Woodstock 1969: The World is Not Good Enough, Let’s Create a New One

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Audience at the Woodstock Festival 1969
Audience at the Woodstock Festival 1969. Picture | Wikimedia Commons

In March 1969, four young American men gathered together, planning to create a large-scale rock concert in Bethel, rural New York. Like many musical festival sites, there was abundant sunshine and open grassland. The fact that a lot of rock singers had already chosen it as their home also made it the ideal location for their project.

Michael Lang, one of the founders, visited here many years later and found out that a museum and art centre had been built to memorialise the event witnessed by that farmland. The organiser expected to attract an audience of 200,000, but they realised that they had underestimated the public’s passion for the event when around 450,000 people arrived on site, and even more were stuck on the roads to the festival. The original three-day schedule was also extended to four days due to the bad weather. People who came here for the slogan of “Three Days of Peace and Music” built up an independent rock kingdom that temporarily sheltered them away from the real world.

Opening ceremony at Woodstock 1969
Opening ceremony at Woodstock 1969. Picture | Wikimedia Commons

Today, it is very hard for us to imagine that massive group of people, one after another, with the unparalleled passion and power within their young bodies. Audio and visual records are the only means to experience that great moment again.

The posters of a pigeon on a guitar, designed by artist Arnold Skolnick, could be seen everywhere in the farmland next to the White Lake. Accompanied by the gentle guitar, Joan Baez started singing Joe Hill. Her bright voice, along with her smooth warbling, echoed amongst the audience with delicate sentiment. The monologue in the song best illustrates American society at the time.

Takes more than guns to kill a man

Says Joe, I didn’t die

And standing there as big as life

And smiling with his eyes

Joe says, what they forgot to kill

Went on to organize

In 1902, a Swedish man left his hometown for a land called the United States of America. After witnessing the miserable lives of immigrant workers, he began searching for ways to raise their voices. He is Joseph Hillstrom King. After joining the International Workers of the World (IWW), he started calling himself Joe Hill. He used music as his weapon and wrote a lot of protest songs to wake up those people who were exploited. However, in 1914, he was suspected in a murder case. Though the police did not have valid evidence and IWW launched a public campaign to save him, he chose not to defend himself. On 19th November 1915, he was executed in Salt Lake City.

As a singer who also writes about revolution, Baez’s performance at Woodstock has been the best-known song about Joe Hill in history. This song was her reflection on the Anti-Vietnam War movement, which expanded after 1965. The protests started from California and widely spread in other major cities later. With over one million people stuck on the highways to Woodstock, the scene perfectly represented their life: standing angrily and helplessly at the threshold of a massive social movement. Next year, the death of peacefully protesting students turned the movement into a violent revolt.

Audience at the Woodstock Festival 1969
Audience at the Woodstock Festival 1969. Picture | Wikimedia Commons

The disappointment of reality gave birth to Hippie culture. For its believers, their dream of the so-called middle-class life had shattered, and the pursuit of work, ambition and material wealth were deemed pointless. Nothing was more important than the ultimate freedom, which was also one of Woodstock’s spiritual symbols. When the prelude of Freedom was heard, Richie Havens turned into a preacher of freedom with his smoky voice. His unique way with a guitar was so impressive that the usage of barre chords matched the message of fearlessness of the song.

We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

The festival closed its curtains on Monday after four dreamlike days of performances. As Charles Dickens said: “We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” People indulged in the freedom found in the wonderland of Woodstock.

Although over half a century has passed since Woodstock, the legend it created has never faded away, where young generations are still encouraged by its spirits.

Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival 1969
Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival 1969. Picture | Wikimedia Commons

The festival closed its curtains on Monday after four dreamlike days of performances. As Charles Dickens said: “We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” People indulged in the freedom found in the wonderland of Woodstock.

Although over half a century has passed since Woodstock, the legend it created has never faded away, where young generations are still encouraged by its spirits.

About two years ago, Michael Lang took part in an online Q&A and talked about his opinions on subsequent music festivals. He said: “I think the industry has grown up. The production and technical side has certainly evolved into state of the art business practice and facilities, But I think that we’ve lost a bit of the social significance of what festivals could really bring to the table.”

He went on to say: “I think there’s an opportunity for social involvement and social change whenever there’s a large gathering of young people, and I think that’s been a bit lost.”