, still miles from the site, left their cars and walked all the way to the farm.

Festival programme – the only official merch on offer

Go to a festival today and the merch stalls are heaving with branded paraphernalia – from t-shirts to tote bags to water bottles. But Woodstock had nothing, save one item – an official programme.

Its cover carried little hint of the carnage that would follow – a close-up of flowers in a field, with “3 days of peace and music” in almost apologetically small letters. Inside was details of the line-up, some with photos, some with accompanying art.

Should you find one of these in your grandparents’ loft, handle with care: one recently sold on eBay for a little less than £1,500 ($1,810).

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