Fifty Years from A Field of Grass
Fifty years dreamed like yesterday. The Woodstock generation is slipping into their twilight years.
Here we are in August 2019, celebrating an event, an era, a generation that will echo many decades into the future. The last exhausted, wet and muddy fan staggered out of Max Yasgur's alfalfa pasture almost 50 years ago on 08/18/1969. Some call the Woodstock festival the benchmark of an era of human advancement. Others say it was a big mess and just a hell of a party for a misguided generation of hippies, drugs and free love. For me, it was an amazing experience, an event too large for me to grasp at that moment and a visual awakening for a naive adolescent young man.
The Woodstock music and art fair in August 1969 was planned to have 25-50,000 attendees. More than 500,000 plus people were drawn to a pasture in beautiful Sullivan county in upstate New York. For four amazing days Max's farm became a counter cultural mini nation in which future superstar musicians displayed their talents and minds. Spirits were opened, drugs were plentiful, and love of many sorts was free. The music began Friday August 15 at 5:00 p.m. and continued until mid-morning Monday August 18. The mass of attendees was so large that the New York state governor Rockefeller closed the New York state Thruway for almost 60 miles south and it created one of the nation's worst traffic jams. All of this happened practically in my backyard.
Gathered together for this historic event were lovers, liars, musicians, profiteers, a generation of youth. They made music, they made love, some made money and they made history. Something was born, a nerve was struck in our country and everybody just came. This happening ultimately lost more than $2.4 million. It was sponsored by four young men with different backgrounds, desires, and finances, but all with a desire to throw a great event.
This is where my story begins. In early 1969, I was a ninth grader doing what shy, nerdy, middle American young men did. A lot of insignificant and boring things. My dad was I involved in some dairy farming, real estate and small-town politics. In early April my dad received a call from Howard Mills Jr, one of his real estate contacts. Mr. Mills had just leased a parcel in his industrial park just outside of Middletown in Wallkill, NY. It was about 3 miles from our home as the bird flew. Mills told my dad that they were planning a music concert. The 300-acre park offered perfect access to route 17 which hooked into the New York state Thruway. It was right off route 211 a major thoroughfare through Wallkill and Middletown. As most uptight middle-class parents and townspeople reacted, they were suspicious and from the start and did not want hippies in their town. Word started to spread as ads were run in the underground press (Village Voice, Rolling Stone). Ads began to run in our local paper, The Time Herald Record and in the New York Times. The residents of Wallkill were fearfull of hippies, drugs and rock concerts.
Local residents knew that a 3-day rock show (maybe the biggest ever) was coming. My dad's other connected friend was Wallkill's town supervisor Jack Schlosser. He, Mills and my dad were drinking buddies and were drumming up resistance. They asked us to attend the Wallkill town meetings that were called to approve the festival. My dad, mom and I attended all the meetings and that's where I initially observed and met some of the cast of characters known as "Woodstock Ventures".
The young men were John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Michael Lang. Artie and Michael still remain active and I have had some contact with both in recent years. Joel Rosenman is alive and well and lived in the New York area at 78. He has been involved in some 50th events. John is are now deceased. John Roberts was the oldest at the time. At the age of 26, Roberts supplied the money. He was heir to manufacturing fortune. He had a large trust fund from the Polygrip/Polident family ownership. Rosenman was also a trust fund baby and was a traveling musician in his own right. Rosenman and Roberts met on a golf course in 1967 and became close partners working together in 1968. They opened a state-of-the-art recording studio in Manhattan called Media Recording Studios. To attempt to leverage their vast money supply, in late 1968 They ran an ad in the Wallstreet Journal and New York Times worded;
"Two young men with unlimited capital looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities and business propositions".
Artie Kornfeld at 25 was a VP at Capitol records, signing talent like Hendrix, Joplin and scores of big names. In his own right, he had been with Dione and the Belmonts and wrote beautiful songs and produced for the Cowsills and wrote "Dead man's curve" for Jan and Dean.
Michael Lang was the youngest and had more ideas and energy, than funds. He had owned the first head shop in Florida. In 1968 he produced up to then the largest rock shows ever. The two day Miami Pop Festival drew more than 40,000 people. He was the manager of a rock group called Train and wanted to get them signed to a record deal. That's how Lang met Kornfeld. Lang got an appointment with Kornfeld at Capital Records knowing they had grown up in Queens together and they hit it off immediately. They lived together and fueled by a few joints, started developing ideas around the fast growing rock music scene.
At that time, musicians like Morrison, Dylan, Hendrix and Joplin were hanging out in the artists mecca 100 mile from New York called Woodstock. They wanted to raise enough funds to build a recording studio in that small town. In looking for seed money for their venture, their lawyer connected them with Roberts and Rosenman and the little fund raiser grew into a plan for the largest rock music festival in history. Wallkill after some searching, became their choice.
In May sometime we checked out the Wallkill site and there was a flurry of activity. In early June,a call center had been set up and hundreds or workers were eagerly building the stage for the event... The festival was getting local and national press, mostly negative and locals were hard pressed to see to see how 50,000 hippies could invade their town without chaos. Ads continued to run in underground papers, the New York Times,Rolling Stone and in the local paper I delivered, the Times Herald Record. We attended the counsel meetings and the cast of characters would arrive in limos and even by helicopter at times. Lang in particular ,showed up with long shaggy hair, no shoes or sandals when he walked into the chambers. The protest from the locals and attendees got loud. Mills was getting threats and the local paper was running inflammatory stories about the dirty hippies coming to town.
There was just no way the venue and town could support 50,000 visitors. Finally at the last meeting on 07/15/1969 ,to the cheers of the crowd, the council members soundly rejected the existing permit. The headlines in our beloved Times Herald Record announced the decision with glee and the Woodstock partners were without a festival site.
Elliot Tiber was an openly gay designer who lived in Manhattan. He and his parents owned a small hotel in Bethel, NY called the El Monaco .He had 13 acres and a music festival permit. When he read about the mess in Wallkill, he called the partners and by luck talked to Michael Lang. His parents were behind on the mortgage and they could use the money. Lang immediately took his helicopter and landed in front of the hotel. They viewed the site and knew it couldn't work. Tiber then remembered his milk man, Max Yasgur. Max was a music fan and had hundreds of open acres. Lang, Tiber and Max met at the 300 acre bowl shaped alfalfa field on 07/20/1969. While the astronauts were walking on the moon, Lang and Yasgur made a handshake deal.
After the last council meeting, I thought we'd seen the last of the excitement and of the partners. In late July we received a call from my cousin Charles Lloyd. He asked us to come up and see where the festival had landed. He just happened to be Max Yasgur's dairy manager. Yasgur was the largest dairy farmer in the area and my dad, a livestock marketer, had sold him many cows for his dairy. Max's dairy made the most amazing chocolate milk. Max was a very nice guy with only 3 fingers on his right hand. We drove around through pastures, past a lake, and up a slight hill on a dirt road. Going out, I remember a brisk breeze and the sloped field of alfalfa waving in the wind. The men said this is where its going to be, they chatted, and that was that. Crazy to think that these were the same guys that had been chased out of Wallkill into my cousin's realm.
As they broke down Wallkill, hundreds and hundreds of workers descended upon Bethel and the field. Charles was involved with setting up security with 10-20 locals. None had any idea what would be ahead with only less than three weeks till the opening. As the weeks shortened to days the locals in Bethel were getting wind of the magnitude of the event and promises made by Lang and partners of a 50,000 attendee event exploded. When articles in the Rolling Stone and New York Times announced that over 180,000 tickets had been sold, the resistance reached fever pitch! They were not even enough portable toilets for 10,000, water,camp sites, food etc. could not support 20,000.
Just as occurred in Wallkill, the towns people were starting a revolt. Threats were made, stop work signs were posted and talk of bribes were in the air. On 08/11/1969, the Bethel town counsel were going to vote to revoke the permit from Tiber. Tiber and his parents by that time had receive a estimated $60,000 for the use of his permit,hotel rooms,
and consulting fees. Tiber, fearing that he might have to return the monies, asked his mom where it was and she said, "I paid off the mortgage". The Woodstock partners and Tiber were five days away from the opening and were desperate to save it!
In the El Monaco, national radio stations, newspapers,and press had set up shop. Lang and company knew Tiber had a big mouth and told him to go on national radio there and make a plea.. Elliot went on the air and expressed that the "haters" were trying to take this beautiful event away from us so please get behind it and "by the way come anyway IT'S FREE!". The Woodstock partners about had a cow after that, but they had no recourse. Max also made a plea to the council.
The '"free" statement resounded through the nation and was echoed by a well known DJ in NYC, Cousin Brucie. There was no internet, no cell phones. Radio, some tv and word of mouth.
The towns people, the council members and all opponents knew it was too late as stopping it would have cause a riot!
This is the real reason almost 500,000 people attended the festival. On 08/14/1969, the day before the event buses started to arrive, cars, vans, hitch hikers started to fill the New York State Thruway and route 17. It was a 70 mile traffic jam. We were scheduled to go up on Sat. 8/16 but the traffic, the mess and the weather stopped us. After all, my cousin could score us free tickets!
You can read hundreds of books and see movies about the events that took place from 08/15-08/18/1969. The music, the weather, the sounds. On the morning of 08/18/1969, we got the okay to go up. Hendrix was wrapping up his set in the distance with only about 30,000 stragglers left. It looked like a war zone. The bucolic fields had been turned into a mass of mud, trash and human fatigue.
As we drove by a near by lake, a few festival goers were swimming naked in the dirty water. My mom reached around to cover my eyes, but I had received my first sight of an unclothed woman. Young and nieve at the time, I had no idea of the impact of the event and frankly neither did anyone else. Many of the musicians rocketed to fame.
The partners took 10 years to pay off the debt and Max suffered emotional and physical depression and really never recovered. The site now is called Bethel Woods, a $10 million concert and museum dedicated the the events that occurred that weekend.
Michael Lang has been up to his old tricks. Maybe kharma got him this time and Max and Tiber are not around to save it. The 50th anniversary event of the decade could not find a landing place, musicians were hired and let go and it fell flat.
We are having our festival of celebration in the redwoods of the Los Gatos mountains with our own musician, Kat, Laura, my poor wife who has heard nothing but Woodstock stories for three years, and old and new friends.
There will be music cover songs from the original festival line up, new songs and maybe one or two of the original musicians will show up. Our own Redwoodstock.
I can truly say that Woodstock 69 was an event that can never be duplicated, 500,000 people in one place for three days without violence for the cause of peace, love and music!
Wound up there purely by accident. Lucky me! Was standing next to the camera that filmed the movie when Janis Joplin, Creedence, Sly and the Family Stone and the Who were on. Saw Pete express his displeasure with Abbie Hoffman....I had no idea how lucky I was. So much more I could tell. Found my 19 year old self on the album jacket and in the movie....Lucky Me!
from Indianapolis now S.C.
Roy Rogers was asked to close it with "Happy Trails to You" because he was such a big part of our early years but he declined. I often hear people say that they didn't have a good time but I thought it was the best fuckin party I have ever been privileged to attend. 50 years later I still get a rush thinking about it or telling My kids and anyone who asks about it. Some day I will come back to this and I'll tell you all about how PJ and Steve rode the Jawa to Yasgur's farm and got back to the garden. We are stardust we are golden.
PEACE - April, 2019
I was in the front yard helping my dad cut the hedges, when my friends drove up in a psychedelic-painted VW van and wanted to know if I wanted to go to Woodstock for the weekend, dad said go if I wanted to, my reply was Naw, that's Ok, I don't think it will be that good. 'Boy did I hear about it later from my buddies.
Colchester, CT USA - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 at 09:01:34 (EDT)
RE: Jefferson Airplane were the headliners Saturday night. Like Hendrix they closed AFTER the Who! It was Sunday morning when they closed Sat. nights show. You also missed 2 songs they played "the Ballad of You & Me & Pooniel" and "House at Pooniel Corners". After the Airplane left the stage they had "breakfast in bed for 1/2 million people", & Sunday's show didn't resume for a few hours with Cocker. Please adjust this. The Airplane were the biggest group & at their peak in 1969 not an opening act!
Salamanca, N.Y. USA - Sunday, March 09, 2014 at 17:51:09 (EDT)
I was in a band at the time and our drummer heard about the 'Festival.' We thought it would be a trip to go and living in Annapolis, MD at the time, we knew we could drive there. We packed up the VW van and headed North. We got to the New York State thruway and barely made it to the exit. It took FOREVER to get near the place and we stopped at a sign that said "Bethel 10 mi." We figured it was not worth the hassle to sit in traffic for another 3 or 4 hours and turned around and went to New York City for the weekend. At our hotel, we watched on TV as history was made - each one of us blaming the other for not going all the way. Even to this day, in our 60's, we still tell everyone we 'went to Woodstock.' We just don't tell them we didn't get there...
Orlando, FL USA - Friday, January 10, 2014 at 23:04:52 (EST)
I was just starting college in Williamsport, Pa. and was driving there when I came on a small group(5) of guys and girls going to some concert I had heard about on the radio but was unaware of where or when it was taking place.I ended up driving all the way to woodstock,not knowing some of my best friends were already there,and seeing all the people and cars just parked all over the place,I left!!! Dumbest thing I have ever done! After it was all over,my friends and I got together and that was when I really found out what all I missed! My one friend's Father died while he was there!
Pa - Wednesday, December 18, 2013 at 14:18:53 (EST)
We went up a day early and parked our pickup camper about 1/4 mile from the entrance. The only things we brought with us were our tickets, water, snacks and lots of windowpane LSD. Never needed the tickets as the gates we're abandoned the first day, gave most of the water away to people who had none, shared the snacks with anyone who wanted some and I don' t remember exactly, but the acid was all gone by Sunday!
We had the camper to get out of the rain but spent most of our time in the woods at the top of the hill wandering around with the other people wandering around! The music was great. The acts I recall the best were Santana, Ten Years After, Airplane and Sly.
When we were leaving on Sunday afternoon it was very hot. We climbed on top of the camper for the slow trip out and the locals sprayed us down with hoses. All of us had to be back for Monday morning work except for me, I left Mon. afternoon for basic training in the Army at Fort Gordon, in Georgia. Talk about culture shock!!
I'll never forget the time there that I remember, but I can't recall the whole weekend. Seeing the festival through the windowpane will do that.
Neil Van Wattingen
Secaucus, NJ - Tuesday, November 05, 2013 at 23:27:25 (EST)
On the first day of Woodstock (August 15) I was completing my last day of Army Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson SC in the scorching heat not knowing what would be ahead for me. Would it be Vietnam like so many others in my company? I wonder how all those young Hippies escaped the draft and serving our great country. Maybe I wasn't in favor of being sent to Vietnam as a young man either, but duty called and I responded by enlisting for a 6 year obligation. I was no different than they were but I served my country honorably. While these hippies were having their sex and drinking their beer and smoking their pot and acid in the mud we were the ones who were fighting for their freedoms to be able to do those things in the rice patties of Vietnam. Those are my thoughts of WOODSTOCK.
Scottdale, PA - Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 22:49:36 (EDT)
i had the best time at Woodstock since I was conceived there! so i didnt hear anyone play but my parents said they had a blast ;)
indiana - Thursday, July 04, 2013 at 19:35:57 (EDT)
I lived less than an hour away (age 19, Dover Plains NY) and 8 miles away from Dr Tim Leary (Millbrook NY) Had a brand new Mustang, pocket full of orange sunshine and off I went....................... Now living in Palm Springs Ca and smile when I think about it.
Dover Plains, NY Dutches - Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 21:44:25 (EDT)
I was one of the early ones we arrived on the 14th because we all lied to our parents and said we were all having a sleepover at donna's house and her parents were away on vacation for 3 days. We all had tickets,but when we arrived on the 14th there was no one there to collect them. We brought 2 tents there were 3 girls and 2 guys. We were high all the time. We drove up in My friends vocswagon bus. We were right in front of the stage. A lot of people were already there. I did pack a lot of stuff to eat because we didnt have much money so at least we were not hungry. What a life changing event. I never knew I would be a part of something so huge. I laughed,cried, sang and yelled so much I coulnt hardly talk. The love and sweet spirit that was there was just unbelievable.By the time we all climbed out of our tents the next day I couldnt believe my eyes. Wall to wall people. Going to the bathroom was a chore. When the bands started playing it was just so great..I think I hugged one thousand people that weekend. We shared our tents with a few other people because of the rain we were in the tents a lot but had the best seats in the house. Most of us the 3rd day we were high, tired, wet hungrey, but blown away by the music and the amount of people that came from all over the country. I think never will they ever be able to do this again that is why it was and is still the best concert ever. It was just a sighn of the time. love Peace and rock and roll mixed with a little rebelin it was a life changing movement. This music is still loved by all to this day..I will always remember this time of my life.
paulsboro, nj usa - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 14:41:14 (EDT)