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LIFE Woodstock at 50

LIFE Woodstock at 50

LIFE Woodstock at 50

The summer of 1969 found America fraught with political and cultural turmoil. The Vietnam War, the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and a divisive presidential election all created nothing short of national, existential despair. Then, on Max Yasgur’s muddy dairy farm in Upstate New York, the counterculture found its voice. Now, the editors at LIFE mark the 50th anniversary of the transformative event with ‘Woodstock.’ This special edition takes you back to the infamous “Aquarian Explosion: 3 Days of Peace and Music” that drew not the expected 50,000 people but a mass of more than 400,000. You’ll go “Back to the Garden” to examine the cultural context of the time, and “Down to Yasgur’s Farm” where perseverance led to triumph. Relive the heart and soul of the event, the three days of musical performances, which included the Who, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. Hear from participants, like activist Wavy Gravy and many of the attendees. Finally, consider the profound influence and legacy of Woodstock Nation in “We Are Stardust…” In a time when many would argue that America is again fractured and in need of a new unified cultural identity, let LIFE’s special edition, ‘Woodstock,’ take you back to when gathering together in song became revolutionary.

Country:
United States
Language:
English
Publisher:
Meredith Corporation
Frequency:
One-off
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in this issue

9 min.
back to the garden

AMERICA IS HOPELESSLY DIVIDED. How many times daily do rueful cable pundits, Internet oracles, and TED talkers remind us of this dispiriting state of affairs? We’ve devolved into tribes, they say, Red vs. Blue, hunkered down in ideological and demographic silos, ranting in echo chambers. The news cycle is a relentless 24/7 barrage of “breaking” cataclysms and outrages, real and imagined. Mass shootings. Foreign cyberattacks. Eroding norms and failing institutions. And all of it stoked by a social media that, while ostensibly designed to bring us together, seems devilishly adept at tearing us apart. Have things ever been this bad? Or worse? Well, yes. For starters there was the Civil War, in which Americans slaughtered 620,000 other Americans, primarily over the right to own fellow human beings. But really, we needn’t…

7 min.
down to yasgur’s farm

WOODSTOCK WAS A TRIUMPH of persistence, and it began with Brooklyn-born Michael Lang, who in 1969 was a cherubic 24-year-old ex-head-shop owner and neophyte promoter with a broad grin, luxuriant curls, and bottomless reserves of chutzpah. At the time, large all-star concerts were just becoming a thing. In 1967, the Monterey International Pop Festival in California had been wildly successful, featuring the U.S. debuts of the Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Ravi Shankar. The next year, Lang himself had promoted the Miami Pop Festival, with Hendrix as the headliner. “That experience was enlightening,” he recalled. “It was clear that the relationship that my generation had with music was different from the previous ones. So, it was decided to do something bigger.” Lang had moved up from Miami to the quaint Catskill Mountains…

2 min.
max yasgur, r.i.p.

The “Angel of Woodstock” was a conservative Republican farmer with a bad heart—but a big one. Born in New York City to Russian Jewish immigrants, Max Yasgur was raised on his parents’ upstate New York dairy farm, went back to the city to study real estate law, then returned and built the family business into the largest milk producer in Sullivan County. After agreeing to lease his land for what he thought would be a modest-size concert, Yasgur began to have some misgivings as the anticipated crowd numbers grew. But opposition from some locals, who threatened to boycott his milk and even burn him out unless the concert was stopped, only steeled his resolve. When the zoning board met to consider Woodstock Ventures’ application, Yasgur had given a simple, eloquent…

21 min.
day one

Richie Havens 5–5:45 PM The festival began in chaos—a crush of scruffy youth, vehicular caravans jamming the roads, the stage still unfinished, equipment not yet up and running. Organizers ferried performers to the performance space via a single helicopter, and many arrived late—first and foremost the Los Angeles rock band Sweetwater, which was scheduled to open the event. Organizer Michael Lang hastily asked singer Tim Hardin to step into the breach, but Hardin took a pass and the task fell to another folk singer, 28-year-old Richie Havens—who was fifth on the schedule and still missing his bassist, who’d yet to arrive. One of few African American exponents of the genre, the Brooklyn-born Havens had risen to some prominence in the clubs and cafés of early ’60s Greenwich Village. He was a distinctive,…

5 min.
a conversation with wavy gravy

Journalist and humorist Paul Krassner described him as “the illegitimate son of Harpo Marx and Mother Teresa.” At 83, he remains the clown prince of the counterculture, a warm, earthy spirit who embodies the generosity and mischief of the hippie ethos. Born Hugh Nanton Romney, which sounds rather like a buttoned-up banker, he is known to the world as Wavy Gravy, a nickname long ago bestowed by B.B. King. Wavy’s résumé reads like a map of late-20th-century bohemia. He was a Greenwich Village poet and roving monologuist who was managed by Lenny Bruce when he made a live album in L.A. while he was opening for jazz immortal Thelonious Monk. Wavy was an auxiliary member of the Merry Pranksters, the peripatetic LSD-espousing cohorts of author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over…

4 min.
a conversation with melanie

Singer-songwriter Melanie Safka-Schekeryk, 72, describes herself now as having been “the oddball” of her high school, a pigtailed beatnik out of place in small-town Long Branch, New Jersey. Painfully shy, she found release in music. Her mother, also a singer, would take Melanie into Greenwich Village on weekends, frequenting the proliferating jazz and folk venues. There the youngster planted the seeds of her 50-year career. So, it was you and your mom in the Village? We’d see jazz greats like Sun Ra and Horace Silver and sometimes my mother would sit in and sing. And I’d bring my guitar, strapped over my back, of course, because no self-respecting folk singer carried a guitar case—those were Juilliard people. Sometimes I’d sing in Washington Square Park, which was much different then, just a quiet…