A dispute among Woodstock 50 organizers over whether the upcoming anniversary concert is canceled or not marks the latest issue to plague concerts linked to the famous festival held in August 1969.
In fact, the original concert — the Woodstock Music and Art Fair — lost its site in July 1969, about a month before it was scheduled to be held. Woodstock co-producer and co-founder Michael Lang quickly found farmland owned by Sullivan County farmer Max Yasgur and announced within days that Woodstock would be held in Bethel.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Uncertainty, however, now hangs over plans for a 50th anniversary Woodstock concert scheduled for Aug. 16-18 in Watkins Glen, Schuyler County.
A spokesperson for Woodstock 50's financial partner said Monday that the golden anniversary festival has been canceled. Woodstock 50 says the show will go on.
Considered the crowning achievement of the 1960s counterculture, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair Aug. 15-18, 1969 attracted hundreds of thousands of people to Bethel in Sullivan County. Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Richie Havens and Janis Joplin were among the performers at the festival, which took place against the backdrop of 1960s turmoil.
Woodstock emerged as a "we're-all-in-this-together" concept framed by community, cooperation and harnessing the arts for social change. This perspective has endured across five decades but when it comes to logistics, history shows how Lang has encountered roadblocks and persevered.
According to his 2009 autobiography, “The Road to Woodstock,” the Town of Wallkill Zoning Board of Appeals in Orange County on July 15, 1969 rejected a permit application for the festival. With only about a month left until the festival, Lang immediately began looking into alternative sites and found the land upon which Woodstock was ultimately held.
“By Friday, July 17, it started hitting the papers that we were moving…,” Lang wrote.
Keep in mind, the Wallkill site wasn’t the first choice of Lang and his partners.
The original plans for Woodstock targeted the Winston Farm property in Saugerties, according to Lang’s book.
Through a real estate agent, he inquired with the property owner. Word got out about plans for the festival, though, and an official from the Ulster County Health Department made clear that a large outdoor event was not wanted.
With acts booked and staff hired, Lang’s partners in early March were told by the property owner that he would not rent the property to them, according to the book. The Winston Farm would ultimately host a different Woodstock concert — Woodstock ’94, held 25 years later. But we’ll get to that shortly.
With Wallkill eliminated as a site and the concert set for Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, the stage was set for Woodstock. But along with the incredible music and the hundreds of thousands of people came traffic tie-ups and bad weather.
All, however, was not lost.
According to the state police, out of the hundreds of thousands of people who attended Woodstock, only 109 were arrested at the festival, all but four for drugs, "but no instance of violence came to the attention of troopers."
Woodstock in the 90s
Two-and-a-half decades later, Lang staged Woodstock ’94 on the Winston Farm property and 350,000 people attended.
“In true Woodstock style, the communal spirit lived, it rained like hell, Mud People abounded and Woodstock ’94 made money for everyone but us,” he wrote.
Woodstock ’99 was held five years later at Griffiss Air Force Base near Rome, New York. But, the event was marked by violence.
“During the performances of acts like Limp Bizkit, Korn and Rage Against the Machine, the mosh pit was a scary sight,” Lang wrote. “The audience surfing got pretty aggressive and we were horrified to later find out that incidents of women being molested had been reported.”
On the final night, bonfires emerged, a line of supply trucks was torched and a melee with several hundred concertgoers followed, prompting the police to step in.
“In retrospect,” Lang wrote, “I realized I had failed to heed the lesson I had so clearly learned in 1969 and many times since: Trust my instincts.”
Woodstock 40 never materialized
In 2009, Lang had hoped to stage a free Woodstock 40th anniversary concert in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.
But the cost of staging a free concert and failure to find sponsors to cover the $8 million to $10 million cost forced him to drop plans for the show.
This article originally appeared on Poughkeepsie Journal: Woodstock concerts have history of problems