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Groovy Color Images of Hippies at Woodstock 1969 put you Right There in the Mud

Steve Palace
People in the messy field at the Woodstock Music Festival, New York, US, August 1969. (Photo by Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty Images)
People in the messy field at the Woodstock Music Festival, New York, US, August 1969. (Photo by Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty Images)

It was a 3 day event that captured the spirit of the times: Woodstock. This epic festival is looked on fondly by an entire generation and became a legend of US counter-culture. If people can remember Woodstock, then they weren’t there… not to worry though, as there’s plenty on record to give them the gist.

The story behind Woodstock – which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year – is different to what people might expect. What began as a plan for rockin’ tunes and good times did not go as expected. The experience was a bumpy ride, with its fair share of tears, tragedy and tie-dye t-shirts. Here’s the eye-opening account of how it happened…

Despite the association with hippies, the founders of Woodstock seemed pretty grounded. The year was 1969. John P. Roberts and Joel Rosenman were entrepreneurs in the Big Apple. Artie Kornfeld was a VP at Capitol Records, the youngest on the books. Completing the line up was producer Michael Lang, who’d co-organized Miami’s Pop Festival the year before.

Woodstock 1969

Woman running through the mud at the Woodstock Music Festival, New York, US, 17th August 1969. (Photo by Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty Images))

Roberts and Rosenman were originally introduced to Kornfeld and Lang with a view to building a music studio in Woodstock, a town in New York. But the 2 men thought a live concert might be a better idea. The foursome joined forces and Woodstock Ventures Inc. was born.

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Young people on the road arriving at the Woodstock Music Festival, New York, US, 16th August 1969. (Photo by Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty Images))

The concert was to have a local flavor. Or at least it would host the likes of Bob Dylan, whose faces were frequently seen thereabouts. The town of Walkill was then selected as the location – not Woodstock, but close enough.

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People applauding at the Woodstock Music Festival, New York, US, 16th August 1969. (Photo by Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty Images))

Woodstock

A mustachioed young man, dressed in a flowered kaftan, carries what appears to be three packs of smokes as he strides through the grass at Woodstock. (Photo by Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

“We weren’t thinking if it would become legendary or not,” Rosenman told the Guardian this year, “but from the beginning we knew we had something extraordinary”. The billed title of “An Aquarian Experience: 3 Days of Peace and Music” faded into history. The name of the town that helped inspire it on the other hand stuck.

Woodstock

Near the ‘Free Stage’ at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, several men lean against a decorated school bus used by the Hog Farmers, a group who had been asked to help construct, ensure security, and provide food for the event, Bethel, New York, August 1969.  (Photo by Ralph Ackerman/Getty Images)

Woodstock was to plant its flag in Walkill, specifically the rock ‘n roll setting of Howard Mills Industrial Park! However a few snags were hit before the opening. Walkill authorities refused permission, so Woodstock very nearly didn’t happen at all.

Woodstock 1969

People cleaning numerous litter after the Woodstock Music Festival, Bethel, New York, August 1969 (Photo by Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Musical salvation lay with a dairy farmer, Max Yasgur. He owned some land in the mountainous area of Bethel, where a concert could play out under the Catskill peaks. An agreement was reached and Roberts, Rosenman, Kornfeld and Lang were on their way to festival greatness.

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Volunteers making food to feed atendees at Woodstock, Bethel, New York State, August 1969. (Photo by Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

The complex business of putting on a show took the shine off that achievement. Unexciting details such as health and safety shared the stage with groups like Creedence Clearwater Revival, the first to sign up for Woodstock’s wild ride.

Woodstock 1969

The huge crowd at Woodstock. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

With 100,000 + waiting to get in, and what’s more arriving well in advance, it was clear the site wasn’t ready. Something was going to give. In true Sixties style it turned out to be the bread. Woodstock was the place to be, and now it would be free to enter for its half a million attendees!

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Woodstock 1969 (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

New Mexico’s the Hog Farm and its head honcho Wavy Gravy (aka Hugh Nanton Romney) were brought in to help things run smoothly. Gravy’s concept of crowd control differed to other people’s. The activist and charity worker would famously throw pies at those who were misbehaving. One of his famous quotes was “Good morning, what we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000.”

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Protecting against the rain at Woodstock (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Woodstock

Several young people huddled together under a piece of clear plastic in the rain during Woodstock (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Woodstock 1969

Couple twisting a blanket between them, probably trying to squeeze out the water.. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

“It wasn’t just the music,” he told People.com. “It was all these different people from all over the country who thought they were the odd kid in town, who suddenly came together. Then there were half a million of us to work on the environment, or stop the war (Vietnam). Music brought us together.”

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Man seating on top of a treehouse-like platform playing the guitar during Woodstock (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Peace and harmony was the watchword, though Woodstock was also rough around the edges, putting it mildly. Sadly some people lost their lives there, with a limited police presence to maintain order. Overall though, the impression was one of happiness and contentment.

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A couple jamming in the crowd at Woodstock (Photo by Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

“Looking back, some people attribute the lack of violence to the large number of psychedelic drugs being used,” wrote History.com “Others believe hippies were simply living out their mantra of ‘making love, not war.’”

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Serving food at Woodstock. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

The line up was phenomenal – Joan Baez, Ravi Shanker, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who and Jimi Hendrix were just some of the stellar names working up the crowd.

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A young couple, sitting on a van, at the Woodstock Music Festival, New York, US, August 1969. (Photo by Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty Images)

Woodstock

A couple attending the Woodstock Music Festival smiles while standing outside the shelter they’ve built during the concert, Bethel, NY, August 1969. (Photo by Ralph Ackerman/Getty Images)

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Woodstock Festival, 1969

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Part of the crowd on the first day of the Woodstock Festival. Photo by Derek Redmond CC BY-SA 3.0

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Tents and cars of spectators at Woodstock. Photo by: Derek Redmond CC BY-SA 3.0

In an interview with Rock Cellar, Doug Clifford of Creedence Clearwater Revival said, “Under the circumstances I thought we did pretty well at Woodstock… John (Fogerty) has complained about it and said that we were playing for the people who were asleep (laughs) but we woke ‘em up pretty darn fast.” The circumstances he mentioned involved accessing the festival in the first place – eventually the band had to be helicoptered in.

Unlike other gatherings such as Coachella, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair was a true one off, though tributes have been paid to it at live events in the years since. Lang attempted to launch a 50th anniversary Woodstock in Maryland but that fell through. In the meantime, films and an album preserve the memory for future generations.

Beautiful Story: The couple in the iconic Woodstock photo are still together

“No matter how an event like this is produced, it’s just a catalyst that brings out whatever is innate in the audience,” Rosenman told the Guardian. Woodstock certainly touched that nerve. It may have been a logistical nightmare, but the result was a beautiful dream that’s being celebrated half a century on from it going down.