Today, it’s all very clean and park-like and known near and far as the “Site of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival.” 40 years ago, however, before it all happened, it was just a dairy farm..
During the early summer of 1969, as Max was going about his business being a farmer in Bethel, NY, 50 miles down the road, in Walkill, NY, a group representing “Woodstock Ventures,” was getting booted out of a town meeting. Having already selected a site for what was being called the “Woodstock Festival” they had thought it would be simple to get the needed permits and stamps of approval from the town. They were wrong and they left Walkill with nowhere to hold their planned three-day event (by the time it was over, it had become a 4-day event)
Through a common contact, Yasgur, who was a few months shy of 50, was introduced to festival promoter Michael Lang, who was immediately branded by the locals as a long haired hippie. Lang found Yasgur’s alfalfa field a perfect spot for the planned festival, and Yasgur, who was suffering through a poor summer, needed the $75,000 rental fee for the 600 acres. The original offer was $50 for the weekend, but when Yasgur heard that upwards of 40,000 people would be attending the festival, the hard negotiations began.
When the locals found out that Max was doing business with those “long-hairs,” he became the target of ridicule and boycotts which just ignited his ire. According to Woodstockpreservation.org, “Max attended a town meeting prior to the festival to defend himself, after hearing a number of complaints about the upcoming concert. Yasgur asked each official there if there were any legal stipulations, within their respective departments, that hadn’t been met to accommodate the expected 40,000 people per day. When no reservations were raised, he addressed the entire meeting saying: ‘So the only objection to having a festival here is to keep longhairs out of town? Well, you can all go pound salt up your ass, because come August 15, we’re going to have a festival!’”
At just after 5PM on August 15, 1969, Richie Havens took the stage and became the first of over 30 acts to perform at the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival. Over the next 4-days, a crowd that grew to an estimated 500,000 converged on the tiny rural NY community, plugging roadways and pushing the meager facilities far beyond capacity. Food ran out and portable toilets overflowed, but the music kept coming. Torrential downpours turned the hillside into mud, and at one point, promoter Lang feared that a lightning strike would wipe out a section of the populus. Drugs and alcohol were, as you would expect, everywhere and there was really nothing anybody could do about.
At one point, the traffic bottleneck extended all the way back to the NY State Thruway, shutting down the state’s main artery into New York City. As the crowd continued to swell, gate crashers knocked down fences around the site promoting the promoters to declare it a “free concert.” Their dream of making a huge profit dissolved into a more realistic goal of just getting through the event with no fatalities and as few lawsuits as possible.
In the end, Woodstock, the festival, was a financial disaster, however, over the last 40 years, the promoters have managed to eek out a small fortune through album sales, movies and anything “Woodstock”
As for hard working Max Yasgur, who allowed the dream of the first “Greenfield” music event to take place? On the final day of the event, he walked on stage, took the microphone in hand, and told the youth of 40 years ago, “I’m a farmer…(interrupted by cheering from the audience). I don’t know how to speak to twenty people at one time, let alone a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world—not only to the Town of Bethel, or Sullivan County, or New York State; you’ve proven something to the world. This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place. We have had no idea that there would be this size group, and because of that you’ve had quite a few inconveniences as far as water, food, and so forth. Your producers have done a mammoth job to see that you’re taken care of… they’d enjoy a vote of thanks. But above that, the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids—and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are—a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and I God Bless You for it! God bless you all.”
Max Yasgur suffered a heart attack and died just four years after the event, and shortly there after the farm was sold. In 1997, the concert site, and 1,400 surrounding acres. was purchased by Alan Gerry for the purpose of creating the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
More Woodstock Links –
Video: Santana At Woodstock ’69
Originally posted 2009-07-07 17:41:33.