The last bedraggled
sloshed out of Max Yasgur's muddy pasture more than 25 years ago.
the debate began about Woodstock's historical significance. True
still call Woodstock the capstone of an era devoted to human
say it was a fitting, ridiculous end to an era of naivete. Then there
who say it was just a hell of a party.
The Woodstock Music
Fair in 1969 drew more than 450,000 people to a pasture in Sullivan
four days, the site became a countercultural mini-nation in which minds
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
August 18. The festival closed the New York State Thruway and created
the nation's worst traffic jams. It also inspired a slew of local and
laws to ensure that nothing like it would ever happen again.
Woodstock, like only
of historical events, has become part of the cultural lexicon. As
the codeword for a national crisis of confidence and Waterloo stands
ignominious defeat, Woodstock has become an instant adjective denoting
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
amalgam that will never be reproduced again."
Gathered that weekend in 1969 were liars and lovers, prophets and
They made love, they made money and they made a little history. Arnold
Skolnick, the artist who designed Woodstock's dove-and-guitar symbol,
it this way: "Something was tapped, a nerve, in this country. And
everybody just came."
bash - it ultimately cost more than $2.4 million - was sponsored by
different, and very young, men: John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie
Michael Lang. The oldest of the four was 26. John Roberts supplied the
He was heir to a drugstore and toothpaste manufacturing fortune. He had
multimillion-dollar trust fund, a University of Pennsylvania degree and
lieutenant's commission in the Army. He had seen exactly one rock
the Beach Boys.
friend, Joel Rosenman, the son of a prominent Long Island orthodontist,
just graduated from Yale Law School. In 1967, the mustachioed Rosenman,
playing guitar for a lounge band in motels from Long Island to Las
Roberts and Rosenman
met on a
golf course in the fall of 1966. By winter 1967, they shared an
were trying to figure out what they ought to do with the rest of their
They had one idea: to create a screwball situation comedy for
of like a male version of "I Love Lucy".
"It was an office
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
of time from their fate."
To get plot ideas for their sitcom,
Rosenman put a classified ad in the Wall Street Journal and The New
in March 1968: "Young Men With Unlimited Capital looking for
legitimate investment opportunities and business propositions." They
thousands of replies, including one for biodegradable golf balls.
seemed strange enough to work as a real business venture; Ski-bobs,
skis that were a fad in Europe. Roberts and Rosenman researched the
abandoning it. In the process, the two went from would-be television
wanna-be venture capitalists. "Somehow, we became the characters in our
own show," Rosenman said.
Artie Kornfield, 25,
suit, but the lapels were a little wide and his hair brushed the top of
ears. He was a vice president at Capitol Records. He smoked hash in the
and was the company's connection with the rockers who were starting to
millions of records. Kornfeld had written maybe 30 hit singles, among
"Dead Man's Curve," recorded by Jan and Dean. He also wrote songs and
produced the music for the Cowsills.
Michael Lang didn't
very often. Friends described him as a cosmic pixie, with a head full
black hair that bounced to his shoulders. At 23, he owned what may have
the first head shop in the state of Florida. In 1968, Lang had produced
the biggest rock shows ever, the two-day Miami Pop Festival, which
40,000 people. At 24, Lang was the manager of a rock group called
he wanted to sign to a record deal. He bought his proposal to Kornfeld
Capitol Records in late December 1968.
Lang knew Kornfeld
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
Kornfeld and his wife, Linda. The three had rambling, all-night
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
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
of the counterculture. Besides, the Ulster County town had been an
mecca for a century. By the late 1960s, musicians like Bob Dylan, The
Hardin, Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were moving to the
wanted a state-of-the-art studio.
Lang and Kornfeld
searching for seed money for the festival and money to build the
studio. They never saw the "young men with unlimited capital" ad, but
their lawyer recommended they talk to Roberts and Rosenman. The four
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
because I think they seemed puzzled by me. They were curious about the
counterculture, and they were somewhat interested in the project. They
written proposal, which we had but we didn't bring with us. We told
we would meet again with a budget for the festival.
To this day, the
Woodstock disagree on who came up with the original idea for the
dulled by time, competition and countess retelling, no one recollection
consistent. Lang and Kornfeld say Woodstock was always planned as the
music festival ever held. At the second meeting, Lang recalls
budget of $500,000 and attendance of 100,000. Lang said he had started
at festival sites in the fall of 1968, which would have been well
hooked up with Kornfeld or Roberts and Rosenman. But Rosenman and
maintain that they were the driving force behind the festival. As
Roberts recall it, Kornfeld and Lang primarily wanted a studio, hyped
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
couple of songs."
At some point,
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
Ultimately, we had the money, so what we said went."
By the end of their
meeting, the little party up in Woodstock had snowballed into a bucolic
for 50,000 people, the world's biggest rock'n'roll show. The four
formed a corporation in March. Each held 25 percent. The company was
Woodstock Ventures, Inc., after the hip little Ulster County town where
scurried to find a site. Real estate agents across the mid-Hudson were
the countryside for land to rent for just a few months. Feelers went
Rockland County, then in Orange. For $10,000, Woodstock Ventures had
tract of land in the Town of Wallkill owned by Howard Mills, Jr. "It
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
The 300-acre Mills
Park offered perfect access. It was less than a mile from Route 17,
hooked into the New York State Thruway, and it was right off Route 211,
local thoroughfare. It has the essentials, electricity and water lines.
The land was zoned
industry; among the permitted uses were cultural exhibitions and
promoters approached the town planning board and were given a verbal
because of the zoning. Nonetheless, Lang was unhappy with the site. It
missing the back-to-the-land ambience Woodstock Ventures was selling.
hated Wallkill," Lang said. Ventures set to work on the Mills property,
all the while searching for an alternative.
officials in late March or early April that the concert would feature
bands and folk singers. He also said that 50,000 people would
they were lucky. Town Supervisor Jack Schlosser thought something was
"More than anything else, I really feel they were deliberately
the town," Schlosser said. "The point is, they were less than
truthful about the numbers. I became more and more aware, as
them progressed, they did not really know what they were doing. I was
the Army when divisions were 40,000 or 50,000 men," he said.
"Christ almighty, the logistics involved in moving men around... I said
one point, 'I don't care if was a convention of 50,000
would have felt the same way."
atmosphere of 1969, promoters Kornfeld and Lang knew it was important
Woodstock in a way that would appeal to their peer's sense of
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
were carefully cultivating the Woodstock image in the underground
publications like the Village Voice and Rolling Stone magazine. Ads
run in The New York Times and The Times Herald-Record in May. For
Woodstock wasn't a matter of building stages, signing acts or even
tickets. For him, the festival was always a state of mind, a happening
would exemplify the generation. The event's publicity shrewdly
counterculture's symbols and catch phrases. "The cool PR image was
intentional," he said.
group settled on the concrete slogan of "Three Days of Peace
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
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,'
took the razor blade and cut that catbird out of the sketchpad I was
"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
up putting it on a guitar."
Melanie Safka had a
the radio called "Beautiful People." An extremely hip DJ named Roscoe
on WNEW-FM played it. One day, Melanie ran into a curly-haired
guy named Michael Lang, who was talking about a festival he was
Melanie asked if she could play there, Lang's answer was a very
"Sure." "I thought it would be very low key," recalled
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
"To get the contracts, we had to have the credibility, and to get the
credibility, we had to have the contracts," Rosenman said. Ventures
the problem by promising paychecks unheard of in 1969. The big
came with the signing of the top psychedelic band of the day, The
Airplane, for the incredible sum of $12,000. The Airplane usually took
$5,000 to $6,000. Creedence Clearwater Revival signed for $11,500. The
came in for $12,500. The rest of the acts started to fall in line. In
Ventures spent $180,000 on talent. "I made a decision that we needed
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
In the spring of
Sebastian's career was on hold. From 1965 to 1967, Sebastian's band,
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
group. Their replacements never quite fit in. In 1968, the group broke
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
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.