The 1969 Woodstock festival was held on a farm site deemed too small for the 50th anniversary. This year’s audience will expect more comfort
When half a million people got together on a muddy farm in 1969 it was, by all accounts, a cosmically important, once-in-a-lifetime event that changed the world for the better.
“The time was right, the place was right, the spirit was right and we were right,” wrote Michael Lang, 74, one of the three producers of the Woodstock festival, in his memoir.
All of which may raise questions for the “golden generation”, now that the festival is trying to do it all over again to mark Woodstock’s 50th anniversary.
The most eloquent of the doubters is Roger Daltrey, 75, lead singer of the Who — they played a nighttime set in 1969, interrupted by the inebriated social activist Abbie Hoffman who leapt on stage to make a speech and was knocked off again by Pete Townsend, now 73, with a swing of his guitar.
“You can’t redo Woodstock because the stars of Woodstock were the audience,” Daltrey told Billboard magazine. “You can celebrate the date but you can’t redo the festival,” he added.
The original festival featured Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix and Joe Cocker — and they were just the Js. Joplin and Hendrix were dead by the end of the following year.
Other concerns were raised by some of Daltrey’s stars — people who claimed to have been there in the summer of 1969 — when a line-up for the new festival was posted on Facebook.
Tom Blazucki, who posted an image of a $7 ticket he said he had bought on Park Avenue in 1969, suspected that tickets for Woodstock 50 would be too expensive (the promoters have not yet released them). “I got there Friday night,” Mr Blazucki, 69, recalled. “The chain link fences were pushed down, and Melanie [Safka] was singing. The rest is history.”
This time, it was widely assumed that everyone would actually need to buy a ticket. It was also noted, without pleasure, that the singer Miley Cyrus, 26, rapper Jay-Z, 49, and the pop group Imagine Dragons were on the bill. “I’m supposed to eat brown acid, get naked and swim in a dirty pond to Imagine Dragons?” wrote a disgruntled Rob Mottice, 47, a concerts producer from Ohio.
Lang, who announced the lineup for Woodstock 50 in New York on Tuesday, argues that an eclectic show is necessary to ensure what he hopes will be a multi-generation festival. He believes that social currents of 2019 have broad parallels to those of 1969. “A lot of the things that were created around the Sixties — you know, the movements for the environment, organic foods — we’d come out of the civil rights movement and women’s rights and equal rights and we thought we could really make a difference,” he said. “These days we seem to be living through the same lessons that we thought we’d learnt,” he said. “We need a reminder. We’re hoping to energise people.”
Charities and social action groups, including the student gun control group March For Our Lives and Headcount, a political campaign that organises voter registration drives, will be on hand at the festival, he said.
Some of the original musicians from 1969 have been booked too. The San Francisco rock band Santana is playing on Friday, August 16 — the first of a three-day event. John Fogerty, 73, who also played in 1969, is playing that day too. “I don’t expect it to be the same,” he said, at a launch event at the Electric Lady Studios, founded by Hendrix. “The mood in the country is different, similar in many respects but different.” He said he would be playing “mostly the same songs that I played then,” in what he regarded as “a watershed moment for my generation”.
The original site, at Bethel Woods, 100 miles from New York city, on what was Max Yasgur’s farm, was deemed too small for a modern festival of the sort Lang plans. Instead it will be held beside a racetrack at Watkins Glen, 150 miles to the west.
Lang has said there will be car camping, tent camping and a more luxurious glamping site. “There’s not a lot of hotel infrastructure,” he said earlier this year, apparently acknowledging that the golden generation may no longer be content to sleep under the stars. “We will have an older demographic so accessibility is important,” he said.
As part of that demographic, Daltrey told Rolling Stone magazine recently that he had another reason not to go back. “I can’t work outside in the heat anymore like that in August,” he said. “It’ll kill me.”