“You know you are beautiful when you smile,” Max assured his wife as he draped his arm over her shoulder to pull her toward him in a side hug and kissed the top of her salt and peppered head arrayed with a wide, stretchy headband. He waved to the departing helicopter.
“So I am not so beautiful now as I scowl at this mess?” Miriam knitted her brows together as she gazed out over acres and acres of trash-strewn devastation now simmering under the once shy summer sun. Gone were the lush green pastures, now only muddy manure pits remained dotted with heaps of plastic waste.
“Oh, I caught the smile first. Don't try to hide it. Overall you enjoyed this weekend rubbing shoulders with the youngsters. Sam was satisfied.”
“But look! Just look at what those youngsters left behind for us to clean up! If we can clean it up? Thirty-five years! Thirty-five years of our blood, sweat and tears we poured into this family farm for what? One big weekend party and ka-blooey! It is all brought to ruin in a blink of the eye. Just look, Max, just look! Where do we begin?” she searched pleadingly into his twinkling eyes.
“Oh, look, the young reporter from Middletown has arrived on his motorbike. He'll have some questions for us. Smile. Don't worry. It will all turn out fine. Remember we made what usually takes us a year to make in a weekend and they said it will be cleaned up in two weeks.”
<=<=<= Three weeks prior.
Elliot Tibit, a hotel owner near Wallkill, NY, with permit in hand was in desperate negotiations with festival promoter, Michael Lang, to hold a summer pop music event on his 15-acre property after a previous venue plan fell through. Knowing from advance sales the acreage wasn't going to be enough Tibit reluctantly introduced the promoter to a realtor in a nearby town. That realtor showed Mr. Lang the lush, sizable Yasgur farm shaped in a bowl. Sam Yasgur assured the duo his father, Max, would be on-board leasing the property for the event at the agreed upon $10,000 price.
The stage planned at the bottom of the bowl would be back-dropped by a neighbor's picturesque pond. However, that neighbor, Mr. Filippini, never signed a lease agreement for his piece of property. The town officials issuing the permit, the townspeople, and the owners of the property were all assured by the promoter and his associates attendance was estimated to be 50,000 people.
=>=>=> Three days prior to event.
“Time is running short so we can complete the fence and the ticket booth or we complete the stage in the next three days.” The harried construction foreman consulted with Joel Rosenman, one of the financiers.
“Some choice. No fence means it becomes a free event and we go bankrupt. No stage means no concert. Get the stage up. Also the towers for the speakers and whatever lighting can be done.”
“The reconstructed roof from the previous venue choice won't be strong enough to hold the lighting. It will have to be spot lights only.”
“Get someone on it.”
Also blatantly lacking were adequate sanitation considerations and reliable food vendors.
=>=>=> Two days prior to event.
50,000 'early bird' ticket-holding attendees show up and plant themselves in front of the half-finished stage. And the crowds kept coming. They stepped over the fallen fences and entered freely.
=>=>=> One day before.
And the cars and the trucks and the vans and the bugs and the buses and the campers and the tractors and the six-wheelers and the motorbikes and the whatever...all kept coming.
=>=>=> Day of the big event.
Walkers came and kept coming. The roads were all traffic jammed so vehicles were abandoned and walkers kept walking. They carried their backpacks and their coolers and their sleeping bags and their toddlers. They came and they waited. And they waited...
Back in April Creedence Clearwater Revival was the first major entertainment name to sign on to perform at the beleaguered festival. Once they were on board others joined in but some of the biggest names avoided the poorly planned and doubtful of success outdoor rural platform or had other engagements. But the draw was significant, none the less.
Sweetwater was scheduled as the first act but they were held up by traffic. The popular Ritchie Havens, a folk, soul and rhythm and blues singer/guitarist opened instead. A total of thirty-two acts played that weekend. If they weren't big names before, they became big names afterwards.
A few of the head-liners were: Joan Baez, six-months pregnant at the time; Arlo Guthrie; Santana; Country Joe McDonald; John Sebastian, an attendee enlisted to play while the crowd waited for arrival of other stars, he later founded Lovin' Spoonful; Grateful Dead; Janis Joplin; Sly and the Family Stone; The Who; Jefferson Airplane; Joe Cocker; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Sha, Na, Na; and closing it out Jimi Hendrix; but don't forget Blood, Sweat and Tears poured their all into it.
Entertainers were brought in by helicopters when the roads became blocked.
They sang the blues and soul and country and folk and rock and harder rock. They sang all day, all night and all through the rain. A thunderstorm stopped them on Sunday afternoon but they played on 'til Monday morning when the cows came home.
The three day event turned into four. Sandwiches and flowers were dropped from the air. Some used the Filippini pond as their bath house. Everyone shared whatever they had to share.
Some paid the $18 entry fee but most did not. That would be $140 for today's concert goers. The promoters and investors went bankrupt until a film came out the following year and made up for it all. The first performer was paid $750; the last one $10,000 ($80,000 in current economy).
In a summer of love and stepping on the moon the theme was music and peace as evidenced by Swami Satchidananda opening the show and no violence erupting. Red, yellow, black, brown, or white all were welcomed at the site. Estimates hovering around 400,000 to 600,000 attendees got muddy and they got tired and they got high and they got hungry and they got their monies worth and they got put in history books.
They defined a new generation, created new fashion statements, set new norms, danced to a different beat. Anti-establishment, anti-war, anti-hate expressed in music, song and art. Dropped-out, tuned-in looking for spiritual connection and embracing the planet.
New laws were enacted by local and state legislatures to ban mass gatherings of this sort. Neighbors sued.
Today a memorial plaque is located at the site. The name alone is an economic engine for the area.
“So smile for the camera, Mr. and Mrs. Yasgur. You may have just made history. August 15-18, 1969. Do you think you'll be holding an anniversary concert next year? I know our town is Bethel but everyone is calling it 'Woodstock'.”
“No, Young Man. I think I'll go back to being a simple dairy farmer.”