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August 15, 1969
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair—informally, the Woodstock Festival or simply Woodstock—was a music festival in the United States in 1969 which attracted an audience of more than 400,000. Scheduled for August 15–17 on a dairy farm in the Catskill Mountains of southern New York State, northwest of New York City, it ran over to Monday, August 18.
Billed as ‘An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’, it was held at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm near the hamlet of White Lake in the town of Bethel. Located in Sullivan County, Bethel is 43 miles (70 km) southwest of the town of Woodstock in adjoining Ulster County.
During the sometimes rainy weekend, 32 acts performed outdoors. It is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, as well as the definitive nexus for the larger counterculture generation. Rolling Stone listed it as one of the 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.
The event was captured in the Academy Award-winning 1970 documentary movie Woodstock, an accompanying soundtrack album, and Joni Mitchell’s song ‘Woodstock’, which commemorated the event and became a major hit for both Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Matthews Southern Comfort. Joni Mitchell said, “Woodstock was a spark of beauty” where half-a-million kids “saw that they were part of a greater organism”. In 2017, the festival site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Peace and Music Woodstock monument with plaques by sculptor Wayne C. Saward and erected in 1984 on the festival site. Max Yasgur refused to rent out his farm for a 1970 revival of the festival, saying, “As far as I know, I’m going back to running a dairy farm.” Yasgur died in 1973.
Bethel voters tossed out their supervisor in an election held in November 1969 because of his role in bringing the festival to the town.
New York State and the town of Bethel passed mass gathering laws designed to prevent any more festivals from occurring.
In 1984, at the original festival site, land owners Louis Nicky and June Gelish put up a monument marker with plaques called ‘Peace and Music’ by a local sculptor from nearby Bloomingburg, Wayne C. Saward (1957–2009).
Attempts were made to prevent people from visiting the site, its owners spread chicken manure, and during one anniversary, tractors and state police cars formed roadblocks.
Twenty thousand people gathered at the site in 1989 during an impromptu 20th anniversary celebration. In 1997 a community group put up a welcoming sign for visitors.
Unlike Bethel, the town of Woodstock made several efforts to cash in on its notoriety.
Bethel’s stance changed in recent years, and the town now embraces the festival. Efforts have begun to forge a link between Bethel and Woodstock.
Approximately 80 lawsuits were filed against Woodstock Ventures, primarily by farmers in the area. The movie financed settlements and paid off the $1.4 million of debt Woodstock Ventures had incurred from the festival.