A Look Back: Woodstock 50 Years Later

Fauquier Library can help you remember and appreciate the meaning of the iconic music festival

Vicky Ginther, FCPL reference librarian

 I came upon a child of God, he was walking along the road
And, I asked him, “Tell me where are you going,” this he told me.
“He said I’m going down to Yasgur’s farm, going to join in a rock and roll band,
Got to get back to the land, and set my soul free.”
— Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock” as recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

 While the tech world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the landing of the first man on the moon in July, the pop culture world looked toward a half-century celebration of its own. Less than one month after Neil Armstrong took his famous “one small step for man” in 1969, an audience of 400,000 fans gathered in rural New York for Woodstock. The August 15-17 music festival billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Music” brought together 32 musical acts and young people from all over the country. Though some of the dreams that fueled one of the largest mass pilgrimages in U.S. history remain unfulfilled, what has remained are the images of hundreds of thousands of people brought together in the belief that anything might be possible.  

Woodstock was in no way a hippie utopia. Rain, transportation problems, and poor planning made the three day event uncomfortable and sometimes downright dangerous. But what drove the festival was the power of music as a communication medium and a foundation for a dialogue about who we were as a society and what we might become.  From acts as diverse as Ravi Shankar, the legendary Indian sitarist who tutored the Beatles’ George Harrison, to the politically vocal Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and mainstream folkies like Joan Baez, appeared at the festival. All believed in the ability of music to influence the lives of people and the directions of societies.

But of all the things that were dreamed for Woodstock, what remains most vivid are the images the festival generated. Joni Mitchell’s song “Woodstock,” quoted above, is based on the tales told to her by David Crosby, Steven Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young (Mitchell was prevented from attending by her manager). The song, recorded by Crosby, Stills, and Nash, cemented the images and ideals that emerged from the festival in the minds of a generation — even when those images did not always match reality.   

Such is the power of music. 

The belief that something unique and magical happened at Woodstock has not easily been shaken and its memory continues to fuel the dreams and imaginations of young people, musicians, and promoters. Two successor festivals have followed. One featuring many of the original Woodstock artists occurred in 2009. This month, a Woodstock 50 festival will be held on the exact dates of the original festival at Watkins Glen, New York. Along with contemporary musicians, several of the original acts also plan to appear at Woodstock 50, including Santana, John Sebastian, and David Crosby.

Not all of what came out of the original festival was hype. For all the hardships imposed by rain, bad planning, poor technology and lack of food and medical supplies, films like Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music, shot during the festival, show that it was possible for half a million people to manage to enjoy the music, pool their resources, and get along without the violence that characterized later festivals like Altamont, later that same year. 

And then there was the music. 

Thirteen of the 33 acts that appeared at Woodstock are now members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The comprehensive list includes the likes of Joan Baez, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Sebastian (with the Lovin’ Spoonful), Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, The Band, Crosby Stills, Nash, and Young, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and Jimi Hendrix. This reflects a vast range of musical styles, from rock to blues to folk. There was not a day of the festival that a future Hall of Fame act was not onstage. Slightly less well-known acts such as Country Joe and the Fish, Tim Hardin, Canned Heat, Mountain, Joe Cocker, Ten Years After, and Johnny Winter also took to the stage.

For those who were there, those who wished they were there, or those who just want to explore what all the fuss is about, the Fauquier County Public Library has several resources that can help music lovers relive those days of peace and love.

Music CDs by Woodstock Performers 
Joan Baez
Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR)
Janis Joplin
The Who

Who I Am by Pete Townshend (guitarist for The Who)
Testimony by Robbie Robertson (guitarist for The Band)
Long Time Gone by David Crosby
Wild Tales by Graham Nash
Fortunate Son by John Fogerty (vocalist and guitarist for CCR)
And a Voice to Sing With by Joan Baez
Searching for the Sound by Phil Lesh (bassist for the Grateful Dead)

Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin by Myra Friedman 
Electric Gypsy: Jimi Hendrix by Harry Shapiro
About Woodstock
Woodstock: 50 Years of Peace and Music by Daniel Bukszpan
Woodstock: The Oral History by Joel Makower
Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock by Pete Fornatale

Or, immerse yourself in the Woodstock experience by watching footage of the festival in the DVD movie/documentary Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music, 40th anniversary director’s cut, also available at your local Fauquier County Public Library location.

Whatever you do, keep listening to the music!


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