48 Years Later, Woodstock Remains the Ultimate Festival Pipe Dream

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When I think of the counterculture movement of the 1960’s, one Led Zeppelin lyric manages always to fly into my head; “Someone told me there’s a girl out there / With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.”

In many ways the summer of ‘69 is immortalized as the pinnacle of the hippie movement that seized the youth of America as the effects of the baby boom reached their full potential. The beginnings of the music festival that would define a generation were humble. Max Yasgur, a forty-nine year-old dairy farmer living in Bethel, New York provided sanctuary for the festival after several prior locations had fallen through just a month before the festival. Agreeing to host 60,000 fans and over thirty acts, Yasgur accepted the promoters’ offer with no way of understanding what the shake of his hand would mean for history.

In what felt like no time for the locals of Bethel but took ages for hopeful festival-goers that endured some of the worst traffic America had seen, an estimated 400,000 people flooded the farmland that had never hosted more than a couple dozen cows. Woodstock was not the first music festival, it is not the largest festival to date, but what Woodstock did and what it created is much larger than any ephemeral record. In the words of Max Yasgur, Woodstock gave the youth of America the chance to, “[Prove] something to the world … that half a million kids can get together for fun and music and have nothing but fun and music.”

Of course, the crowd had a little more than fun and music -- there are at least two births and countless drug overdoses, but the festival whose foundation stood on a platform of peace and love stuck to its roots. Performances from iconic artists such as Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Baez, The Who, and Grateful Dead are owed much credit in the historic value that Woodstock holds, however no performance at Woodstock quite tops Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner”.

Today, we have Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo among others and while they all differ in venue, artists and location every modern festival shares one common ancestor: Woodstock Music Festival, 1969. No festival has come close to the historical significance that Woodstock evoked, the dogma of ‘peace and music’ defined a generation and provided an example that subsequent generations have strived to recreate with no real success.