50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

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August 15 marks the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Held on a dairy farm in the town of Bethel, New York, it was intended by its promoters to be a three-day festival for approximately 40,000 people. Instead, 400,000 showed up – 10 times what they expected. That’s the equivalent of the population of Cleveland.

When it was over, it was clear that this had been no ordinary musical event. Something larger had happened, and concert promoters have been trying to replicate it ever since.

Today, Woodstock is a cultural touchstone, a moment in history and, sadly, the subject of many persistent urban legends. It’s also the source of many historical facts that have been forgotten, sometimes in favor of those same urban legends. 

Here are 50 facts about it that you probably didn’t know, and that can help set the record straight.

Image Credit: Roberta Becker.

1. It was supposed to be a Bob Dylan outdoor concert

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Two of the festival promoters, Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang, met the other two, Joel Rosenman and John Roberts, when they were seeking financial backing to build a recording studio. If it happened, Kornfeld and Lang wanted to celebrate by having an outdoor Bob Dylan concert (Dylan is pictured here with Joan Baez at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom). The “outdoor concert” part of the plan was all that survived.

Image Credit: Rowland Scherman – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration / Public Domain.

2. The Wallkill Music and Art Fair?

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

When it became clear to festival organizers that Woodstock wouldn’t take place in Woodstock, the promoters thought they found a site for it in the town of Wallkill. That fell through thanks to a hastily-invented law whose sole purpose was to block the festival. “I think it was ‘Local Law Number One,’  “Michael Lang said.

Fortunately, the town of Bethel approved their permit.

Image Credit: Jonathan Charles Fox.

3. So why was it still called Woodstock?

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Why was the festival called Woodstock if it was held in the town of Bethel? At the time, the town of Woodstock was known as an artists’ hub (and it was home to Bob Dylan). It was also home to promoter Michael Lang. The promoters stuck with it.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

4. The man who designed the poster left early

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Artist Arnold Skolnick created the iconic red Woodstock poster depicting a catbird on a guitar headstock, but that doesn’t mean he wanted to be there. He went, but the crowd was so overwhelming, he left after the first day.

Image Credit: Public Domain.

5. Hip-hop history

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

A new band called Mountain performed on the second day, and their performance of “Long Red” featured a drumbeat that went on to be sampled countless times by such hip-hop artists as Eric B. & Rakim, Public Enemy and, perhaps most famously, by Jay-Z for his song “99 Problems.”

Image Credit: Jim Marshall / Public Domain.

6. About that baby…

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

One of the most persistent rumors about Woodstock is that a baby was born there. To this day, there has never been any evidence of it, and no one has ever come forward to identify themselves as the Woodstock baby.

Image Credit: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell / Wikimedia Commons.

7. Promoter Michael Lang had organized only one festival before

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

An event for nearly half a million people spanning three days and featuring over 30 recording artists sounds like a job that only the most experienced event organizer should even consider undertaking, but promoter Michael Lang (shown here at the Woodstock Film Festival screening of Taking Woodstock in 2009) had only done it once before. He had co-produced the Miami Pop Festival in 1968, which was attended by approximately 25,000 people.

Image Credit: larry-411 / Wikimedia Commons.

8. It might have been a Broadway show

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

When promoters Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang started brainstorming ideas for an event, there was a moment when they considered having Manhattan’s Great White Way as the venue. “‘You know, Michael, it would be great to have a concert at a Broadway theater,’  “Kornfeld had said to Lang. 

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

9. What a load of garbage

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

When everyone went home after Woodstock, they left behind over 600 acres of garbage, which took over 400 volunteers and $100,000 to remove. One of the methods used to get rid of it was to dig a huge hole to bury the refuse, and it was filled with everything from bottles to camping equipment to clothes. The trash inside was then set on fire, and it took days to burn completely.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

10. ‘Un-American activities’

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Woodstock technical director and designer Chris Langhart (pictured in a recent photo) said when Woodstock was over, he found that he had attracted the attention of the U.S. government. He said that his phone was tapped by the Civil Defense Authority for a year so they could see what other dangerous, un-American activities he was organizing.

Image Credit: Holly Victor / Solebury School.

11. It could have been a sitcom

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Woodstock promoters Joel Rosenman and John Roberts’ first business attempt was a venture capital company, but they hoped to develop a sitcom based on the people they met who were seeking funding.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

12. Crowd control

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Concert promoter Bill Graham, who had founded the famous Fillmore West and Fillmore East venues, advised the Woodstock promoters in an unofficial capacity. Joel Rosenman said that Graham suggested keeping the stage secure by digging a trench around it, filling the trench with oil and then lighting it if anyone tried to rush the stage. He also suggested using guard dogs.

Image Credit: Woodstock Whisperer / Wikimedia Commons.

13. ‘Your name Is Bob’

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

A New Mexico commune called the Hog Farm provided security for Woodstock. Led by one Hugh Romney, better known as Wavy Gravy, they ran a tent for people having nightmarish LSD experiences. 

“This guy comes in, he’s like, ‘Miami Beach… Joyce… Joyce… 1944’, Wavy Gravy said, “I leaned in, and I said, ‘What’s your name, man?’ He says, ‘Joyce…Miami Beach.’ I said to him, ‘Your name.'”

The man finally revealed that his name was Bob, and Wavy Gravy said, “Your name is Bob,” back to him. After he repeated Bob’s name a couple of times, Bob began to calm down, and eventually, the drugs wore off.

Image Credit: James M Shelley / Wikimedia Commons.

14. Celebrity sighting!

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Actor P. J. Soles, who starred in such films as Carrie, Halloween, and Rock’ n’ Roll High School, was at Woodstock, but not in the crowd. She was part of the crew for the Joshua Light Show, a psychedelic liquid light show that was meant to serve as a backdrop to the bands. 

Then 19 years old, she said that she hadn’t heard of Woodstock until Joshua White, who created the light show, told her they would be working there. 

“I have never been a person that would have gone to Woodstock if I hadn’t gone with Joshua,” she said.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

15. Have you seen this 80-foot screen?

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Despite intending to work the entire weekend, the Joshua Light Show left on Woodstock’s second day. The screen they used to project the light show had disappeared, and they couldn’t work without it. 

A year later, while watching the Woodstock documentary, members saw that the stage crew had taken it to protect the stage equipment from the rain.

Image Credit: Public Domain.

16. Unable to attend

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

The Doors were invited to perform at Woodstock but declined. Promoter Michael Lang said that it was because lead singer Jim Morrison had a unique concern that prevented him from showing up. 

“Jim was a little paranoid that he was going to get shot on stage,” Lang said.

Image Credit: Elektra Records promotional image / Public Domain.

17. Thanks but no thanks

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar performed at Woodstock on the first night. Although Western audiences liked his music and used it as a launchpad to discover other world music, he was ambivalent about how hippies had appropriated Indian arts. 

“It was a hodgepodge of Kama Sutra, Tantra, yoga, hash, and LSD, while the true spiritual quality of our music was almost completely lost,” Shankar told The New York Times.

Image Credit: Markgoff2972 / Wikimedia Commons.

18. Nature calls

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

The Woodstock organizers ordered 1,500 Porta-Potties, as they were expecting a crowd 10 times smaller than the one they got. When 400,000 people showed up instead, it added up to one toilet for every 267 concertgoers. Reporter Jack Deacy, who covered the event for the New York Daily News, said people did what they had to do, sometimes without even going behind a tree to do it.

Image Credit: Gail Hayssen.

19. Cash only, please

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

The Who performed on the second day. Rumors had been swirling among the musicians that the promoters’ checks were no good, so the group refused to play unless they were paid their full $11,000 fee in cash, which the promoters didn’t have on hand. Their road manager made the promoters call a bank manager in the middle of the night on a Saturday, whom they talked into opening up the bank and giving them cash.

Image Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons.

20. What brown acid?

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

One of the stage announcements made by lighting designer and part-time Woodstock emcee Chip Monck was a warning for festival attendees to avoid “the brown acid.” This announcement appears in the Woodstock documentary and on the Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More album, cementing its place as a pop culture reference. However, no one has been able to confirm that it was even there to begin with. “There were about 800 different colors of acid,” said Wavy Gravy (pictured here with his wife, Jahanara Romney, in 2013).

Image Credit: PaulgGreen / Wikimedia Commons.

21. Whole lotta attitude

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Another band invited to perform at Woodstock but declined was Led Zeppelin, who had just released their debut album. They may have been new, but they didn’t see that as any reason to be gracious, and they turned down the invitation. Why? Because they didn’t want to share the stage with anyone else.

Image Credit: Heinrich Klaffs / Wikimedia Commons.

22. They’re crazy about us!

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

The first group to play on the second day at Woodstock was Boston’s Quill. Singer and guitarist Dan Cole said that Michael Lang and asked them to come to the Catskills a few weeks early to play free concerts at local venues as a goodwill gesture toward the locals. However, the gigs ended up being at non-musical sites, such as a prison for the criminally insane. When asked if the inmates liked them, Cole said, “Who the hell knows?”

Image Credit: Public Domain.

23. Some bands became movers …

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

For several miles leading to the festival site, concertgoers had abandoned their cars in the road, making many miles of road impossible to drive through. The picture above shows

Canned Heat’s roadies were hauling the band’s equipment there in a truck, and drummer Fito de la Parra said that the roadies physically lifted the cars by hand to move them out of the way so the truck could get through. 

“They would get eight or 10 people, and they would move the cars aside, so the truck could go on, and Canned Heat could go there and boogie,” he said.

Image Credit: James M Shelley / Wikimedia Commons.

24. …while some bands arrived by helicopter

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Canned Heat’s band members (pictured in a reunion performance at Woodstock ’79) traveled separately from their equipment, and they got there by taking a helicopter full of reporters. Singer Bob Hite asked one of the reporters where they were going, to which he responded, “We’re going to report the news.” Canned Heat manager Skip Taylor said Hite responded by pulling the reporter out of the helicopter and saying, ‘We’re going to make the news!'”

Image Credit: Bob Sanderson / Wikimedia Commons.

25. Those peace pipes really worked

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Large crowds at mass gatherings are typically monitored by security to make sure no one gets out of line. While the Hog Farm commune was hired to work security, the crowd was said to be subdued, peaceful and almost self-policing. Why? Because they were all smoking tons of pot, that’s why! Local police didn’t seem to mind. “If this crowd was drinking beer, they’d be violent,” one police officer was quoted as saying in the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, New York. “This pot stuff quiets down everyone.”

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Image Credit: James M Shelley / Wikimedia Commons.

26. Woodstock. Brought to you by denture adhesive

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

John Roberts, one of the four Woodstock promoters, came from a wealthy family who allowed him and Joel Rosenman to put up the money for the festival. The family owned the Block Drug Company, who made such products as Poli-Grip and Sensodyne, so while marijuana may have kept Woodstock attendees happy, denture adhesive helped make the festival happen.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

27. He was only in it for the hay

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Max Yasgur (pictured) was the dairy farmer who owned the field where the festival took place. Part of the reason he agreed to have it there was simply because he needed the money, and the $50,000 for which he rented the property came when he really needed it. “It was a bad summer for [Yasgur’s] hay crop,” said Michael Lang. “He had the biggest dairy farm in the area, and he needed to buy hay, so he needed some money.”

Image Credit: Public Domain.

28. Woodstock didn’t get out of debt until the 1980s …

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Woodstock production coordinator John Morris said that when the festival was over, “we were $2.6 million in the hole.” Bankers told the promoters that they had to either declare bankruptcy or pay back the money, and they chose the latter. Roberts took out $1.3 million in loans to pay everything off, and it took over a decade for them to do it. They were helped in large part by profits from the Woodstock documentary.

Only love is free, it seems.

Image Credit: Mark Goff / Wikimedia Commons.

29. … because most people didn’t pay

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Woodstock became a financial nightmare for its backers due to the decision to stop selling tickets and let everyone in for free. They didn’t have much choice – as the first day loomed, neither the stage nor the fence around the field was finished, and there was only enough time to finish one. They finished building the stage and let everyone in for free, much to the chagrin of the people who had already bought tickets.

Image Credit: James M Shelley / Wikimedia Commons.

30. There could have been more people

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

John Morris said that when the festival was over, authorities showed him satellite photographs of the field and the surrounding area, and the photos showed that two million more people were trying to get into the festival grounds.

Local residents were selling hot dogs (pictured) to people trying to get to the festival.

Image Credit: James M Shelley / Wikimedia Commons.

31. They forgot to hire an emcee

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Lighting designer Chip Monck served as Woodstock’s emcee when John Morris wasn’t doing it. He said he was only given the job because Michael Lang hadn’t hired one. He said that announcements from audience members were handed to him to any surface that could bear ink. “One of them was a sneaker with a little note about, ‘Please have Joe meet me with my diabetic pills at so and so.’  “

Image Credit: James M Shelley / Wikimedia Commons.

32. Joni Mitchell’s set was great!

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Contrary to popular belief, folk singer Joni Mitchell never performed at Woodstock. She was invited, but her manager had her turn it down so she wouldn’t miss her appearance on The Dick Cavett Show right after the festival.

Image Credit: Public Domain.

33. No one was electrocuted – not even gratefully

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

The Grateful Dead’s set at Woodstock was considered by many to be their worst ever, and not just in the audience’s opinion. “Our set was terrible,” Jerry Garcia told Jazz & Pop Magazine in 1971. “We were all pretty smashed…On top of that, it was raining or wet, so that every time we touched our guitars, we’d get these electrical shocks.”

Michael Lang said that the group’s sound man had rewired the stage before the band went on, and they kept getting shocks from their instruments.

Image Credit: Public Domain.

34. There was a lot of first aid

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Woodstock had a functioning first aid unit led by general practitioner Dr. William Abruzzi. The most common problem he and his staff encountered was barefoot concert attendees who stepped on broken glass, jagged rocks or pop tops from beverage cans. When it was all over, Abruzzi said they had treated 938 foot lacerations, 23 epileptic seizures, and 176 cases of asthma.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

35. Then there was the serious stuff …

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Three medical cases were beyond the scope of what the first aid unit could treat, and they were flown to a local hospital by helicopter. Two of them were people who had suffered drug overdoses, and the third had gotten drunk and fallen off the roof of a car, fracturing his skull.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

36. … including 2 fatalities

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

There were only two documented fatalities at Woodstock. According to the New York Times, one was an unidentified person who died of a heroin overdose, and the other was 17-year-old Raymond Mizsak, who had made the unfortunate decision to sleep next to a parked tractor. The next morning the driver, who didn’t see him, backed up the tractor and its rear wheels rolled over him.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

37. Make that 3 fatalities?

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

John Morris remembered the incident involving Mizsak, but he said that there were three fatalities total, and they weren’t drug overdoses. 

“The other two were Vietnam vets, who got really bad malaria attacks and were shipped out to the hospital… the people at the hospital misdiagnosed them and left them alone in the field, and they both died.”

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

38. Is there turndown service too?

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Food would have been a massive problem if the Hog Farm collective hadn’t anticipated possible shortages. They set up a free kitchen on the grounds which served brown rice and vegetables, and they also handed out a curious new concoction called granola. When they began serving the food, Wavy Gravy announced from the stage, “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000.”

Image Credit: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell / Wikimedia Commons.

39. You don’t play rock and roll at 7 in the morning!

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Jefferson Airplane was the first band Michael Lang booked at Woodstock, and they were scheduled to have a prime headlining slot on Saturday night at 10. Unfortunately, hours of delays pushed them back repeatedly, and they finally went onstage Sunday morning at 7:30. 

“You don’t play rock and roll at seven in the morning!” singer Grace Slick said.

Image Credit: Public Domain.

40. … or at 9, for that matter

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Jimi Hendrix was Woodstock’s headliner, which meant that he went onstage last. That also meant he went on at 9 a.m. Monday morning. By then, a substantial portion of the crowd had gone home, said Elliott Cahn of Sha Na Na, who had performed right before the guitar legend. “[Hendrix played for] 10,000, 15,000 people, 20,000 people, which is a fairly big crowd, but over several acres of land… it looked like playing to almost no one.”

Image Credit: Reprise Records / Public Domain.

41. The career-making benefits of hard drugs

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

One of the groups who went to Woodstock unknown and stepped offstage superstars was the group Santana (picture: they got a standing ovation from 400,000 people). While they were playing their star-making set, guitarist Carlos Santana was very, very high on mescaline. In fact, he said that he thought he was playing an electric snake.

Image Credit: James M Shelley / Wikimedia Commons.

42. The only game in town

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Few mainstream news outlets reported on Woodstock, and those that did only did so after it was over, because getting access to the site by car was impossible. Only the Times Herald-Record, a newspaper in Middletown, New York, reported from the festival as it happened. This was because editor-in-chief Al Romm had hired a courier to bring film and copy back to the newsroom by motorcycle.

Image Credit: Microfilm image from the Middletown Thrall Library, Middletown, New York.

43. No it isn’t, man

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Folk singer Arlo Guthrie performed on the first day of Woodstock. He announced during his set that “the New York State Thruway is closed, man,” a statement that was included in the movie and on the soundtrack album. However, it was never actually closed. Traffic was impassible, but the state of New York had never officially closed the Thruway.

Image Credit: Ric Manning / Wikimedia Commons.

44. An engineering quandary

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

John Morris said that while the festival site was being prepared, technical director and designer Chris Langhart asked him to guess how much Jimi Hendrix weighed. After getting an answer, he left, then came back and asked what the average groupie weighed. He then disappeared again and came back with the design for a bridge that led from the artist’s pavilion to the stage. He had designed it to support the weight of Jimi Hendrix and the several groupies who might be chasing him.

Image Credit: Joshua White .

45. Thank God for this sandwich!

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

When food shortages at Woodstock were reported, local residents made thousands of food donations. The religious community chipped in, with the Women’s Group of the Jewish Community Center in Monticello donating 30,000 sandwiches that they had made, which were distributed by the Sisters of the Convent of St. Thomas.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

46. God bless America

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

In addition to the local religious community, the armed forces helped relieve the food situation. Air Force helicopters brought in 300 pounds of food, and an Army helicopter flew in even more, as well as blankets and medical supplies.

Image Credit: Mark Goff / Wikimedia Commons.

47. Don’t forget your picnic basket!

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

Folk singer Melanie was unknown when she was invited to play Woodstock, and she said she had no idea what she was getting into when she said yes. 

“I just thought it was going to be a picnic in the park,” she said. “You know, the hill, on a farm, and it was going to be everyone on picnic blankets and families.”

Image Credit: James M Shelley / Wikimedia Commons.

48. Please & thank you

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

The local community reported many times that festival attendees were more polite and well-behaved than they expected. 

“They were and they are the most courteous, considerate, and well-behaved group of kids I have ever been in contact with in my 24 years of police work,” Monticello Chief of Police Lou Yank was quoted as saying in The New York Times. 

Local telephone operators, who handled 500,000 long-distance calls on the first day alone, agreed, with one operator quoted in Rolling Stone as saying “every kid said thank you.”

Image Credit: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell / Wikimedia Commons.

49. Here’s one you don’t see every day

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

The Short Line was – and still is – the bus route serving Sullivan County where the festival was held, so it was how a lot of attendees got there and back. Employees were so pleasantly surprised by how nice attendees were to them that the bus company took out a half-page ad in the New York Times to thank them: 

“Their generosity, patience, and good humor turned what might have been a difficult task into a revealing and enjoyable trip. We learned a lot about the young people around us. We love what we learned.”

Image Credit: Jonathan Charles Fox / Woodstock. Copyright © 2019 by Hourglass Press llc..

50. It’s the way you ride the trail that counts

50 things you probably never knew about Woodstock

If Michael Lang had had his way, the singing cowboy Roy Rogers would have closed things out at the festival instead of Jimi Hendrix, but Rogers turned it down. 

“I wanted to close with him singing ‘Happy Trails.'”

This article was excerpted from the author’s book, Woodstock, (Copyright © 2019 by Hourglass Press llc. Text copyright © 2019 by Daniel Bukszpan (An Imagine Book, Published by Charlesbridge.)) and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

Image Credit: Public Domain.

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