WOODSTOCK, THE FESTIVAL THAT SET THE BAR
It may have happened almost half a century ago, but just as the mud clung to the party-goers legs, and the memories stick in their minds, Woodstock festival has left its mark in history.
This week would have been the 46th anniversary of the iconic hippie festival that most of us wish we could have been a part of. So we thought we would take a look at its highs and lows and what we learnt from the event that shaped our expectations of festivals today.
A last minute change of plan
Woodstock is arguably the biggest music festival there has ever been. And it happened through a stroke of bad luck. Locals in Wallkill, the initial festival location, were not initially very keen as they worked together to introduce a law to ban the event from going ahead. The venue eventually fell through and ticket-holders started to demand their money back. Fortunately, Max Yasgur offered up his 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York to be the new location for the Woodstock Festival.
However, all this happened a mere 30 days before the event, and time was tight. They had a choice; did they spend the time building the fences around the event to prevent people sneaking in without tickets, or did they build the stage for the musicians to stand on? They decided the stage was more important, and so the gates were not only wide open, but completely non-existent for those who wished to attend – and boy, did they attend. Especially as the lack of fencing meant that there was no way of monitoring tickets, so it inevitably became a free event. Naturally, more and more people – approximately 1million – migrated towards the venue, instead of the anticipated 25,000. Overcrowding and muddy conditions meant police stepped in to prevent some revellers from attending and only(!) around 500,000 are thought to have made it to the event. For a sense of scale, Glastonbury maxes out today at 175,000 and Splendour at just 27,500.
Lighting God of Rock and Roll
What a title, and who better to employ as Lighting Designer for a one-of-a-kind festival than Chip Monck – the Lighting God of Rock and Roll. However, the last minute venue change and stage creation meant that he had nowhere to hang his equipment from. Instead, the lights he’d rented and spent ten weeks designing ended up sitting unused underneath the stage. He spent the last few days assembling four towers, 40ft by 8ft by 16ft for the spotlights. The scaffolding was to stand on planks embedded in the ground.
The finished stage had a hanging tarpaulin providing a flimsy roof to the singers below. Joe Cocker was famously soaked when one of the stage crew cut a hole in the tarp when it dangerously sagged with rainwater. The beginning of super wet festivals perhaps?
Whilst they may have enjoyed the music, conditions inside the festival were dire. Incredible numbers meant there was a half-an-hour queue for water and more than an hour wait to use a toilet. Organisers tried to bring in more toilets and were left worrying about how to airlift rice into the event after food stall workers threatened to leave because of the conditions.
Things we learnt from the festival:
Be prepared for fines…
While in time the organisers might look back and realise they had created the most popular music event in history, to begin with they had to struggle to pay a staggering debt of more than $1million and the 70 lawsuits that had been filed against them.
Luckily they had some relief when a film was made of the iconic festival that proved to be a hit. Even then, they were still left with a $100,000 to pay themselves.
Safety is paramount….
Although the festival was remarkably peaceful given the number of people and the conditions involved, the conditions were rough, the water situation was desperate and no one accounted for the possibility of so many attendees. Security guards and fencing is a crucial aspect of today’s festivals to keep everyone a little safer whilst they are having the time of their lives.
The festival quickly became more about the experience rather than the music itself, a feature which has stuck with music festivals until today.
Headliner Jimi Hendrix didn’t take to the stage until 8.30am on the Monday morning, but his performance became legendary. Highlights included him playing a psychedelic rendition of the American national anthem which was later tagged as a defining moment of the 60s.
The film Woodstock won Best Documentary Oscar in 1971.