FEATURE: “And We’ve Got to Get Ourselves Back to the Garden” Woodstock 50: Will It Happen at All?




“And We’ve Got to Get Ourselves Back to the Garden”

IMAGE CREDIT: @woodstockfest  

Woodstock 50: Will It Happen at All?


MAYBE quoting Joni Mitchell’s 1970 song...,

 IN THIS PHOTO: This image from 16th August, 1969 shows music fans at the original Woodstock Music and Arts Festival packed around the stage, at bottom, in Bethel/PHOTO CREDIT: Marty Lederhandler, AP

Woodstock, is not directly linked to the Woodstock festival - but those words at the very top seem appropriate. That track, from Ladies of the Canyon, is in my mind and I have been thinking of the original Woodstock festival in 1969. I sort of suspected that there would be a fiftieth anniversary for Woodstock because, as iconic moments in music go, it is right up there! The fact that it was a festival of peace and love – even though there was some distribution and incidents – was pretty radical. The calibre of artists on the bill was amazing and, although it was not all perfect, that festival has gone down in history. In fact, before I talk about the controversial and ill-fated fiftieth anniversary celebration of Woodstock, it is time for some history. This illuminating article gives details of the original festival and some of the highs and lows enjoyed:

The Woodstock Music Festival began on August 15, 1969, as half a million people waited on a dairy farm in Bethel, New York, for the three-day music festival to start. Billed as “An Aquarian Experience: 3 Days of Peace and Music,” the epic event would later be known simply as Woodstock and become synonymous with the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Woodstock was a success, but the massive concert didn’t come off without a hitch: Last-minute venue changes, bad weather and the hordes of attendees caused major headaches”.

The festival was a bit of a new thing and nothing quite like this had been tried. In terms of the numbers expected, there was a bit of an error: soon enough, the people flooding in exceeded early estimations and caused a few problems:

Originally, about 50,000 people were expected. But by August 13, at least that number were already camped out on location and over 100,000 tickets pre-sold.

The Woodstock audience was diverse and a reflection of the rapidly-changing times. Some were hippies who felt alienated by a society steeped in materialism.

It is amazing to think that they could give tickets away and, think about festivals now, would we be able to run something for free? The sheer overheads and costs that a festival incurs means that they rely on ticket sales and merchandise. Some say Woodstock was a bit of a fad or something that is not as good as everyone claims. There were problems and hitches but, when you think about what America was going through at the time, having something like Woodstock was very important and necessary:

In 1969, the country was deep into the controversial Vietnam War, a conflict that many young people vehemently opposed. It was also the era of the civil rights movement, a period of great unrest and protest. Woodstock was an opportunity for people to escape into music and spread a message of unity and peace.

Although the crowd at Woodstock experienced bad weather, muddy conditions and a lack of food, water and adequate sanitation, the overall vibe there was harmonious. Looking back, some people attribute the lack of violence to the large number of psychedelic drugs being used”.

There were incidents and tragedies at the event – one person died a drug-related death and another teen was killed by a tractor – but most of Woodstock went by without too much hassle.

Consider the size of the crowds and what could have happened, it is amazing that so much of Woodstock went by without a hitch. The performers had to battle some tricky weather conditions but the likes of Joan Baez, Santana; The Grateful Dead and The Who played. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix were also on the bill and, in fact, Hendrix was the last performer to play. He was hampered by bad weather and his set was delayed. He didn’t get onto stage until Monday, 18th August (he was due on the night before) and it ended a remarkable, if weather-lashed, festival. Some big names declined to perform – including John Lennon and The Doors – but the bill speaks for itself. There were some truly enormous names on the line-up and there was nothing quite like it around. In many ways, there has not been a festival like Woodstock since; all the more reason there was a lot of expectations regarding Woodstock 50. Maybe we over-romanticise the original Woodstock because there were problems with the weather, technical hitches and more people turning up than expected. One can forgive Woodstock 50 for suffering similar setbacks. In USA Today, they ran an article on Friday that talked about Woodstock 50 and whether it will actually happen:

In around 100 days, as many as 75,000 attendees and more than 75 musical acts are scheduled to be at the three-day 50th anniversary festival in Watkins Glen.

But permits have yet to be secured. Tickets have yet to go on sale. A date to begin that sale has yet to be announced after being delayed.

IN THIS PHOTO: Miley Cyrus is one of the names confirmed for Woodstock 50/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

On Monday, the festival’s financial backer exited the project. On Wednesday, its production company followed.

And the music world has been left wondering how an event 50 years in the making could be scrambling in the final months. And, as it appears to many to be unraveling, how could it possibly get back on track?

Not many answers have come from the companies who have exited the festival. And the performers on the slate — names as big as Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus and Imagine Dragons — have been quiet.

But Michael Lang is confident he can make it work. The Ulster County resident, who co-founded the 1969 Music and Art Fair and is co-producing Woodstock 50, has attributed some of the planning delays to the parties who left.

Lang told the Poughkeepsie Journal, a part of the USA TODAY Network, he expects to have permits secured, and tickets either on sale or an on-sale date announced, in the next two weeks. His team of organizers is also “pretty close” to finding a new financial partner and transitioning to a new production partner. And, he said each of the performers have been paid in full and remain under contract, despite published reports stating the acts may be free to exit”.

It seems that there are going to be problems ensuring that everything is in place in time. There have been rumours of poor ticket sales and these new glitches throw into doubt the survival and reality of Woodstock 50. There have been anniversary celebrations of Woodstock – including its twenty-fifth in 1994 – and each has been beset with some sort of issue.

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The bird of peace is back #Woodstock50☮❤🎵

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One cannot expect any festival to run smoothly but Woodstock 50 has more illnesses and pains than most. Maybe the sheer scale and ambition behind it is a problem but, to me, there is a bigger problem: the quality of the line-up. Even though some huge names turned down Woodstock in 1969, they did boast some truly iconic acts. This year, Santana, Robert Plant and The Raconteurs are playing and there are some okay headliners. Not only is there a lack of female talent on the bill – I know the original Woodstock was male-heavy but we cannot use that excuse now – but there are very few female headliners. Look closely and how many truly wonderful artists are on the bill? We have Miley Cyrus, Imagine Dragons and The Zombies on the bill so, in terms of variety, there is a lot to choose from. There are Hip-Hop artists like Jay-Z playing and some new Pop acts. Woodstock had more Folk and Rock and it is a bit unfortunate seeing a relative lack of Folk and Acoustic on the bill. Who would you actually turn up for? Maybe Santana – as one of the artists who was on the original bill – could provide that link to 1969 but there is not a great deal of modern-day class. I wonder if the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young were approached; if Patti Smith got a call or a band such as Radiohead were called.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Michael Lang following the announcement of the Woodstock 50 line-up at Electric Lady Studios in New York City on 19th March, 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: Patrick Oehler/Poughkeepsie Journal

A recent post on Woodstock’s Instagram account suggests that things are going ahead. As Alt Press have reported, there are no firm plans to cancel.

Last night, Woodstock 50 took to Instagram to thank those who have continued to support the festival throughout the rumors, sharing a few positive comments while showing appreciation for the “Woodstock Nation.”

“Thank you Woodstock Nation! To the more than 100,000 of you who have responded to our situation with support and solidarity… a heartfelt ‘thank you’. Our intention holds firm. To deliver a world-class, once-in-a-lifetime festival to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock. To honor a cultural icon that changed the way we think about music and togetherness… and will do so again. We’re in this together, as reflected by your words of support”.

Who knows what the current status is, what with different reports saying different things. It seems like, if Woodstock 50 goes ahead, it will be pretty tight and there might be some compromises. I do wonder why there have been so many issues and how things have got so bad. Maybe, because Woodstock 50 is a bit of a landmark, we have heard about the same problems other festivals face…although they are never reported. I do think that the line-up itself is the biggest issue. The original Woodstock did have some stellar acts on the line-up and, whilst there is some quality this time, there is not nearly the same sort of brilliance.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Janis Joplin was one of the performers at the original Woodstock/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I do think it is a bit of a disappointing way to mark fifty years since Woodstock. One might ask who, then, would be best for the headline slots. I do think there are plenty of icons around that could fit the bill and they might have been asked already. With so many problems already affecting Woodstock 50, I hope that it manages to navigate them and survive. Any celebration of such a historic moment is great and I do feel that Woodstock deserves all the respect it gets. Maybe there were some problems and downsides but look at how it brought people together and what it did for the U.S. I hope that, at a time when Americans are being ruled by Trump, Woodstock 50 can bring them together and provide something positive. It is unclear whether the festival will go ahead and whether organisers can overcome problems regarding logistics, artists and everything else. Let’s cross our fingers but, aside from a less-than-fantastic line-up, the spirit is there. I do think it is good that we mark Woodstock and, in decades from now, we keep the ball rolling and mark the anniversaries. Maybe we will not see anyone as explosive as Hendrix at Woodstock 50 but, if everything goes according to plan – and the weather behaves itself! -, it could be a festival…

TO remember for years to come.