Woodstock was chaos, mass accumulation, three-day traps, drugs, storms, mud, (initially) financial disaster for the makers and funders. Although there were several major rock festivals in 1969 that went off without a hitch, this anarchic hippie happening is still considered legendary, the mother of all festivals. The "spirit of Woodstock" is still being whispered, the peaceful coexistence of about half a million people who flooded the festival grounds is being praised. Was Woodstock really the highlight of the Love & Peace movement? What was special about this festival, what set it apart from other major musical events of the time? Or were the three days in August 1969 simply exaggerated? A rock'n'roll diaper? Tracking.
Of course, even before Woodstock, there were large festivals with star line-ups that lasted several days. Already in 1967 the rendezvous in Monterey caused a sensation. Bands like The Mamas & The Papas, The Byrds, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Simon & Garfunkel, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who, Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane made the Open Air in California the culmination of the "Summer of Love". Parallel to Woodstock: Here, too, a feature film released a short time later made the event even more popular, albeit not as strong as Woodstock later did. Woodstock also set standards in terms of media exploitation.
In 1969, the stars of the rock and folk scene literally took over the microphones at a densely packed series of open-air events. Over 40 large and small festivals were offered to rock fans in the USA and Canada. Not all events were peaceful, long before Altamont the Hells Angels, who were hired as security, caused trouble at festivals. But even if police forces were responsible for maintaining order, the shreds sometimes flew when Gatecrasher kids, for example, didn't want to give in and pay no admission at all.
The line-ups of some other festivals that year might have been even more interesting than Woodstock's. At the "Seattle Pop Festival" (25.-27.7.) Chuck Berry, Ike & Tina Turner and Tim Buckley played Led Zeppelin and The Doors. The "First Annual Palm Beach International Music and Arts Festival" (28.-30.11.) leaned heavily on Woodstock and featured Grand Funk Railroad, the Rolling Stones, Iron Butterfly, King Crimson, Vanilla Fudge, Jefferson Airplane and others.
At that time a novelty, today a matter of course: At the "Aquarian Family Festival" (23-25.5.), an alternative counter-event to the "Northern California Folk-Rock Festival" in San José, visitors were invited to camp for the first time - an idea that Lang and Co. took up and with which the Woodstock organisers explicitly advertised to the municipal flower children in the advertisements as an additional incentive.
In Europe, such major musical events were still new territory. The pioneer was the Isle of Wight Festival, founded in 1968. On the following year's reissue, Bob Dylan gave a celebrated concert on August 31 - just two weeks after the events at White Lake, where he had not accepted the invitation to perform as a surprise guest.
Photo: Elliott Landy