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The Woodstock Festival

The Woodstock Festival was one of the greatest music festivals in the 60s which was an acquarian exposition three days of peace and music held in the town of Bethel, New York. This event is what is described to have shaped the future of rock and roll as well as being a pivotal moment in the history of music.

This event took place courtesy of the efforts put by Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, and Artie Kornfeld. Initially, these entire individual had different contributions to the Woodstock festival. Michael Lang was a successful promoter who had previously organized the Miami Pop Festival which recorded an attendance of 100,000 people. Rosenman and Roberts on the other hand provided financial incentives to the Woodstock festival. The initial idea was to build a recording studio and a retreat for the rock artists in Woodstock but this idea unprecedentedly changed into a two day rock concert. This was in the overall aim that the money raised from the concert would go ahead and help establish a studio. The first location for the vent was an industrial park at Wallkill New York. The event’s preparations included the printing of tickets which were $7 for one day and $13 for two days as well as organizing food, security and signing of the performers of the concert.

The first real challenge regarding the Woodstock Festival was the location. “This was basically from the fact that the residents of Watkill did not want a bunch of hippies descending on their town in the name of attending a famed concert” (WoodstockArts 43). This was followed by a law passed in Wallkill banning the festival form being held in the town. What followed was an outright panic form the organizers and promoters of the event with the stores contracted to sell tickets refusing to sell more tickets whereas the negotiations with the musicians became even rockier. The festival got a major boost when Max Yasgur offered up his 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel to be used for the festival only a month and a half away form the official date for the commencement of the festival. Going by the fact that time was not on their side, the organizers of the festival sprung into action in trying to put everything in place before the beginning of the festival.

In the course of the preparations, more problems arose. It appeared that the initial estimates of the attendees were somehow low. The projected estimate for attendance now rose to 200,000. Despite all these challenges, August the 15th witnessed one of the greatest festivals in the history of music. There were arrivals from as early as two days before the events as witnessed form the 50,000 people camping near the venue two days earlier before the event. In overall, this great event ended up becoming a free event as there was no way to get the 50,000 people from leaving the venue. The organizers also had a real challenge of erecting up gates to prevent people more from accessing the venue. The declaration that this was a free event led to two significant effects in that the organizers would undoubtedly loose huge amounts of money. On the other hand, the news that the Woodstock Festival was a free event spread and it is estimated that over half a million people made their way to the concert.

No-one had actually planned for half a million [people attending the concert. The highways became parking lots with people abandoning their cars at the middle of the road and making their way to the concert. This situation was so bad that even the performers at the concert had to be airlifted from their hotels. On Friday the 15th, Richie Havens was the first performer at the grand opening of the Woodstock Festival. Other performers on the same day included Sweetwater, Joan Baez. “The following day saw the performances by Santana, Janis Joplin and Grateful Dead bands just to name a few” (Lang 56). On Sunday, it was evident that the music concert was winding up and a lot of people left on this day. The last performance at the Woodstock Festival recorded an attendance of 25,000 people with already most of the people having left by then. At the end of this festival, the organizers of this event could concentrated on the huge financial loss they incurred form the festival disregarding the fact that they had created one of the most popular event in the history of music.

According to Lang, Hippie is a term that has not diminished in popularity or as a subculture to this day (117). The youth in the early 60’s came together and formed one of the greatest subcultures that shared similar ideals and practices. The main basis behind the Woodstock Festival was with an overall aim of preaching peace and tranquility through music. This is believed to be the core formation of the hippie culture that has in it positive and negative aspects associated with the culture. In a political context, there was a peace symbol that was initially created in the US in an attempt to pressurize the government in nuclear disarmament. In the early 60s, hippies were commonly non-violent demonstrators and achieved their objectives through industrial action or civil rights marches. The Hippies were very vocal particularly in the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations where they burned draft cards and the famed 1968 Democratic National Convention protests where they hoped to pressurize the US government to conclude its Vietnam War.

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Over the years, there emerged an even more vocal group of the Hippies known as the Yippies. According to some analysts, the Yippies were considered the political subgroup of the Hippies going by the fact that t5he Hippies had not yet been considered politically oriented. The Woodstock Festival was seen by many as a victory of peace and love in the sense that the half and million people attending the festival could have engaged in other activities such as rioting and looting but instead spend three days with music and love as well as peace of mind. This implies that if everyone was to join this people, then the society would have been better and brighter and disasters and catastrophes arising form large crowds and masses could be avoided. This is a practical example of how this peace concert exhibited the possibility of peace and love as opposed to violence particularly in the US war against Vietnam in the nuclear disarmament program.

The movement that opposed the Vietnam war had began a few years earlier before the concert specifically 1964 and this movement went on to grow in strength in the following years. Prior to the concert, there were a series of demonstrations as well as human rights marches from as early as 1964 with the demonstrators mainly being students as well as the more established hippies. The reasons to the opposition in the Vietnam war was that the whole idea was against individual rights a situation made worse by the media portrayal of the devastating state of the Southeast Asia. First, the US was accused of having imperialistic motives in Vietnam with the anti-war protesters arguing that the war was very immoral as it led to civilian’s deaths. Lang in his book says that these deaths were found to have been earlier omitted by the western media and the real situation became apparent when photographic evidence of casualties emerged (77)

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During later years, music became a channel for popular musicians to try and advocate for the anti-Vietnam war. Most of these musicians were present at the Woodstock Festival with the acceptability of such music becoming very adoptive in the US. “These musicians included Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Roger Hannay, Lou Harrison, Gail Kubik, William Mayer, Elie Siegmeister, Robert Fink, David Noon, Richard Wernick, and John Downey” (WoodstockArts 116). In most cases, protesters were being arrested due to their participation in demonstrations and some of the popular musicians at times could be part of the demonstrations. There was even a popular concert prior to the Woodstock Festival held in 1968 in New York known as the “Composers and Musicians for Peace”.

One of the key figures in the protest was Jimi Hendrix. Despite the fact that Hendrix was a former soldier who sympathized with anti-communist views, his song “Machine Gun,” was a clear indication of his protest for the war. This in overall implies that the forces of rock and roll as well as folk music played a key role in instituting the feeling of solidarity necessary in a movement originating from the people. The Woodstock Festival gave the attendees a sense of social harmony which was as a result of the number of people attending the concert. This would go along way in helping the people endure the events of the century. Prior to the event, the public opinion regarding the war had been on a sharp decline. It is believe that the Woodstock Festival went a long way in shaping the destiny of the Vietnam War as well as creating one of the most influential subcultures in the world.


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