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Santana Was Only Paid $750 at Woodstock While Other Bands Made Thousands

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: Victor Englebert / Photo Researchers History / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Victor Englebert / Photo Researchers History / Getty Images

Woodstock has gone down in history as one of the most epic, and chaotic, music festivals ever. Over 400,000 people attended the 1969 event, packed onto a dairy farm that wasn’t equipped to handle a crowd anywhere near that size. Despite massive problems with sanitation, lack of food, and even a few deaths, it was a hit thanks to the legendary musicians. Have you ever wondered what they were paid for their sets? You might be surprised what some of the bands earned.

An expensive event

Ideally, concert organizers make back the money they spend on the venue and bands by charging for tickets. This was not the case with Woodstock. The organizers tried their best, charging $18 for a single ticket to attend the three-day festival. While many people paid this, there were large numbers who didn’t, mainly because the concert area hadn’t been fenced off properly. Fans were able to more or less walk right into the concerts without paying a penny.

Aerial view looking down at the crowds at Woodstock.
An aerial view of the crowd and stage at Woodstock, August 17, 1969. (Photo Credit: D. Kraus / Newsday / Getty Images)

To make matters worse, it’s reported that many of the musicians requested payment upfront, often twice as much as they would for other concerts. When everyone had packed up and left at the end of the crazy weekend, the organizers realized that they were $1.3 million in debt -a staggering $9 million when adjusted for inflation. Fortunately, they made this money back in the following years thanks to album sales, although they never really turned a profit.

Highest paid

The organizers wanted their event to be a huge success, so they decided to pay top money for some of the bands. The biggest name was headliner Jimi Hendrix. He was paid $18,000, equal to roughly $125,000 today. Second was the band Blood, Sweat & Tears, who were paid $15,000, around $105,000 today. At $10,000 each, or about $70,000 today, Joan Baez and Creedence Clearwater Revival were paid the next highest amounts.

Jefferson Airplane performing on stage with fans in the background.
Grace Slick performs with the American rock group Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock, 1969. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The rest of the bands were given relatively little, especially considering how popular some of them went on to be. Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane were both given $7,500, while The Who were only paid $6,250. Even Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, who featured the legendary Neil Young, were hired for only $5,000. Once the big names were booked, the organizers had to fill up the rest of the lineup with acts that weren’t so expensive.

Lowest paid

John Sebastian, Sweetwater, Mountain, Tim Hardin, Melanie, Sha Na Na, Keef Hartley Band, and Quill were each paid less than $2,000. There were two among these that stood out from the rest for how incredible their sets were, despite how little they were paid: Santana and Joe Cocker. Cocker traveled from the UK for the event, earning praise for bringing down the house with his version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” by the Beatles.

Joe Cocker in striped pants and a tie dye shirt singing into a microphone.
English singer Joe Cocker, one of the standout acts at Woodstock, 1969. (Photo Credit: Fotos International/ Getty Images)

Undoubtedly the most iconic of these ‘lesser’ bands was Santana. Although they grew to be extremely popular, they weren’t well known at the time. What helped change this was that Carlos Santana did the entire performance on mescaline, putting on a captivating show that far surpassed expectations for a $750 band.

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Even accounting for inflation, they would only have been paid roughly $5,200. That’s quite a bargain for a musician who’s now earned 10 Grammy Awards, three Latin Grammy Awards, and been listed as one of Rolling Stone magazine’s choices for greatest guitarists of all time.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.