You can still celebrate Woodstock's big anniversary in the town that actually hosted the festival.

By Alison Fox
August 01, 2019
Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, Bethel, New York, August 15, 1969.
Ralph Ackerman/Getty Images

Peace, love… and difficulty with planning and permits. It’s a problem that plagued Woodstock when the historic concert turned a sleepy upstate New York town into a musical hotspot 50 years ago, and it’s a problem that plagued the much-anticipated anniversary concert, Woodstock 50.

After months and months of plan Bs and even plan Cs, moving the concert across state lines and big-name artists dropping out, Woodstock 50 has finally thrown in the towel.

"We are saddened that a series of unforeseen setbacks has made it impossible to put on the Festival we imagined with the great line-up we had booked and the social engagement we were anticipating," Michael Lang, the co-founder of the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, said in a statement on the concert’s website. "We thank the artists, fans and partners who stood by us even in the face of adversity."

While there is still a smaller concert event planned on the original site in Bethel, NY, the challenges Woodstock 50 faced, in part, mimicked some of the issues the original went through.

Woodstock — named for a town in New York that didn’t end up actually hosting the event — overcame obstacles like permit issues and traffic jams to bring people together from all across the country to celebrate the counterculture of the time, hundreds of thousands gathering in upstate New York for the three-day music festival.

The summer of ‘69 was the year the Beatles' song "Get Back" reached No. 1 on the charts, people rose up during the Stonewall Riots following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York City, Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and Woodstock made a mark on our cultural history. And 50 years later, the summer of ‘69 remains one of the most significant times in the country’s past.

Here are a few things to know about Woodstock.

It didn’t actually take place in Woodstock.

The site of the 1969 Woodstock festival in Bethel, NY.
Photo by Laura Kalcheff/Getty Images

Festival organizers originally wanted to hold the concert in its namesake Woodstock, NY, a town north of New York City in the Catskills (one of the best places to travel in August), but they couldn’t find a venue big enough to host the 100,000 people they expected, according to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. They then leased land and secured permits at an industrial park in the town of Wallkill, but with only a month to go before the concert was set to start, the permits were revoked. That’s when organizers turned to the town Bethel to host the concert from Aug. 15–18, known as “Three Days of Peace and Music.” (Spoiler alert: a tad more than 100,000 people showed up.)

There were major traffic jams.

Festival-goers abandon their vehicles in a traffic jam on the way to the Woodstock Music Festival, Bethel, New York, 15th August 1969. At centre is a bus painted with the words 'Freak Out'.
Archive Photos/Getty Images

The town of Bethel was not prepared for the hordes of music fans that showed up. The road to the festival was jammed with traffic so bad that a helicopter had to be commandeered to airlift the opening act, Sweetwater, and their equipment, from the clogged roads to the stage three miles away, according to Rolling Stone.

It quickly went from a ticketed event to a free-for-all.

August 1969, The crowd at the Woodstock Festival in Bethal, New York.
Archive Photos/Getty Images

As the concert kicked off, organizers quickly realized just how wrong their original crowd estimates were. While the festival, which started on a Friday, was originally a ticketed event, eventually the sheer number of people overcame the fences and gates. By late Friday night there were already 200,000 people, according to Rolling Stone, and it was announced that all events would be free. Hundreds of thousands more would come.

All those people needed basic services.

Several young people dish out food to youths in food line, during the Woodstock Music & Art Fair.
The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Some local residents provided festival-goers with free food and water after it became clear that the festival concessionaire was not prepared to service that many people, according to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. A commune from New Mexico that had been hired to build a campsite on the grounds then opened “the Free Kitchen,” which served macrobiotic and vegetarian meals. A first-aid team tended to minor issues like cut feet — which happened a lot with so many people going barefoot — and a “freak-out tent” was set up for concert goers suffering from a bad trip.

Some of the biggest names in music performed.

American folk singer and guitarist Richie Havens opening the Woodstock Festival at Bethel, New York, 15th August 1969.
Archive Photos/Getty Images

The set list included a who’s-who of famous names in music over the three-day festival. Everyone from the Grateful Dead to Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and more played to the crowds. Some even took the stage in the middle of the night — Joplin, for example, started her set at 2 a.m., according to organizers of the Woodstock 50 concert.

You can visit the festival site today.

The Museum at Bethel Woods opened in June 2008, and has a main exhibit called “Woodstock and The Sixties.” The actual site of the 1969 Woodstock festival has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the museum.

There is an anniversary celebration planned that isn’t canceled.

The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts will be putting on celebratory concerts and events during the 50th anniversary week from August 15–18, including a performance by Ringo and his All Starr Band as well as Carlos Santana, The Doobie Brothers, and John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Woodstock, NY, is a vacation hot spot in its own right.

While the concert itself didn’t take place there, the name recognition follows Woodstock, NY, to this day. The town was first founded in 1787 as settlers built homes out of the timber they cut, according to the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce and Arts. By the end of the 19th century, however, the town realized it could capitalize on its natural beauty, and with the construction of hotels, it became a summer escape for people from New York City.

While they didn’t host the actual festival, they do have a musical past: Hervey White’s Maverick Festivals and the Sound-Outs of the late 1960s took place in the town, and Bob Dylan (who incidentally didn’t play at the Woodstock music festival) once lived there, according to the Chamber of Commerce and Arts.

Today, visitors can check out a number of artists’ studios and museums (like the Center for Photography), stroll along the small, but quaint streets of downtown, or grab a bite at any of the restaurants that hearken back to the local culture (head to Woodstock’s Bread Alone to try the avocado toast on their organic pain au levain or a slice of brioche French toast).

Woodstock 50's cancellation was not a big surprise.

Like its namesake festival, the Woodstock 50 anniversary concert faced issues getting off the ground before it was ultimately canceled. The three-day festival, which was planned for Aug. 16–18, had a set list of more than 75 bands (including big names like Santana, Miley Cyrus, Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, Imagine Dragons, and more), but faced a series of setbacks. First, financial backer Amplifi Live said it was canceling the festival in April and took back about $18 million, according to NBC 4 New York. Then production company Superfly dropped out, followed by Watkins Glen International racetrack, which was supposed to host the concert, but dropped out in June.

The festival then announced it would relocate to Maryland as big names like Jay-Z pulled out and all artists were released from their contracts, according to Pitchfork. Organizers then said the concert would be free. But days later, they announced it was canceled.

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