The last bedraggled fan sloshed out of Max Yasgur's muddy pasture more than 25
years ago. That's when the debate began about Woodstock's historical significance.
True believers still call Woodstock the capstone of an era devoted to human advancement.
Cynics say it was a fitting, ridiculous end to an era of naivete. Then there are
those who say it was just a hell of a party. o2r8rk
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969 drew more than 450,000 people to a pasture
in Sullivan County. For four days, the site became a countercultural mini-nation
in which minds were open, drugs were all but legal and love was "free".
The music began Friday afternoon at 5:07pm August 15 and continued until mid-morning
Monday August 18. The festival closed the New York State Thruway and created one
of the nation's worst traffic jams. It also inspired a slew of local and state
laws to ensure that nothing like it would ever happen again.
Woodstock, like only a handful of historical events, has become part of the cultural
lexicon. As Watergate is the codeword for a national crisis of confidence and
Waterloo stands for ignominious defeat, Woodstock has become an instant adjective
denoting youthful hedonism and 60's excess. "What we had here was a once-in-a-lifetime
occurrence," said Bethel town historian Bert Feldman. "Dickens said
it first: 'It was the best of times. It was the worst of times'. It's an amalgam
that will never be reproduced again."
Gathered that weekend in 1969 were liars and lovers, prophets and profiteers.
They made love, they made money and they made a little history. Arnold Skolnick,
the artist who designed Woodstock's dove-and-guitar symbol, described it this
way: "Something was tapped, a nerve, in this country. And everybody just
The counterculture's biggest bash - it ultimately cost more than $2.4 million
- was sponsored by four very different, and very young, men: John Roberts, Joel
Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang. The oldest of the four was 26. John
Roberts supplied the money. He was heir to a drugstore and toothpaste manufacturing
fortune. He had a multimillion-dollar trust fund, a University of Pennsylvania
degree and a lieutenant's commission in the Army. He had seen exactly one rock
concert, by the Beach Boys.
Robert's slightly hipper friend, Joel Rosenman, the son of a prominent Long
Island orthodontist, had just graduated from Yale Law School. In 1967, the mustachioed
Rosenman, 24, was playing guitar for a lounge band in motels from Long Island
to Las Vegas.
Roberts and Rosenman met on a golf course in the fall of 1966. By winter 1967,
they shared an apartment and were trying to figure out what they ought to do
with the rest of their lives. They had one idea: to create a screwball situation
comedy for television, kind of like a male version of "I Love Lucy".
"It was an office comedy about two pals with more money than brains and
a thirst for adventure." Rosenman said. "Every week they would get
into a different business venture in some nutty scheme. And every week they
would be rescued in the nick of time from their fate."
To get plot ideas for their sitcom, Roberts and Rosenman put a classified ad
in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times in March 1968: "Young
Men With Unlimited Capital looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities
and business propositions." They got thousands of replies, including one
for biodegradable golf balls. Another seemed strange enough to work as a real
business venture; Ski-bobs, bicycles on skis that were a fad in Europe. Roberts
and Rosenman researched the idea before abandoning it. In the process, the two
went from would-be television writers to wanna-be venture capitalists. "Somehow,
we became the characters in our own show," Rosenman said.
Artie Kornfield, 25, wore a suit, but the lapels were a little wide and his
hair brushed the top of his ears. He was a vice president at Capitol Records.
He smoked hash in the office and was the company's connection with the rockers
who were starting to sell millions of records. Kornfeld had written maybe 30
hit singles, among them "Dead Man's Curve," recorded by Jan and Dean.
He also wrote songs and produced the music for the Cowsills.
Michael Lang didn't wear shoes very often. Friends described him as a cosmic
pixie, with a head full of curly black hair that bounced to his shoulders. At
23, he owned what may have been the first head shop in the state of Florida.
In 1968, Lang had produced one of the biggest rock shows ever, the two-day Miami
Pop Festival, which drew 40,000 people. At 24, Lang was the manager of a rock
group called Train, which he wanted to sign to a record deal. He bought his
proposal to Kornfeld at Capitol Records in late December 1968.
Lang knew Kornfeld had grown up in Bensonhurst, Queens, like he had. Lang got
an appointment by telling the record company's receptionist that he was "from
the neighborhood." The two hit it off immediately. Not long after they
met, Lang moved in with Kornfeld and his wife, Linda. The three had rambling,
all-night conversations, fueled by a few joints, in their New York City apartment.
One of their ideas was for a cultural exposition/rock concert/extravaganza.
Another was for a recording studio, to be tucked off in the woods more than
100 miles from Manhattan in a town called Woodstock. The location would reflect
the back-to-the-land spirit of the counterculture. Besides, the Ulster County
town had been an artists' mecca for a century. By the late 1960s, musicians
like Bob Dylan, The Band, Tim Hardin, Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin
were moving to the area and wanted a state-of-the-art studio.
Lang and Kornfeld were searching for seed money for the festival and money to
build the recording studio. They never saw the "young men with unlimited
capital" ad, but their lawyer recommended they talk to Roberts and Rosenman.
The four met in February 1969. "We met with them in their apartment on
83rd Street in a high-rise," Lang recalls. "They were kind of preppy.
Today, I guess they'd be yuppies. They were wearing suits. Artie did most of
the talking, because I think they seemed puzzled by me. They were curious about
the counterculture, and they were somewhat interested in the project. They wanted
a written proposal, which we had but we didn't bring with us. We told them that
we would meet again with a budget for the festival.
To this day, the founders of Woodstock disagree on who came up with the original
idea for the concert. And, dulled by time, competition and countess retelling,
no one recollection is consistent. Lang and Kornfeld say Woodstock was always
planned as the largest music festival ever held. At the second meeting, Lang
recalls discussing a budget of $500,000 and attendance of 100,000. Lang said
he had started looking at festival sites in the fall of 1968, which would have
been well before he'd hooked up with Kornfeld or Roberts and Rosenman. But Rosenman
and Roberts maintain that they were the driving force behind the festival. As
Rosenman and Roberts recall it, Kornfeld and Lang primarily wanted a studio,
hyped by a party for rock'n'roll critics and record company executives. "We
would have cocktails and canapes in a tent or something," Rosenman said.
"We'd send limos down to New York to pick everyone up. Tim Hardin or someone
could sing. Maybe, if we were lucky, Joan Baez would get up and do a couple
At some point, Rosenman and Roberts focused on the party idea and decided that
it really ought to be a rock concert. "We made a deal," Rosenman said.
"We'd have the party, and the profits from the party would be used to pay
for the recording studio. Ultimately, we had the money, so what we said went."
By the end of their third meeting, the little party up in Woodstock had snowballed
into a bucolic concert for 50,000 people, the world's biggest rock'n'roll show.
The four partners formed a corporation in March. Each held 25 percent. The company
was called Woodstock Ventures, Inc., after the hip little Ulster County town
where Dylan lived.
The Woodstock Ventures team scurried to find a site. Real estate agents across
the mid-Hudson were scouring the countryside for land to rent for just a few
months. Feelers went out in Rockland County, then in Orange. For $10,000, Woodstock
Ventures had leased a tract of land in the Town of Wallkill owned by Howard
Mills, Jr. "It was a Sunday in late March," Rosenman said. "We
drove up to Wallkill and saw the industrial park. We talked to Howard Mills
and we made a deal." "The vibes weren't right there. It was an industrial
park," Roberts interjected. "I just said, 'We gotta have a site now.'"
The 300-acre Mills Industrial Park offered perfect access. It was less than
a mile from Route 17, which hooked into the New York State Thruway, and it was
right off Route 211, a major local thoroughfare. It has the essentials, electricity
and water lines.
The land was zoned for industry; among the permitted uses were cultural exhibitions
and concerts. The promoters approached the town planning board and were given
a verbal go-ahead because of the zoning. Nonetheless, Lang was unhappy with
the site. It was missing the back-to-the-land ambience Woodstock Ventures was
selling. "I hated Wallkill," Lang said. Ventures set to work on the
Mills property, all the while searching for an alternative.
Rosenman told Wallkill officials in late March or early April that the concert
would feature Jazz bands and folk singers. He also said that 50,000 people would
attend if they were lucky. Town Supervisor Jack Schlosser thought something
was fishy. "More than anything else, I really feel they were deliberately
misleading the town," Schlosser said. "The point is, they were less
than truthful about the numbers. I became more and more aware, as discussions
with them progressed, they did not really know what they were doing. I was in
the Army when divisions were 40,000 or 50,000 men," he said. "Christ
almighty, the logistics involved in moving men around... I said at one point,
'I don't care if was a convention of 50,000 ministers," I would have felt
the same way."
In the cultural-political atmosphere of 1969, promoters Kornfeld and Lang knew
it was important to pitch Woodstock in a way that would appeal to their peer's
sense of independence. Lang wanted to call the festival an "Aquarian Exposition,"
capitalizing on the zodiacal reference from the musical "Hair". He
had an ornate poster designed, featuring the water-bearer.
By early April, the promoters were carefully cultivating the Woodstock image
in the underground press, in publications like the Village Voice and Rolling
Stone magazine. Ads began to run in The New York Times and The Times Herald-Record
in May. For Kornfeld, Woodstock wasn't a matter of building stages, signing
acts or even selling tickets. For him, the festival was always a state of mind,
a happening that would exemplify the generation. The event's publicity shrewdly
appropriated the counterculture's symbols and catch phrases. "The cool
PR image was intentional," he said.
The group settled on the concrete slogan of "Three Days of Peace and Music"
and downplayed the highly conceptual theme of Aquarius. The promoters figured
"peace" would link the anti-war sentiment to the rock concert. They
also wanted to avoid any violence and figured that a slogan with "peace"
in it would help keep order.
The Woodstock dove is really a catbird; originally, it perched on a flute. "I
was staying on Shelter Island off Long Island, and I was drawing catbirds all
the time," said artist Arnold Skolnick. "As soon as Ira Arnold (a
copywriter on the project) called with the copy-approved 'Three Days of Peace
and Music,' I just took the razor blade and cut that catbird out of the sketchpad
I was using. "First, it sat on a flute. I was listening to jazz at the
time, and I guess that's why. But anyway, it sat on a flute for a day, and I
finally ended up putting it on a guitar."
Melanie Safka had a song on the radio called "Beautiful People." An
extremely hip DJ named Roscoe on WNEW-FM played it. One day, Melanie ran into
a curly-haired music-business guy named Michael Lang, who was talking about
a festival he was producing. When Melanie asked if she could play there, Lang's
answer was a very laid-back, "Sure." "I thought it would be very
low key," recalled Melanie.
Woodstock Ventures was trying to book the biggest rock'n'roll bands in America,
but the rockers were reluctant to sign with an untested outfit that might be
unable to deliver. "To get the contracts, we had to have the credibility,
and to get the credibility, we had to have the contracts," Rosenman said.
Ventures solved the problem by promising paychecks unheard of in 1969. The big
breakthrough came with the signing of the top psychedelic band of the day, The
Jefferson Airplane, for the incredible sum of $12,000. The Airplane usually
took gigs for $5,000 to $6,000. Creedence Clearwater Revival signed for $11,500.
The Who then came in for $12,500. The rest of the acts started to fall in line.
In all, Ventures spent $180,000 on talent. "I made a decision that we needed
three major acts, and I told them I didn't care what it cost," Lang said.
"If they had been asking $5,000, I'd say, 'Pay 'em $10,000.' So we paid
the deposits, signed the contracts, and that was it: instant credibility."
In the spring of 1969, John Sebastian's career was on hold. From 1965 to 1967,
Sebastian's band, the Lovin' Spoonful, had cranked out hit after hit - "Do
You Believe in Magic," "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice," "Did
You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind," "(What a Day For a) Daydream"
and "Summer In The City." But in 1967, after the Lovin' Spoonful appeared
on "The Ed Sullivan Show", things began to go wrong. Two band members
were busted for pot possession and left the group. Their replacements never
quite fit in. In 1968, the group broke up, and Sebastian tried going solo. But
his performing career wasn't taking off. So, in the spring of 1969, Sebastian
headed west to do a little soul searching. He ended up at a California commune
where the hippies made money by making brightly colored shirts and jackets by
a process they called tie-dye.
The residents of Wallkill had heard of hippies, drugs and rock concerts, and
after the Woodstock advertising hit The New York Times, The Times Herald-Record
and the radio stations, local residents knew that a three-day rock show, maybe
the biggest ever, was coming. Besides, Woodstock Venture's employees sure looked
like hippies. In the minds of many people, long hair and shabby clothes were
associated with left-wing politics and drug use. The new ideas about re-ordering
society were threatening to many people. In Wallkill, those feelings were unleashed
upon Mills and his family. Residents would stop Mills at church to complain.
Ventures tried to head off some of the complaints by hiring Wes Pomeroy, a former
top assistant at the Justice Department, to head the security detail. A minister,
the Rev. Donald Ganoung, was put on the payroll to head up local relations.
Allan Markoff watched the two freaks walk into his store in late April or early
May. They were Lang and his buddy, Stan Goldstein. Goldstein, 35, had been one
of the organizers of the 1968 Miami Pop Festival. For Woodstock, he was coordinator
of campgrounds. "They wanted me to design a sound system for 50,000 or
so people," said Markoff, who owned the only stereo store in Middletown,
the Audio Center on North Street. "They said there could even be 100,000,
might even go to 150,000."
He thought Lang and Goldstein were nuts. "There had never been a concert
with 50,000; that was unbelievable," Markoff said. "Now, 100,000,
that was impossible. It's tantamount to doing a sound system for 30 million
people today." Markoff, then 24, was the only local resident listed in
the Audio Engineering Society Magazine. Lang and Goldstein had picked his name
out of the magazine; suddenly, Markoff was responsible for gathering sound gear
for the greatest show on earth. He remembers one characteristic of the sound
system. At the amplifier's lowest setting, the Woodstock speakers would cause
pain for anyone standing within 10 feet.
Markoff had doubts about the sanity of the venture until he saw the promoters'
office in a barn on the Mills' land. "That's when I saw all these people
on these phones, with a switchboard," Markoff said. "When I saw that,
I said, 'Hey, this could really happen.'"
Rosenman and Roberts couldn't entice any of the big movie studios into filming
their weekend upstate. So they got Michael Wadleigh. Before Woodstock, rock
documentation meant obscurity and few profits. A year before Woodstock, Monterey
Pop had fizzled at the box office, making movie execs skittish over the idea
of funding another rock film. During the summer of Woodstock, Wadleigh, 27,
was gaining a reputation as a solid cameraman and director of independent films.
Two years earlier, he had dropped out of Columbia University of Physicians and
Surgeons, where he was studying to be a neurologist. Since then, he'd spent
his time filming on the urban streets, the main battlefield for the cultural
skirmishes of the 1960s. He'd filmed Martin Luther King Jr. He'd filmed Bobby
Kennedy and George McGovern talking to middle Americans on the campaign trail
Wadleigh was experimenting with using rock'n'roll in his films as an adjunct
to the day's social and political themes. He was also working with multiple
images to make documentaries more entertaining than those featuring a bunch
of talking heads. And then the Woodstock boys came to his door. Their idea was
irresistible. The money was not. Wadleigh went for it anyway.
Goldstein went alone to his first town board meeting in Wallkill. "This
was before we knew we had problems," he said. "It was probably in
June. We had a full house. No more than 150 people. There were some accusations.
Someone made some references to the Chicago convention. That it was young people,
and this is the way the youth reacted, and that's what we could expect in our
community. (Wallkill Supervisor Jack) Schlosser said that Mayor Daley knew how
to handle that. Then I lost my temper. I said there was no need for the violence
and that (the police) reaction caused the violence. I said that Daley ran one
of the most corrupt political machines in history."
Schlosser, who attended the Chicago convention, didn't recall such a specific
exchange about Daley. He did remember the convention, however. "I saw these
people throw golf clubs with nails in them," he said of the Chicago protesters.
"I saw them throw excretion. The police, while I was there at least, showed
As the town meetings and the weeks wore on, the confrontation between Ventures
and the residents of Wallkill got worse. Woodstock's landlord, Howard Mills,
was getting anonymous phone calls. The police were called, but the culprits
never were identified, much less caught. "They threatened to blow up his
house," Goldstein said. "There were red faces and tempers flaring.
People driven by fear to very strange things. They raise their voices and say
stupid things they would never ordinarily say." To this day, Howard Mills
will not discuss how his neighbors turned against him in 1969. "I know
that it is a part of history, but I don't want to bother about it," Mills
Woodstock Ventures billed the concert as a "weekend in the country"
- temporary commune. The ads ran in the newspapers, both establishment and underground,
and on radio stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Texas
and Washington, D.C. A concert ticket also bought a campsite. But even a commune
requires some kind of organization. In late June, Goldstein called in the Hog
The Hog Farm started out as a communal pig farm in California; its members eventually
bought land next to a Hopi Indian reservation in New Mexico. Its leader was
a skinny, toothless hippie whose real name was Hugh Romney. He was a one-time
beatnick comic who had changed his name to Wavy Gravy and held the wiseguy title
of "Minister of Talk". "We brought in the Hog Farm to be our
crowd interface," Goldstein explained. "We needed a specific group
to be the exemplars for all to follow. We believed that the idea of sleeping
outdoors under the stars would be very attractive to many people, but we knew
damn well that the kind of people who were coming had never slept under the
stars in their lives. We had to create a circumstance where they were cared
The Wallkill Zoning Board of Appeals officially banned Woodstock on July 15,
1969. To the applause of residents, board members said that the organizer's
plans were incomplete. They also said outdoor toilets, such as those to be used
at the concert, were illegal in Wallkill. Two weeks earlier, the town board
had passed a law requiring a permit for any gathering of more than 5,000 people.
"The law they passed excluded one thing and one thing only - Woodstock,"
said Al Romm, then-editor of The Times Herald-Record, which editorialized against
the Wallkill law. Wallkill Supervisor Jack Schlosser denied that this was the
The Wallkill board may have done Woodstock Ventures a favor. Publicity about
what had happened reaped a bonanza of interest. Besides, if Woodstock had been
staged in Wallkill, Lang said, the vibes would either have squelched the show
or turned it into a riot. "I didn't want cops in gas masks showing up,
and that was the atmosphere there," Lang said. "With all the tensions
around it, it wouldn't have worked." Another Woodstock Ventures member,
Lee Blumer, remembered the threats made in town. "They said they were going
to shoot the first hippie that walked into town," said Blumer.
Kodak wanted cash, but the movie crew got no money upfront for film. So Wadleigh
pulled $50,000 out of savings, both from his personal account and an account
for his independent film business. During July, Wadleigh was out in Wyoming
filming a movie about mountain climbing. When promoters lost the Wallkill site,
Wadleigh cringed. "I had this feeling of absolute terror that it wasn't
going to come off," Wadleigh said. "That feeling that someone could
pull the plug out on us didn't go away until the music started."
Elliot Tiber read about Woodstock getting tossed out of Wallkill. Tiber's White
Lake resort, the El Monaco, had 80 rooms, nearly all of them empty, and keeping
it going was draining his savings. But for all of Tiber's troubles, he had one
thing that was very valuable to Woodstock Ventures. He had a Bethel town permit
to run a music festival. "I think it cost $12 or $8 or something like that,"
Tiber said."It was very vague. It just said I had permission to run an
arts and music festival. That's it." The permit was for the White Lake
Music and Arts Festival, a very, very small event that Tiber had dreamed up
to increase business at the hotel. "We had a chamber music quartet, and
I think we charged something like two bucks a day," he said. "There
were maybe 150 people up there."
Tiber called Ventures, not even knowing who to ask for. Lang got the message
and went out to White Lake the next day, which probably was July 18, to look
at the El Monaco. Tiber's festival site was 15 swampy acres behind the resort.
"Michael looked at that and said, 'This isn't big enough,'" Tiber
recalled. "I said, 'Why don't we go see my friend Max Yasgur? He's been
selling me milk and cheese for years. he's got a big farm out there in Bethel.'"
While Lang waited, Tiber telephoned Yasgur about renting the field for $50 a
day for a festival that might bring 5,000 people. "Max said to me, 'What's
this, Elliot? Another one of your festivals that doesn't work out?'" Tieber
Yasgur met Lang in the alfalfa field. This time, Lang liked the lay of the land.
"It was magic," Lang said. "It was perfect. The sloping bowl,
a little rise for the stage. A lake in the background. The deal was sealed right
there in the field. Max and I were walking on the rise above the bowl. When
we started to talk business, he was figuring on how much he was going to lose
in this crop and how much it was going to cost him to reseed the field. He was
a sharp guy, ol' Max, and he was figuring everything up with a pencil and paper.
He ws wetting the tip of his pencil with his tongue. I remember shaking his
hand, and that's the first time I noticed that he had only three fingers on
his right hand. But his grip was like iron. He's cleared that land himself."
Yasgur was known across Sullivan County as a strong-willed man of his word.
He'd gone to New York University and studied real estate law, but moved back
to his family's dairy farm in the '40s. A few years later, Yasgur sold the family
farm in Maplewood and moved to Bethel to expand. Throughout the '50s and '60s,
Yasgur slowly built a dairy herd. By the time the pipe-smoking Yasgur was approached
by Woodstock Ventures, he was the biggest milk producer in Sullivan County,
and the Yasgur farm had delivery routes, a massive refrigeration complex and
a pasteurization plant. The 600 acres that Ventures sought were only part of
the Yasgur property, which extended along both sides of Route 17B in Bethel.
Within days after meeting Yasgur, Lang brought the rest of the Ventures crew
up in eight limousines; by then, Yasgur was wise to Woodstock, and the price
had gone up considerably. Woodstock Ventures kept all the negotiations secret,
lest it repeat what had happened in Wallkill. At some point during the talks,
Tiber and Lang went to dinner at the Lighthouse Restaurant, and Italian place
just down Route 17B from El Monaco in White Lake. That's where the news leaked
out. "While we were paying the check, the radio was on in the bar. The
radio station out there, WVOS, announced that the festival was going to White
Lake," Tiber said. "The waiters or the waitresses must have called
the radio station. We were just in shock. The bar was now empty. Michael just
had a blank look. We all went into shock." On July 20, 1969, the world
was talking about the first man to walk on the moon. But conversation in Bethel
centered on this "Woodstock hippie festival." "I was used to
fights, but I wasn't ready for this one," Tiber said.
The Woodstock partners have since admitted that they were engaged in creative
deception. They told Bethel officials that they were expecting 50,000 people,
tops. All along they knew that Woodstock would draw far, far more. "I was
pretty manipulative," Lang said. "The figure at Wallkill was 50,000,
and we just stuck with it. I was planning on a quarter-million people, but we
didn't want to scare anyone."
Ken Kesey's farm in Oregon was overrun with hippie acolytes. Kesey lived in
Pleasant Hill, which became home base for his Merry Pranksters, the creators
of the original Acid Tests in San Francisco. Kesey had bought the farm with
the earnings from his two bestsellers, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
(1962) and "Sometimes a Great Notion" (1964). The fashion of the day
was to share and share alike. But the horde was starting to bother even a founder
of the counterculture.
As the Apollo 11 astronauts were strolling the Sea of Tranquility on July 20,
the Pranksters were hearing from Wavy Gravy, whom they knew from the Acid Tests.
The Hog Farmers said they were getting $1,700 to gather as many people together
as possible and get them to Bethel. "Kesey was glad to get rid of everybody,"
said Ken Babbs, then 33 and the leader of the Pranksters' Woodstock squad. Babbs
packed 40 hippies into five school buses. One was "The Bus" - the
one later made famous by author Tom Wolfe in "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid
Test." The Bus had a custom, psychedelic paint job and a Plexiglas bubble
on top, and it was packed with sound gear. Its destination sign read: "Further."
"While Neil Armstrong was taking a giant leap for mankind, we were starting
to take a giant leap for Woodstock," Babbs said.
Max Yasgur had two concerns. "He thought a grave injustice had been done
in Wallkill. And he wanted to make sure that he got the $75,000 before some
other dairy farmer did," Rosenman said. "They were in no particular
order. I'm not sure which was more important to him. Having said that, I'll
say this about Max: He never hit us up for another dime after we paid him. I
remember that every time we went over there, Max would hand you one of those
little cartons of chocolate milk. Every time. We ended up with all these cartons
of milk around the office."
Contracts for the use of land surrounding Yasgur's parcel ended up costing Ventures
another $25,000. "We could have bought the land for what we rented it for,"
Lang said. Meanwhile, hand-lettered signs were being put up in the town of Bethel.
They read: "Buy No Milk. Stop Max's Hippy Music Festival."
Lang had set a $15,000 ceiling for any act. But the hottest act in the country
- guitarist Jimi Hendrix - wanted more. Hendrix had gotten a one-time fee of
$150,000 for a concert earlier that summer in California. His manager was demanding
that much to play Woodstock. But by July, Lang had some leverage too. He didn't
need Hendrix to make the biggest concert of the year. If Hendrix wanted to come,
he'd be welcome. "We paid Jimi Hendrix $32,000. He was the headliner, and
that's what he wanted," Rosenman said. Then Ventures lied about the terms.
"We told everyone that was because he was playing two sets at $16,000 each.
We had to do that, or the Airplane would want more than $12,000." Lang
set the bill so that folk acts like Joan Baez would play on Friday, the opening
day. Rock'n'roll was saved for Saturday and Sunday. But Hendrix's one-and-only
set was always to be the finale. His contract said no act could follow him.
Motel owner Tiber's new job was to be the local liaison for Woodstock Ventures
in Bethel. He was paid $5,000 for a couple of month's work. Tiber was earning
his money too. "The town meetings never drew more than flies before,"
Tiber said. "But then they were standing-room-only, maybe 300 people. Maybe
it was that Michael was barefooted. He came off the helicopter with no shoes.
I'd never experienced anything like that before, but that was the way he was.
That was fine with me, but I think they didn't like it."
Bethel residents had read about the worries in Wallkill: drugs, traffic, sewage
and water. Public fury mounted once more. A prominent Bethel resident approached
Lang. He said he could grease the wheels of power and make sure Lang got the
approvals he needed. All the fixer wanted was $10,000. Woodstock Ventures got
the cash and put it in a paper bag. Lang won't name the man who solicited the
bribe. But ultimately Woodstock Ventures would not pay off. "We were very
concerned with karma," Lang said. "We thought that if we did pay someone
off, that would be wrong and we would change the way things came out."
The suggestion of a payoff galvanized Yasgur's support, Lang said. "At
that point, he really became an ally, not just a spectator."
But there may have been a payoff, anyway. Rosenman wrote in a 1974 book that
he issued a $2,500 check to a man who was demanding $10,000 to arrange local
backing. Years later, Rosenman said some of the events in the book were hyped
for dramatic tension. "And I honestly can't remember whether I wrote the
check or not," Rosenman said.
At least one of Woodstock's opponents also was approached to fix the deal. George
Neuhaus was one of the old-style, old boy politicians in Bethel, in and out
of the town supervisor's post for years. He thought Woodstock was being jammed
down the throats of local people who didn't want it. That July, Neuhaus was
approached by a man who wanted him to be a guide through the local political
maze. Neuhaus wanted none of it. Like Lang, Neuhaus wouldn't identify the man,
but both indicate it was the same individual. "It wasn't, per se, money,
but he wanted to know if I could get the thing off the ground," Neuhaus
recalled. "I was sitting on my porch. I threw him the hell off my property.
I wouldn't have anything to do with it."
Bob Dylan was the only one of Lang's rock'n'roll heroes who hadn't signed a
contract. The promoters had borrowed some of Dylan's mystique by naming their
concert after his adopted home town, which was only 70 miles from Bethel. Dylan's
backup group, The Band, was already signed. Lang figured that Dylan's appearance
was a natural. So he made the pilgrimage to Dylan's Ulster County hideaway.
"I went to see Bob Dylan about three weeks before the festival," Lang
said. "I went with Bob Dacey, a friend of Dylan's, and we met in his house
for a couple of hours. I told him what we were doing and told him, 'We'd love
to have you there.' But he didn't come. I don't know why."
In late July, Woodstock Ventures obtained permit approvals from Bethel Town
Attorney Frederick W.V. Schadt and building inspector Donald Clark. But, under
orders from the town board, Clark never issued them. The board ordered Clark
to post stop-work orders; the promoters tore the signs down with Clark's tacit
approval. He felt he was being made the fall guy for the town. Schadt said that
Woodstock's momentum was accelerating like a runaway train. "At that time,
it had progressed so far, any kind of order to stop it would have just resulted
in chaos," he said. "Here you have thousands of people descending
on the community. How in the world do you stop them?"
Ken Van Loan, the president of the Bethel Business Association, wasn't worried.
He'd decided this festival could be a great boost for the depressed economy
of the Catskills. "We talked to the county about promoting this thing,"
said Can Loan, who owned Ken's Garage in Kauneonga lake. "We told 'em it
would be the biggest thing that ever came to the county."
As July became August, Vassmer's General Store in Kauneonga Lake was doing a
great business in kegs of nails and cold cuts. The buyers were longhaired construction
guys who were carving Yasgur's pasture into an amphitheater. "They told
me, 'Mr. Vassmer, you ain't seen nothing yet,' and by golly, they were right,"
said Art Vassmer, the owner.
Abe Wagner knew that little Bethel, with a population of 3,900 souls, wasn't
set to handle the coming flood of humanity. Two weeks before the festival, Wagner,
61, heard that Woodstock Ventures had already sold 180,000 tickets. Wagner,
who owned a plumbing company and lived in Kauneonga lake, was one of approximately
800 Bethel residents who signed a petition to stop the festival. "The people
of Bethel were afraid of the influx of people on our small roads, afraid of
the element of people who read the advertisements in the magazines that said,
'Come to Woodstock and do whatever you want to do because nobody will bother
you,'" Wagner said.
By August, Elliot Tiber was getting anonymous phone calls. "They'd say
that it'll never happen, that we will break your legs," Tiber said. "There
was terrible name-calling. It was anti-Semitic and anti-hippies. It was dirty
A week before the festival, Yasgur's farm didn't look much like a concert site.
"It was like they were building a house, except there was a helicopter
pad," Vassmer said. Vassmer had heard the nervous talk among his regular
customers, especially when they heard the radio ads. "'I don't know about
this,' they'd say," Vassmer recalled. "They'd say, 'Boy, when this
thing comes, we're gonna be sorry.'" That same week, a group of outraged
residents filed a lawsuit. It was settled within a few days; the promoters promised
to add more portable toilets. "There was a lot of intrigue," Lang
said. "I don't remember it all."
Those 800 petitioners weren't too happy with Bethel Supervisor Daniel J. Amatucci.
"He didn't inform us about all the people until a week before the festival,"
Wagner remembered. "He turned around and threw it in the wastebasket without
even looking at it." Wagner protester. Amatucci read it. Then he told Wagner
it was too late.
Michael Lang gunned a shiny BSA motorcycle across a field of grass. He wore
a leather vest on his shirtless back, and a fringed purse hung at his hip. A
lit cigarette hung out of his mouth as he popped down the kickstand. It was
early August 1969, and Lang commanded an army of workers throwing together the
rock concert. A filmmaker came by to ask Lang some questions, freezing Lang,
his motorcycle and his attitude forever in a movie moment that captures the
careless bravado of youth. "Where are you gonna go from here?" the
interviewer asked. "Are you gonna do another?" "If it works,"
Ventures decided to try to win over the residents in Bethel. It sent out the
Earthlight Theater to entertain local groups. It booked a rock band called Quill
to do free performances. But Earthlight, an 18-member troupe, didn't do Shakespeare
or Rodgers and Hammerstein. They did a musical comedy called "Sex. Y'all
Come." They also stripped naked. Frequently.
On August 7, Ventures staged a pre-festival festival on a stage that was still
under construction. Quill opened the show, and Bethel residents sat on the grass,
expecting theater. Instead, the Earthlight Theater stripped and screamed obscenities
at the shocked crowd. "They went from being suspicious to being convinced,"
Wavy Gravy rounded up 85 Hog Farmers and 15 Hopis. He donned a Smokey-the-Bear
suit and armed himself with a bottle of seltzer and a rubber shovel. Then he
and the barefooted, long haired Hog Farmers flew into John F. Kennedy International
Airport. "We're the hippie police," Gravy announced as he and his
entourage stepped off the plane on Monday, Aug. 11.
The opposition plotted a last-minute strategy to stop the show: a human barricade
across Route 17B on the day before the concert. Tiber heard about the plan on
Monday. "So, I go on national radio and said that they were trying to stop
the show," he said. "I didn't sleep well. About two o'clock in the
morning, I wake up and I hear horns and guitars. This is on Tuesday morning.
I look out, and there are five lanes of headlights all the way back. They'd
started coming already."
Kornfeld made Warner Brothers an offer it couldn't refuse. It was Wednesday,
two days before showtime. Ventures had to make a movie deal... now. All Kornfeld
wanted was $100,000 to pay for film. The concert would take care of the acting,
the lighting, the dialogue and the plot. "Michael Wadleigh was up there
(at the site) waiting with (Martin) Scorsese," Kornfeld said. "All
they needed was money for film. The contract was handwritten and signed by myself
and Ted Ashley (of Warner Brothers). I told them, 'Hey, guys, there are going
to be hundreds of thousands of people out there. It's a crap shoot: spend $100,000
and you might make millions. If it turns out to be a riot, then you'll have
one of the best documentaries ever made.'"
Wadleigh rounded up a crew of about 100 from the New York Film scene, including
Scorsese. Wadleigh couldn't pay them until much later, but he could get them
inside the event of the summer. The crew signed on a double-or-nothing basis.
If the film made it, they'd get twice regular pay. If the film bombed, they'd
lose. The crew got to Woodstock a few days before, driving up in Volkswagen
Beetles and beat-up cars. Wadleigh's plot ran like this: Woodstock would be
a modern-day Canterbury Tale, a pilgrimage back to the land. He wanted the film
to be as much about the hippies who trekked to Woodstock as about the music
on stage. He wanted the stories of the young people, their feelings about the
Viet Nam War, about the times. The stories of the townspeople. These would make
the film, not just the music.
Eight miles away, Timer Herald-Record harness racing John Szefc was working
on a feature story at the Monticello Raceway. Then he caught a glimpse of the
traffic out on Route 17B. It was 11am, more than 24 hours before the concert,
and traffic was already backed up all the way down Route 17B to Route 17 - a
distance of 10 miles. "That's when I knew this was going to be big. Really
significant," he said. Szefc's story that night was about the effect of
the concert on the racetrack. Some bettors fought the traffic on Route 17B and
managed to get to the windows. But the handle was down $60,000 from a typical
weekend night in August.
By the afternoon of Thursday, August 14, Woodstock was an idyllic commune of
25,000 people. The Hog Farmers had built kitchens and shelters with two-by-fours
and tarps. Their kids were swinging on a set of monkey bars built of lumber
and tree limbs, jumping into a pile of hay at the bottom. Wavy Gravy recruited
"responsible-looking" people and made them security guards. He handed
out armbands and the secret password, which was "I forget." Down the
slope, stands were ready to sell counterculture souvenirs: hand-woven belts,
drug paraphernalia and headbands. Christmas tree lights were strung in the trees.
Sawdust was strewn along the paths. Over the hill, carpenters were still banging
nails into the main stage. The Pranksters and the Hog Farmers had built heir
own alternative stage.
Prankster leader Babbs acted as emcee, opening the stage to anyone who wanted
to jam. The sound system was a space amplifier borrowed from the Grateful Dead.
"Over the hill and into the woods we went," Babbs said. "We had
the free school for the kids, the Free Kitchen and so, the Free Stage.
The Festival. Day One.
The sticky-sweet smell of burning marijuana wafted into the open windows of
the house in Bethel late Thursday night. The chirp and buzz of the insects suddenly
gave way to the shuffle of sandaled feet. "It sounded like a parade,"
said the man who lived there. The young Bethel couple lived a quarter-mile from
Yasgur's field. The wife, 22, was pregnant with the couple's second child, and
the husband, 27, a salesman, had an important business meeting in Albany on
Friday morning. But the couple wasn't budging from Bethel. When they awoke on
the first of three days of peace and music, they looked out front. "Nothin'
but cars and people. Saw a trooper. Ten kids were on the hood of his car,"
the husband said. They looked out back. "People were camping all over the
yard," he added.
Producer Lang woke up Friday morning to find that something was missing....
the ticket booths. Others had known for days, but Lang said that Friday morning
was his first inkling that Woodstock would never collect a single dollar at
the gate. "Tickets were being handled over in (Roberts') office,"
Lang said. "I just assumed that they were handling the booths, but they
were never put in place." Van Loan, the cigar-smoking owner of Ken's Garage,
had been hired two days before the festival to tow about two dozen ticket booths
into position. "All we ever got to move was two or three," Van Loan
recalled. "Each one we moved took longer and longer. There were too many
people and cars and abandoned (vacant) tents blocking the way."
Abbie Hoffman was the head of the Yippies - the Youth International Party,
the irreverent left-wing organization founded by Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Paul
Krassner and Woodstock's Ed Sanders. Hoffman convinced the festival's producers
to donate $10,000 to the Yippies - mainly by threatening to disrupt the proceedings.
The political pranksters wanted the money to fund various community projects,
including New York City storefronts they rented to shelter runaways and defense
funds they established for the "politically oppressed."
Along with the Hog Farmers and other left-leaning groups, the Yippies set up
"Movement City," their festival-within-a-festival, about a quarter-mile
from the stage. Days before the festival, Hoffman and his lieutenant, Krassner,
mimeographed thousands of flyers urging festival-goers not to pay. Of course,
that issue became moot as soon as the fence went down. Krassner would later
say that all attempts to politicize the three days of peace and love had evaporated.
Krassner also recalled bringing a brand new white-fringed leather jacket to
Woodstock. It was stolen from the Movement City tent.
Three school buses rolled up to Yasgur's farm late Friday morning and parked
near Ventures headquarters, by the playground and the Freak-Out Tent on West
Shore Road. Inside were more than 100 New York City police officers hand-picked
by concert management for their street smarts and relaxed attitudes. In the
days before the concert, the city police department had told its members that
it would not sanction Woodstock work. The cops had been promised $50 a day.
But when the officers arrived in Bethel, a more stringent warning awaited them.
"The message was something to the effect of, 'If you participate in this,
you may be subject to departmental censure,'" Feldman said. "So they
stretched their legs, got back in the bus and went back to New York City."
Many stayed to work under assumed names. But they demanded that Woodstock Ventures
increase their pay to $90 a day. Ventures paid it. "We had eight to nine
guys on the payroll as Mickey Mouse and names like this," said Arthur Schubert,
a waiter at the Concord Hotel and one of the directors of the security force.
Melanie Safka was supposed to sing, so she and her mother got in her mom's 1968
burgundy Pontiac Bonneville and headed upstate. When they turned onto Route
17, they noticed lots of traffic. When Melanie called the festival's producers,
they said, yes, the traffic was headed for Bethel, which was getting crowded,
so she'd better get to a hotel where they would take her by helicopter to the
festival site. At that hotel, the name and location of which Melanie doesn't
remember, she saw a slew of TV cameras focusing on Janis Joplin and her bottle
of Southern Comfort. "And me?" says Melanie. "I was just a fleckling."
State police investigator Fred W. Cannock, 34, was supposed to direct traffic
at the intersection of Route 55 and Route 17B in White Lake. But parked cars
didn't need much direction. "I just stood there and watched the fiasco,"
Cannock said. "Route 17B was jammed for roughly 9 miles, all the way back
to Monticello and beyond."
Woodstock organizers blamed state police for the monstrous traffic jam. The
troopers had refused to enact the festival's traffic plan. "I know the
way cops think, and I think they figured that if they had done that, they would
acquire responsibility for whatever might happen," Goldstein said. "Of
course, they were not necessarily in favor of these kinds of events, and they
wanted it to turn to (chaos). They wanted it to be a disaster."
Woodstock organizers had meant for cars to pull off the highway and be directed
by the NYPD cops to parking in fields off Route 17B. On Tuesday, Goldstein had
pleaded for the state police to help, at least by starting the procedure. The
state police brass added additional troopers to direct traffic. Local civil
defense officials refused to plan for a disaster; their office was closed Friday
afternoon as the traffic rolled in. So the traffic backed up for miles while
the police looked on. "Suddenly, we were in a logistic nightmare,"
Goldstein said. That didn't mean that individual officers didn't have sympathy
for the floundering festival-goers.
"I thought they were hippie scum - but you couldn't help but really feel
sorry for the kids," Cannock said. "They got sucked into this carte
blanche. Nobody said anything about reservations, tickets. They just came. You
couldn't believe it. Advance sales paid, nobody else paid a nickel. They paid
with pain, hunger and exposure, or whatever."
Wadleigh bought out rooms in a local motel, the Silver Spur, for the film crew
and equipment. The crew naturally nicknamed the place "the Silver Sperm."
Then the crowds came. They left cars in the middle of the road. The crew and
their cameras were stuck. They ended up sleeping in the field, under the stage,
Woodstock's security force was briefed late that morning by none other than
Babbs, the Prankster leader. Babbs was one of the more experienced acid trippers.
"I guess they had me do it because I was in the Marines," Babbs said.
"I told them that if someone was hassling someone else, then they should
help the person who was in trouble. Keep an eye out for people who need help.
Other than that, it was nobody else's business what they did. "They asked
about drugs, and I told them not to worry about it. I said, 'There are going
to be so many drugs around, you're not going to be able to keep track of any
At about noon, Babbs and Wavy Gravy watched as a dozen guys in orange jackets
started walking up the rise. They carried change boxes and were nearing the
fence border. "They said, 'We're the ticket-takers, and now we want everyone
to walk out and come back in,'" Babbs said. "I said, 'Man, you gotta
be kidding me. There are 200,000 people in there. So the head security guy says
to me, 'There's no way we're going to be able to get these tickets. What do
you want to do?' They had, like, a double-wide section of fence that was open
for the gate. So Wavy and I said the only thing to do is take down the fence.
So, we - Wavy and I - unrolled the fence about 100 feet, and the people all
came pouring in."
Schubert said his security forces had no choice. "How can you to tell 200,000
to 400,000 people, 'Go home, it's over?" he said. "It would have been
the riot of the century." But the crowd closer to the stage couldn't see
the impromptu ceremony of taking down the gate. From there, it looked like the
mob was taking over. "My most vivid memory was that there was this chain-link,
Cyclone fence that went all the way around," said Bert Feldman, who was
working security on the hill near the Hog Farm base. "I had the uncanny
feeling that there were 500 million people there. Suddenly, the fence was no
more. Trampled into the mud. It disappeared like magic." Lang said he never
exactly decided Woodstock would become a free show. But he did decide to make
the announcement. "It was kind of like stating the obvious," he said.
Complaints were coming in to Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in Albany. Rosenman and
Roberts hinted that a declaration of a disaster area in Bethel might be welcomed,
to ease the crowd's suffering and because it would limit the company's liability
in lawsuits. But the other partners feared a disaster declaration could bring
in the National Guard and the possibility of an armed confrontation. Extra cops,
including 20 Rockland County deputies mounted on horseback, had already been
brought in. But the governor did not consider Woodstock an act of God. He made
no declaration. "We'll play it by ear," the governor's spokesman told
United Press International.
Sullivan County residents heard that the kids up there in Bethel didn't have
enough food. By Friday afternoon, members of the Monticello Jewish Community
Center were making sandwiches with 200 loaves of bread, 40 pounds of cold cuts
and two gallons of pickles. Woodstock Ventures estimated that it needed donations
of 750,000 sandwiches. Food was being airlifted in from as far away as Newburgh's
Stewart Air Force Base.
Day One of Woodstock was supposed to be the day for the folkies. Joan Baez was
the headliner, preceded by a bill that included Tim Hardin, Arlo Guthrie, Sweetwater,
the Incredible String Band, Ravi Shankar, Bert Sommer and Melanie. One rock
act, Sly and the Family Stone was added for a little taste of the rock'n'roll
of the weekend. The scheduled starting time was 4pm. The performers were spread
around in Holiday Inns or Howard Johnsons miles from the site. Because of the
traffic jam, the promoters were frantically contracting for helicopters to shuttle
in the performers and supplies. But the helicopters were late. A four-seater
finally arrived after 4pm; it could handle only single acts. Lang had two choices:
Hardin, who was drifting around backstage stoned, or Richie Havens, who looked
ready. "It was, 'Who could get setup the quickest?'" Lang said. "And
I went with Richie Havens." Three days of music started at 5:07pm Eastern
Daylight Time on August 15, 1969.
Every time Richie Havens tried to quit playing, he had to keep on. The other
acts hadn't arrived. Finally, after Havens had played for nearly three hours
- improvising his last song "Freedom" - a large U.S. Army helicopter
landed with musical reinforcements. An Army helicopter? "Yes," said
Havens. "It was the only helicopter available. If it wasn't for the U.S.
Army, Woodstock might not have happened." The U.S. Army saved the day for
a crowd that was, for the most part, anti-war? "We were never anti-soldier,"
said Havens. "We were just against the war."
Cash in hand, Art Vassmer floated in his boat across White Lake to the Sullivan
County National Bank. He was the only bank customer that day. Vassmer feared
robbers would take all the money the store was raking in from the sale of beer,
soda, and peanut butter and jelly. But Vassmer's worries were groundless. "The
Hog Farmers kept the peace," he said. "They were dirty, but they were
nice. A few were happy on drugs, but hell, that was nothing." Vassmer raised
only one price in his whole store. Beer was $2 a six-pack instead of $1.95.
"Got tired of making change," said Vassmer, who even cashed a couple
dozen checks for some kids who ran out of money. Not one bounced.
While the helicopters whirled to Yasgur's farm, Melanie sat in the motel lobby
talking to her mom. When it was her turn to fly, her mother wasn't allowed with
her - even though Melanie argued, "But she's my mom." Mrs. Safka drove
back to New Jersey. Melanie flew to Bethel.
Bert Feldman, the town historian, was suddenly Woodstock's censor. His job was
to keep frontal nudity from appearing on national television. he stood between
the swimming hole and the television cameras, reminding folks to cover up. Afternoon
temperatures were in the mid-80s. "They had to have one or two garments
on, depending on sex," Feldman said. "Lemme tell you, after five minutes,
it was work. You never saw a fight in there. You could argue, of course, that
it was because everyone was stoned."
Other acts still weren't ready. Stage organizers knew they had to kill time.
The Woodstock Nation might get restless if the music stopped. Emcee Chip Monck
grabbed Country Joe McDonald, strapped an acoustic guitar on him and thrust
him on stage. McDonald's short set included the unprintable and improvised "Fish
Cheer" and "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag". After Country
Joe, Monck spotted John Sebastian, the former lead singer and guitarist for
the Lovin' Spoonful. Sebastian, clad in wild tie-dye, was tripping on some unidentified
substance. He hadn't even been invited to perform at the festival. He recalls
he was "too whacked to say no." Sebastian's stage rap was nearly a
parody of hippie conversation, mostly because of his psychedelic state. But
the crowd roared with approval. "Just love everybody around ya' and clean
up a little garbage on your way out," Sebastian told the crowd.
Melanie Safka was such a nobody that she didn't even have a performer's pass.
So when it was time for her to go on, she had to prove who she was by showing
her driver's license and singing "Beautiful People." She was led backstage
to her "dressing room," which was actually a tepee-sized tent. When
she realized that she would be playing for a crowd about the size of Boston,
she got so scared that she developed a nervous cough that "sounded like
a chain saw." It was so loud that someone in the next tent sent her a cup
of soothing tea. That neighbor was Joan Baez.
The film crew didn't have even close to enough film to shoot all the rock performances
at Woodstock. So Wadleigh tried to make up for it by getting performers' song
lists and the order in which they were going to sing them. Wadleigh wanted to
film the anti-war songs, the songs that talked about the rifts in society and
overlook the love songs. But musicians were getting stoned backstage. By the
time they got on stage, they broke with song orders and played whatever came
to them. Here's why the cameras never recorded the first two letters of the
"Fish Cheer." Wadleigh was manning the onstage front and center camera.
When Country Joe McDonald came out yelling "Gimme an F," revving the
crowd with anti-Vietnam cheers, Wadleigh was loading his camera and fixing a
minor jam. "I was just scrambling like crazy to get my camera in some kind
of working order," Wadleigh said. "That's why you don't see him for
the first two minutes or so in the film. You just hear him. I got him on camera
eventually. Someone should give him an award for that song. That is one of the
greatest war songs there is."
Havens flew back to Liberty on the chopper. Then he hopped into his car and
drove back to Newark International Airport, where he caught a plane for another
show in Michigan the next night. Havens says the car ride to New Jersey was
almost as incredible as the helicopter trip to the festival. "I was the
only person on the New York Thruway going south," Havens said.
Of all the acts on Friday night, Woodstock's producers were worried only about
Sly and the Family Stone. The rocking soul band had a tendency to fire up small
crowds, inviting people to rush the stage. With a couple hundred thousand people,
Sly and his band could ignite a riot. So Kornfeld cleared the pit in front of
the stage to give security a fighting chance. Then he and his wife, Linda, climbed
down, all alone into the vast chasm between the musicians on stage and Woodstock's
horde. "He was singing, 'I want to take you high-er!' and everyone lit
up. All those lights in the crowd, thousands of them," Kornfeld said. "We
were right between Sly and the crowd.
The sprinkles began around midnight as sitarist Ravi Shankar was playing. Bert
Sommer's angelic voice won him a standing ovation. By the time Joan Baez finished
"We Shall Overcome," a warm thunderstorm was pounding Yasgur's farm.
In the space of about three hours, five inches of rain fell.
The ration ticket read "Food for Love." But 25 year old Georgie Sievers
of Toronto, who had been visiting family in Port Jervis, paid a price anyway.
"We waited for an hour, and we got a cold hot dog on a hamburger bun,"
she recalled. Food for Love was the original food concession for those inside
the festival. Campgrounds coordinator Goldstein had set up two food operations:
Food for Love, for those who had tickets, and the Free Kitchen for those outside
the festival fence. Food for Love was plagued by a lack of organization from
the outset. The voucher system was cumbersome, and the young food workers started
giving away hot dogs and hamburgers in the spirit of the event. In addition,
the massive traffic jam had blocked deliveries.
A Food for Love truck was stuck in the traffic in front of Abe Wagner's house,
about five miles northeast of the festival site. Then the truck was raided.
"One of the kids got in, and then they started throwing the food out all
over the road, the bread, the hot dogs," Wagner said. Later, when hungry
customers overran the booths, Food for Love disintegrated. "It started
to rain, and it got ugly," said Helen Graham, who at 41 was one of the
senior employees of Food for Love. "It was 2am, and I yelled, 'Joan Baez
is on. Joan Baez is on.' I wanted to get the teen-agers away from the stand.
They just wanted to stare at me. Mrs. Graham found herself trapped on Yasgur's
farm because her car was blocked in. She wanted out of the Woodstock Nation.
"It wasn't my type of culture. It wasn't my type of upbringing. It wasn't
my type of experience." she said. "I kind of blotted it out from my
head. It was a frightening experience. I didn't see the love and the peace.
I saw an overwhelming crowd, and I didn't understand what was going on."
The stream behind Gery Krewson's tent was rising. The music stopped, and the
group bailed out at 3am to dig a trench. "The water was just running down
in torrents," he said. W