Aug. 15 Marks the 50th Anniversary of Historic Woodstock Festival

Aug 15, 2019

It has been a half-century since nearly a half-million young people descended upon a farm in Bethel, NY for "three days of peace and music" - a one-word summation of the late-1960s counterculture: Woodstock.
Credit Ric Manning [CC BY 3.0] Wikimedia Commons

50 years ago, on Aug. 15, 1969, nearly half a million young people gathered on Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, New York for "Three Days of Peace and Music" - the legendary Woodstock Music and Art Fair.  Music from artists such as Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, the Who, John Sebastian  and Santana mixed with drugs, rain and mud to produce a sometimes uncontrolled, but famously peaceful weekend.  

University of South Carolina historian Lauren Sklaroff said Woodstock was "the public face of the counterculture," and that despite things that went wrong, such as shortages of security, the drenching rains and less than ideal sanitation, the festival did prove that 400,000 people could gather for three days of peace and harmony, and that "there was a political agenda, that it wasn't completely incoherent or...drug-infused.  There was a longing for a better world, and that was embodied in the musicians that performed at Woodstock."

One big group that didn't perform at the festival was nonetheless there in spirit.  The Youngbloods' anthem of peace "Get Together" was a top 5 hit that summer and perfectly captured the vibe of Woodstock, or maybe vice versa.  Youngbloods founder and South Carolina resident Jesse Colin Young said the two were intertwined. "The spirit of Woodstock is the spirit of 'Get Together:' 'Love is but a song we sing; fear's the way we die.'  I think the people at Woodstock were saying 'we choose love.  We've gotta take care of each other.'" 

Some of Woodstock's original organizers tried to put on a 50th anniversary event, but numerous problems doomed the effort.  This didn't surprise Sklaroff, who observed "I think the logistics now of putting on a concert of any kind are much more complex and involve so many more things.  The security, the sanitation concerns, the crowds, the permits, all of that."

But Young, recently returned from a benefit concert for the homeless in Los Angeles where he shared a stage with David Crosby, Al Jardine of the Beach Boys and others, enthused "I'm here to tell you that the spirit of alive and well, and it's kind of  coming back...because the country I've been driving around in the last two years is still there."   He said that Woodstock helped turn the music and ideas of what was once called the counterculture into a lasting part of American culture.