It was 44 years ago today -- August 18th, 1969 -- that the Woodstock Music and Art Fair wrapped with Jimi Hendrix's incendiary set after more than three days of music in Bethel, New York. More than 450,000 people converged upon the small upstate town to hear rock's biggest bands perform. Although Woodstock was neither the first nor last major festival concert, the fact that the youth of America were able to congregate in one place with no violence during one of the most turbulent years of the decade, gave birth to the notion of the "Woodstock Nation" and gave a voice -- and a face -- to the hippie ideal.
Artists who performed at the legendary festival included Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald & the Fish, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Mountain, Janis Joplin, the Who, the Band, Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Grateful Dead, Sly & the Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Sha Na Na, John Sebastian, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Joe Cocker, and many, many more.
The first day of the festival served to ease the crowd into the music and feature folk groups. The headliner the first day was Joan Baez, who talked about her expectations during the helicopter ride to the grounds: "It was pretty clear on the helicopter ride into Woodstock this was going to be (laughs) a historic weekend. And it was. I mean, I was in the helicopter with Janis Joplin and my mother and my manager. My overwhelming sense was, 'What a treat. I get to be back at this end of the place where everybody, all the entertainers are, meet them all and get fed and treated like a queen (laughs) and hang out in the mud.' It was amazing."
Photographer Elliott Landy was commissioned by Michael Lang, one of the festival's organizers, to take photos of the three-day event. Chances are if you've seen a photo from the festival, Landy was the one who took it. Landy said he believes that Bob Dylan had a huge influence on the transformation of the now-legendary small town in upstate New York: "At the time, Woodstock was just becoming the mecca for music in the '60s. It became that because Bob Dylan moved there and in the '60s, Bob Dylan and the Beatles were the biggest bands around. And Bob was really, at that time, the most influential, and he lived in Woodstock. And because he lived in Woodstock, a lot of other people went up there -- the Band went up there, and Richie Havens went up there, and Janis Joplin was there -- even Jimi Hendrix was there for a while. A lot of people kind of coalesced, I guess, in Woodstock during that period."
Landy says the experience of Woodstock is something he'll never forget -- for three days, the outside world didn't exist: "The experience of Woodstock, what Woodstock was about, was it took a person who was part of the bigger, of the larger world -- with all its tax problems and its bank problems and its money problems and family problems and responsibility to family and blah, blah, blah -- and it cut everybody off from everything. You were part of a new universe. It was almost like you were transported and put into a new world, and the world was Woodstock."
Organizer Michael Lang said that Jimi Hendrix's manager Michael Jeffries drove a hard bargain in cementing Hendrix as the festival's closer: "One day I went to his agent's office, to try to sort of definitively try to get this done or not, and came up with the idea of offering him two shows. I wanted him to open the festival with an acoustic set, and close with the band. And I would pay him $15,000 per set. So now, he's getting $30,000. And the other problem was that I'd established this idea of alphabetical billing and everybody getting 100 percent billing, 'cause I sort of wanted this equality between everybody. And I had no problem with any other group except Jimi again, because Michael wanted him to have 100 percent star billing, and I said, 'Well, you'll get it. So will everybody else (laughs)." )
Michael Lang was asked at what moment he realized that he was helping to create cultural history: "I guess by Saturday, when everybody had arrived -- or anybody who was gonna get there arrived. We knew that this was a historic moment in any case. Whether it resonated or not, nobody thought of that, but we knew that this was extraordinary."
Photo Courtesy of PRPhotos.com