Event tourism: Woodstock 1969 – Nobody did pay for accommodation

Event Tourism Woodstock
Woodstock 1969. Nobody did pay for accommodation.

Event tourism Woodstock 1969-2019 | This year in August, A Woodstock 50th anniversary concert is coming to the original site of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. For the local tourism industry the 1969 edition was a disaster beyond any comparison. For the event tourists those 3 days of peace, love and music in 1969 were the most amazing festival days ever. Flashback: Between August 15 and 17 a so-called ‘counterculture festival’ near the town of Bethel (NY) attracted an audience of over 400,000 people. And literally nobody did pay for accommodation.

Event tourism Woodstock
Arlo Guthrie’s words (“The New York State Thruway is closed, man!”) turned out to be not true. The truth was that local police closed some exits near Woodstock to prevent more people to come to the counterculture festival.

During the late 1960s it was only a 2.5 hour ride from New York City up the Hudson River to Woodstock – perfect for a weekend trip. But local residents of the Woodstock area did not like the idea of hosting a “hippie concert”. For the organizers (working under the name “Woodstock Ventures”) the event grew into a never ending headache for years to come. Initially Woodstock Ventures settled the concert on an industrial site near the city of Wallkill. But permits were revoked just one month before the festival was to take place. Residents opposed the project. In early July, the Town Board passed a law requiring a permit for any gathering over 5,000 people.

On July 15, 1969, the Wallkill Zoning Board of Appeals officially banned the concert on the basis that the planned portable toilets would not meet town code. Reports of the ban turned out to be a publicity bonanza for the festival. Luckily Woodstock Ventures stumbled into Max Yasgur, owner of a dairy farm in nearby Bethel. For $75,000 in return the Bethel Town Attorney and a building inspector approved the permits, although the Bethel Town Board refused to issue them formally. Clark was ordered to post stop-work orders. But there was no way back. Too many stars did already sign contracts.

Event tourism Woodstock
Event Tourism Woodstock: Largest counter culture festival ever.

In April 1969, newly minted superstars CCR (Creedence Clearwater Revival) became the first act to sign a contract for the event, agreeing to play for $10,000. The promoters had experienced difficulty landing big-name groups prior to CCR committing to play. Once CCR inked their deal, it become easy to sign other stars. A list of the monetary breakdown:

1. Jimi Hendrix – $18,000
2. Blood, Sweat and Tears – $15,000
3. Joan Baez – $10,000
4. Creedence Clearwater Revival – $10,000
5. The Band – $7,500
6. Janis Joplin – $7,500
7. Jefferson Airplane – $7,500
8. Sly and the Family Stone – $7,000
9. Canned Heat – $6,500
10. The Who – $6,250
11. Richie Havens – $6,000
12. Arlo Guthrie – $5,000
13. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – $5,000
14. Ravi Shankar – $4,500
15. Johnny Winter – $3,750
16. Ten Years After – $3,250
17. Country Joe and the Fish – $2,500
18. Grateful Dead – $2,500
19. The Incredible String Band – $2,250
20. Mountain – $2,000
21. Tim Hardin – $2,000
22. Joe Cocker – $1,375
23. Sweetwater – $1,250
24. John B. Sebastian – $1,000
25. Melanie – $750
26. Santana – $750
27. Sha Na Na – $700
28. Keef Hartley – $500
29. Quill – $375

Woodstock was designed as a profit-making event. Tickets cost $18 in advance and $24 at the gate (equivalent to $120 and $160 today). Ticket sales were limited to record stores in the greater New York City area, or by mail via a P.O.Box. Around 186,000 advance tickets were sold. Those $3,35million earned would have covered all investments, leaving the promoters with a decent profit. But things took a different turn, making them pay off debt for another decade …

Event tourism Woodstock
Woodstock 1969 is the perfect example of missed chances of a local tourist industry to cash out on an event. And because of these missed chances this festival reached legendary status.

This late change in venue did not give the festival organizers enough time to prepare. At a meeting three days before the event, Woodstock Ventures felt they had two options: #1 was to complete the fencing and ticket booths, without which the promoters were almost certain to lose more money. #2 involved putting their remaining available resources into building a proper stage, without which the promoters feared they would have a disappointed and disgruntled audience. The decision fell in favour of the stage, and that was the right move. Because fences became an oxymoron anyway, and the stage needed to withstand a lot of heavy rain.

Event tourism Woodstock
Woodstock Ventures estimated the crowd to be at 200,000 max. Twice as many came. Another one million did not reach the venue.

The huge influx of attendees to the concert site was simply overwhelming. It created massive traffic jams. Eventually, announcements on radio stations as far away as WNEW-FM in Manhattan and descriptions of the traffic jams on TV news discouraged people from setting off to the festival. To add to the problems and difficulty in dealing with such large crowd, recent rains had caused muddy roads and fields. The facilities were neither equipped to provide sanitation nor first aid for 400,000 people. The hippies found themselves in a struggle against bad weather, food shortages, and poor sanitation.

Jimi Hendrix was the last act to perform at Woodstock. Hendrix took the stage at 8:30am Monday morning. The remaining audience was now reduced to about 30,000; many of them merely waited to catch a glimpse of Hendrix before they had to urgently leave during his performance. Don’t forget, it was a Monday. Most people needed to go back to work.

Event tourism Woodstock Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix was the main and final gig at Woodstock. But due heavy rain his stage appearance was delayed until Monday morning 8:30am. Less than 10% of the 400,000 people attending the counterculture festival where able to see Jimi Hendrix perform.

Woodstock ’69 turned out to be an epic success – the most famous music festival ever. It was remarkably peaceful given the number of people and the conditions involved. Nearly every second adult was stoned. Still there were only two recorded fatalities: one from what was believed to be a heroin overdose, and another caused in an accident when a tractor ran over an attendee sleeping in a nearby hayfield. There also were two births recorded at the event: one in a car caught in traffic and another in a hospital after an airlift by helicopter.

Very few reporters from outside the immediate area were on the scene. During the first two days of the festival, a predominantly arrogant national media coverage only emphasized the problems. Front page headlines in the Daily News read “Traffic Uptight at Hippiefest” and “Hippies Mired in a Sea of Mud”. Coverage became more positive by the end of the festival, because parents of concertgoers called the media and told them, based on their children’s stories, the media reporting was misleading.

The New York Times covered the prelude to the festival and the move from Wallkill to Bethel. Barnard Collier, who reported from the event for The New York Times, asserts that he was pressured by on-duty editors at the paper to write a misleadingly negative article about the event. According to Collier, this led to acrimonious discussions and his threat to refuse to write the article until the paper’s executive editor agreed to let him write the article as he saw fit. The eventual article dealt with issues of traffic jams and minor lawbreaking, but went on to emphasize cooperation, generosity, and the good nature of the festival goers.

Event Tourism Woodstock – Aftermath

The documentary film Woodstock, directed by Michael Wadleigh and edited by Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese, was released in 1970. Artie Kornfeld (one of the promoters of the festival) went to Fred Weintraub, an executive at Warner Bros., and asked for money to film the festival. Artie had been turned down everywhere else, but against the express wishes of other Warner Bros. executives, Weintraub put his job on the line and gave Kornfeld $100,000 to make a very very successful documentary. What a lucky move! Woodstock helped to save Warner Bros. at a time when the company was on the verge of going out of business.

Right after Woodstock, approximately 80 lawsuits were filed against Woodstock Ventures. But the documentary financed all settlements and even paid off another $1.4 million of debt the organizers had incurred from the festival. Using income from the Woodstock Documentary as well as the soundtracks and the Woodstock live albums, the debt mountain was finally cleared off in 1980. Since then, Rosenman/Roberts and Michael Lang, who re-joined Woodstock Ventures for licensing for merchandising and image and audio rights, have raised millions in profits from Woodstock. The world’s largest fan merchandise license holder Live Nation Merchandise alone generates between $50+ million per year with Woodstock products. In 2018, the Woodstock album released in 1970 ranked #24 in the all time list of best-selling albums by year in the United States. Woodstock 2 – released in 1971 – ranks #47.

Farmer Max Yasgur refused to rent out his farm for a revival of the festival in the following years. He died in 1973.

Bethel voters tossed out their supervisor in an election held in November 1969 because of his role in bringing the festival to the town. New York State and the town of Bethel passed mass gathering laws designed to prevent any more festivals from occurring.

Woodstock quickly became a pilgrimage destination for hippies and their children. Still it took locals almost 30 years to realize that they missed out on huge financial benefits from this “one-in-a-million” event. Many ill advised attempts were made to prevent people from visiting the site, its owners spread chicken manure, and during one anniversary, tractors and state police cars formed roadblocks.

But in 1997 a community group put up a welcoming sign for visitors. The mood slowly changed. Unlike Bethel, the town of Woodstock made several efforts to cash in on its notoriety. In 2006 also Bethel’s stance changed. A Center of Arts opened in 2006 at the site of the 1969 Music and Art Fair. The town now embraces the festival. Efforts have begun to forge a link between Bethel and Woodstock. Too little, too late. Even the decendents of the Woodstock generation are now in their 50s, rather minding their own health issues instead of celebrating Woodstock 50.

Event tourism Woodstock
Event tourism Woodstock 2019. Book accommodation for the Woodstock 50 Festival here, if you are legs are still strong and ears not deaf yet :D

Event tourism Woodstock. By Chili & Churp | © International Destinations | more Travel News here.