The 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music Festival was observed last month. To mark the occasion, I watched two documentaries about the legendary music festival.
The original 1970 Woodstock documentary aired on the Turner Classic Movie channel and a newer PBS documentary was available on Netflix.
I’ve always been fascinated with Woodstock, as the festival is commonly called. The music festival was held Aug. 15-18, 1969, on a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur in Bethel, New York, 42 miles southwest of Woodstock, New York. The music festival, which featured 32 acts, culminated a decade that was full of significant events, including the escalation of the Vietnam War, protests, the Cuban Missile Crisis, assassinations, the Civil Rights movements and inner-city riots.
The festival was attended by more than 400,000 music fans from all over the country who came to watch and hear many popular musicians, including Joan Baez, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, The Who and Jimi Hendrix, as well as many more performers.
Yes, there were massive traffic jams, shortage of food, rain, mud and rampant use of drugs. But one thing Woodstock had going for it was that it was a relatively nonviolent and peaceful event, and helped elevate the careers of some of the lesser-known performers, such as Santana, who received just $750 for performing, while Hendrix was paid $18,000, a lot of money in those days.
However, not everyone was enamored with the festival. The New York Times wrote an editorial calling it “Nightmare in the Catskills,” adding that “the event ended in a nightmare of mud and stagnation.” New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was said to have wanted to deploy 10,000 National Guard troops, but he was talked out of taking such action.
I was in my 20s when Woodstock took place, but I never thought about traveling to New York. I was more focused on working at my summer job at a Chrysler auto plant and saving money for college expenses. None of my close friends attended the festival.
But when the Oscar-winning documentary came out in the following summer, I couldn’t wait to see it. I’ve since watched it several more times. The documentary turned out to be a huge hit.
Watching those two documentaries reminded me about how tumultuous the 1960s were in the United States.
I was a senior in high school when the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded in 1962. I remember how worried we were about the possibility of a nuclear war. My class listened to the radio as the Soviet Union ships approached the U.S. Naval blockade, and we cheered when the broadcaster declared that the Soviet ships were turning around.
One year later, I was in Philadelphia awaiting my orders after enlisting in the Navy when we learned that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. A month later, I spent some time in Guantanamo, Cuba, waiting for the USS Guadalcanal to return from sea trials.
In 1967, when I was still living at home in Southgate, Michigan, we watched on TV as five days of rioting took place in Detroit. It was a sad moment for me because I had fond memories of Detroit, attending numerous professional sporting events. Some of the rioting took place near Tiger Stadium. Just a few years before, my brother and I were working as vendors at the stadium and we would walk several blocks at night to take the bus back to Southgate. We never encountered any problems. We felt safe.
Then, in 1968, two popular leaders were assassinated. First, Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down, and then Robert F. Kennedy was shot to death.
As the Vietnam War raged, we saw more violence as protesters on college campuses and on city streets voiced their opposition to the war, protests that sometimes were greeted with violence. The 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago was an example of that violence.
We would see more violence in the early 1970s, including the tragic shooting deaths of four people at Kent State University.
Indeed, those were difficult times. But Woodstock made its mark as the greatest music festival of all time. There are some good memories about the 1960s.