History of Woodstock: Over 50 Years Ago


August 15 marks the anniversary of the “3 Days of Peace & Music” held in 1969 at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in the rural town of Bethel, New York, southwest of the village of Woodstock. This outdoor music event, despite thundershowers, gave voice to the counterculture youth generation of its time. A documentary film followed it in 1970 and a top-selling soundtrack album.

I want to share with you what it was like to be at the Woodstock Rock Festival — the music, the crowds “half a million strong,” the rain, the muddy roads, the traffic jams, the counterculture vibe, the media coverage, the movie film crew, the atmosphere, the awareness of its own importance, the sense of history in the making:

  • What it was like to hear Jimi Hendrix electrically and psychedelically reinterpret the national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.
  • To experience the frenetic exuberance of The Who as they defined a new youth anthem with We’re Not Gonna Take It and My Generation.
  • What it was like to hear the newly formed supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young say, “This is only the second time we’ve performed in front of people; we’re scared s***less!”


I want to do this, but I wasn’t there. However, I do remember hearing about it when it occurred. And, of course, who hasn’t seen the 1970 Academy Award-winning documentary movie — edited by a young Martin Scorsese?


Woodstock, the Event

Over fifty years ago, 400,000 Baby Boomers attended one of the defining moments of American post-modernism. While The Beatles may have introduced post-modernism earlier in the ’60s, Woodstock pulled together many distinctively American voices. This music festival was called “An Aquarian Exposition,” though it now may feel more like the “dawning of the aging of Aquarius.”

Here were the performers, 32 different acts performed over the four days, in Yasgur’s field, from Friday to the morning of Monday — with a few of my comments:


Friday, August 15

Woodstock sign

From my friend Steve Hanlon who was there several years ago.

  • Richie Havens8 songs, including 3 Beatles songs
  • Swami Satchidananda – gave the invocation for the festival
  • Sweetwaterthe first GROUP to play at the Woodstock festival. Their music style is a fusion of rock, jazz, folk, psychedelia, Latin, and even classical music.
  • The Incredible String Band
  • Bert Sommer
  • Tim Hardin
  • Ravi Shankar – father of singer Norah Jones
  • MelanieMelanie Safka did a solo act, though she’s well known for her Top Ten “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, a popular gospel group. She was popular on the Smothers Brothers TV show during this time with “Brand New Key.”
  • Arlo Guthrieson of folk musician Woody Guthrie, Arlo is famous for “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” He also played “Amazing Grace” and (somewhat inaccurately) told some of the history behind the hymn. Years later, it was followed by Judy Collins’ hit version of the hymn. Alice’s Restaurant Massacree appeared in the 1969 movie “Alice’s Restaurant,” further re-popularizing it in the ’60s, 
  • Joan BaezSan Francisco Bay Area folk singer and social and political activist who once dated Steve Jobs of Apple.


Saturday, August 16

Woodstock shield

From my friend Steve Hanlon who was there. But not 50 years ago.

  • Quillforty-minute set of four songs
  • Keef Hartley Band
  • Country Joe McDonaldCountry Joe & the “Fish” (Barry Melton) became famous for the “FISH chorus” associated with his Vietnam song and was a local favorite in Berkeley, where he lives, for anti-war rallies.
  • John Sebastian(of the Lovin’ Spoonful), who I once saw live when he was doing the warm-up for standup comedian Steve Martin. The impatient and unappreciative audience shouted Sebastian off the stage in preference for Martin.
  • Sha-Na-Naa New York ’50s revival and send-up band made up mostly of students from Columbia University, later made famous in the movie “Grease,” where they appeared as Johnny Casino & The Gamblers.
  • SantanaCarlos Santana was playing a residency at the Mirage in Las Vegas last time I was there.
  • Canned Heat
  • Mountain
  • Grateful Dead – a popular Haight-Ashbury-based band. I saw them once in Oakland. Even in an open-air venue, the smell of burning hemp was overwhelming.
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bay Area group. Lead singer John Fogerty has recently experienced a comeback with tours. The song “Who’ll Stop the Rain” he claims was inspired by Woodstock. 
  • Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Bandanother popular Haight-Ashbury band.
  • Sly & the Family StoneSly Stone was a popular San Francisco disk jockey.
  • The Who began at 4 AM, kicking off a 25-song set including songs from their rock opera TommyI have seen the band perform live half a dozen times, including during the early ’70s when at the San Francisco Cow Palace, drummer Keith Moon twice passed out into his drum set from a drug overdose. Guitarist Pete Townsend excused it as:

“It must have been something he ate, it’s your American food.”

  • Jefferson Airplanethe first of the San Francisco psychedelic rock groups of the 1960s to become internationally known, later changing their name to Jefferson Starship and then Starship.


Sunday, August 17 to Monday, August 18

Woodstock field

From my friend Steve Hanlon who was there. And has seen Joan Baez twice.

  • Joe Cocker and The Grease Band dressed in classic tie-dye.
  • Country Joe and the Fish
  • Ten Years After
  • The Band
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears
  • Johnny Winter featuring his brother, Edgar Winter
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Youngformed by refugees from three 1960s bands: The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Hollies. The band is primarily known for its three-part vocal harmonies. In the Summer of 2009, they were touring without Young.
  • Neil Young
  • Paul Butterfield Blues Band
  • Sha-Na-Na
  • Jimi Hendrix


Woodstock, the song

In 1970 Joni Mitchel wrote an eponymous song about Woodstock that was later popularized by Crosby, Stills, Nash (her then-boyfriend) & Young that they’ve performed every time I’ve seen them live:

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me

“I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm
I’m going to join in a rock ‘n’ roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free”

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden…


Contrast Woodstock with the Altamont Free Concert that happened on the West Coast four months later.


Where were you in ’69?


UPDATE: Here’s a story on the 50th-anniversary reunion at Woodstock. Woodstock 50 was intended to begin on this date in 2019. Woodstock 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19. Woodstock 2023 concert has been announced.


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian


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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.


  1. Max Fiction on August 18, 2009 at 11:51 am

    You might get a kick out of my fictional rendering of the freaky events at Woodstock on August 18, 1969.


  2. India Wedding // Just another WordPress weblog on August 19, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    […] rest is here: History of Woodstock Tags: 1969-at-max, frenetic, music, peace, rural, sense, the-national, village, woodstock « […]

  3. Michael Hair on August 16, 2016 at 9:31 am

    Bill – like everyone else, I have the album, “Woodstock”. Only about 1/3 of the music you mention is on it (maybe less). Is there a complete recording anywhere?

    • Bill Petro on August 18, 2016 at 4:47 pm


      I’m afraid I do not know of any options for the whole list of Woodstock music.


  4. […] the next year both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr would be assassinated. Woodstock was still two years away. But at the time there had never been anything quite like it. I recall my […]

  5. […] the next year both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr would be assassinated. Woodstock was still two years away. But at the time there had never been anything quite like it. I recall my […]

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