Turns 50 the hippie dream, pinnacle of Woodstock, ONE OF A KIND
Sri Swami Satchidananda, a yoga master from India, opened the festival with an address urging compassion, a moment seen as embodying the non-violent culture Woodstock aimed to represent.
“I am overwhelmed with joy to see the entire youth of America gathered here in the name of the fine art of music,” said the slight, bearded man, sitting cross-legged before the massive crowd, leading the concertgoers in chants of “om.”
Later on, Country Joe Mcdonald of the psychedelic rock band Country Joe & the Fish famously led them in chants of “f **k,” before playing the anti-war protest song “I-feel-like-i’mfixin’-to-die Rag.”
By the time Hendrix tore through his electrified, abstract rendition of “The Star-spangled Banner,” now considered iconic, the masses were heading back to the real world, just beginning to sear their collective myth into the history books.
Danny Goldberg, a longtime music industry insider who covered the festival for Billboard as a starryeyed 19-year-old, fondly remembers the weekend as “a lot of people with smiles on their faces.”
“I was taken almost immediately with this sweetness – the idyllic notion of the hippie brother and sisterhood that rarely manifests itself, even then,” he told AFP from his Manhattan office.
“But it was quite palpable at Woodstock.”
‘Nightmare of mud’
The adage holds that if you can remember Woodstock, you weren’t really there – and many precise details of the weekend are hostage to the drugaddled and ever-aging recollections of attendees and even the organizers themselves.
Rumors persist but mystery endures whether any babies were born at Woodstock.
Sleuthing over the decades has fallen short, and no one has come forward as offspring born onsite – though it’s likely some were conceived there.
Reports from the time say a tractor cleaning debris accidentally ran over one person in a sleeping bag, while at least one person is said to have died from a drug overdose.
Like a critically panned movie turned cult film, in the days following the festival, mainstream news outlets were largely dismissive.
“The dreams of marijuana and rock music that drew 300,000 fans and hippies to the Catskills had little more sanity than the impulses that drive the lemmings to march to their deaths in the sea,” read an editorial published in The New York Times.
“They ended in a nightmare of mud and stagnation... What kind of culture is it that can produce so colossal a mess?”
But Annie Birch, who caravaned in with a group of friends at age 20, remembers the festival as “so peaceful, given all that mass of humanity.”
“That crazy rain, we had an amazing fire that never went out,” she told AFP.
“All those bands became iconic. It was just like wow, let’s get together in a big way. It was legendary.”
‘Music and peace’
In the festival’s aftermath, Yasgur, the landowner, told a television crew he “became quite apprehensive” when faced with the “sea of people.”
But “these young people made me feel guilty today because there were no problems – they proved to me, and they proved to the whole world, that they didn’t come up for any problems,” he said.
“They came up for exactly what they said they were coming up for – for three days of music and peace.”
Birch, now 70, said Woodstock was a defining moment both for her personally and for her entire generation.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I was happy to be a part of that experience.”
But she views it as a one-of-a-kind event – not something that can be recreated.
“I’m eternally hopeful for the state of humankind that something equally amazing could happen,” she said.
People attend the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969. Top: A commemorative plaque on the site where the Woodstock Festival took place 50 years ago on a farm in upstate New York