From Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia to the 400,000 hippies in attendance, these pictures from Woodstock 1969 capture the free spirit of this historic event.
A half-century ago, the most celebrated festival in American history was held in upstate New York.
Advertised as "An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music", more than 400,000 revelers flocked to Bethel, New York to take part in what would become the zenith of 1960s counterculture: the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival.
And it almost didn't happen.
The Decade-Defining Festival Gets Off To A Rocky Start
The four young entrepreneurs from New York City who conceived of the festival — Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman, and John Roberts — encountered a handful of hurdles from the onset.
First, apart from Michael Lang, none of the organizers had experience with large festivals or promotion. When they first approached musicians, they were either rebuffed or flat-out rejected. Only when they secured Creedence Clearwater Revival in April 1969 were they able to then get further commitments from other musical acts to perform.
Second, it was proving nearly impossible to find a suitable location for the festival that also would be willing to have it. Residents in Wallkill, New York rejected the festival, as did a landowner in nearby Saugerties, leaving the organizers scrambling mere months before the festival was set to take place.
Fortunately, Max Yasgur, a dairy farmer in Bethel, heard of the festival's troubles and offered a field on his land to the organizers. After encountering some local opposition, Yasgur impassionately addressed the Bethel town board:
"I hear you are considering changing the zoning law to prevent the festival. I hear you don't like the look of the kids who are working at the site. I hear you don't like their lifestyle. I hear you don't like they are against the war and that they say so very loudly... I don't particularly like the looks of some of those kids either. I don't particularly like their lifestyle, especially the drugs and free love. And I don't like what some of them are saying about our government.
However, if I know my American history, tens of thousands of Americans in uniform gave their lives in war after war just so those kids would have the freedom to do exactly what they are doing. That's what this country is all about and I am not going to let you throw them out of our town just because you don't like their dress or their hair or the way they live or what they believe. This is America and they are going to have their festival."
The organizers then secured the necessary permits in July and begin construction of the festival grounds for the four-day event in mid-August.
The Show Goes On
On Wednesday, August 13, two days before the start of the festival, there were already massive traffic jams caused by tens of thousands making their way early to the festival grounds.
Woodstock's organizers had prepared for a crowd of 150,000, but by the second day of the festival, somewhere between 400,000 to 500,000 had descended upon Max Yasgur's dairy farm. Without adequate time to prepare fencing and hordes of people at the gates, they had but one choice: make the event free.
Despite the logistical nightmares and unexpected crowds, Woodstock miraculously went off relatively hitch-free. There were barely any reported crimes and the only death occurred when a festivalgoer fell asleep on the field of a neighboring farm and was subsequently run over by a tractor.
Large volunteer centers opened up to serve food and first aid while free hits of acid were distributed amongst the crowd.
"It's about the quietest, most well-behaved 300,000 people in one place that can be imagined. There have been no fights or incidents of violence of any kind."
The counterculture mantra of peace and love won out with an audience that hit almost half a million who got to enjoy Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin, among others.
Woodstock Photos And Videos That Captured The Spirit Of The 1960s
Thanks to extensive coverage in the media, Woodstock 1969 had an impact far beyond its actual borders.
A front cover pictorial proclaiming "Ecstacy At Woodstock" was published in LIFE Magazine, bringing the free-spirited (and sparsely-clothed) hippies of Woodstock to magazine stands across the country, while The New York Times and others ran articles on the four-day festival.
The year following Woodstock, an eponymous documentary film was released to critical acclaim and distribution across the United States. The film was more than three hours long and featured performances by 22 of the artists that played at Woodstock alongside footage of the already immortalized audience. Likewise, Woodstock photos that circulated in the media gave outsiders some idea of what it was like to be at this festival that was quickly becoming emblematic of the 'Woodstock generation'.
To an entire generation, Woodstock 1969 embodied the central tenets of 1960s cultural revolution. Fifty years afterward, the legend of "3 Days of Peace & Music" lives on.
See for yourself in the gallery of Woodstock photos above.