top of page
  • Writer's pictureDave Smith

Woodstock Fifty Years ago 400k hippies

Updated: Nov 7, 2019


Peace, Love, Music and Mud: LIFE at Woodstock

Ben CosgroveJul 30, 2013

The original plan was for an outdoor rock festival, "three days of peace and music" in the Catskill village of Woodstock. What the young promoters got was the third largest city in New York state, population 400,000 (give or take 100,000), location Max Yasgur's dairy farm near the town of White Lake.

So began LIFE magazine's description, in its August 29, 1969 issue, of what has come to be seen as one of the defining events of the 1960s. Forty-four years later, presents a gallery of pictures—many of which never ran in the magazine—from those heady, rain-soaked days and nights.

Lured by music [the story in LIFE continued] and some strange kind of magic ("Woodstock? Doesn't Bob Dylan live in Woodstock?"), young people from all over the U.S. descended on the rented 600-acre farm. It was a real city, with life and death and babies—two were born during the gathering—and all the urban problems of water supply, food, sanitation and health. Drugs, too, certainly, because so many of its inhabitants belong to the drug culture. Counting on only 50,000 customers a day, the organizer had set up a fragile, unauthoritarian system to deal with them. Overrun, strained to its limits, the system somehow, amazingly, didn't break. For three days nearly half a million people lived elbow to elbow in the most exposed, crowded, rain-drenched, uncomfortable kind of community and there wasn't so much as a fist fight. For those who passed through it, Woodstock was less a music festival than a total experience, a phenomenon, a happening, high adventure, a near disaster and, in s a small way, a struggle for survival. Casting an apprehensive eye over the huge throng on opening day, Friday afternoon, a festival official announced, "There are a hell of a lot of us here. If we are going to make it, you had better remember that the guy next to you is your brother." Everybody remembered. Woodstock made it.

One of the LIFE photographers on scene during the festival, John Dominis, summed up his own recollections of Woodstock this way:

"I really had a great time.," Dominis told, decades after the fact. "I was much older than those kids, but I felt like I was their age. They smiled at me, offered me pot. . . . You didn't expect to see a bunch of kids so nice; you'd think they'd be uninviting to an older person. But no—they were just great!

"I worked at LIFE for 25 years," Dominis said, "and worked everywhere and saw everything, and I've told people every year since Woodstock happened that it was one of the greatest events I ever covered."

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.


Not published in LIFE. Max and Miriam Yasgur on their land after the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, August 1969. Bill Eppridge—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Not published in LIFE. Max and Miriam Yasgur on their land after the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, August 1969. Bill Eppridge—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Woodstock Festival[edit]

After area villages Saugerties (located about 40 miles (64 km) from Yasgur's farm) and Wallkill declined to provide a venue for the festival, Yasgur leased one of his farm's fields for a fee that festival sponsors said was $10,000.[4] Soon afterward he began to receive both threatening and supporting phone calls (which could not be placed without the assistance of an operator because the community of White Lake, New York, where the telephone exchange was located, still utilized manual switching).[5] Some of the calls threatened to burn him out. However, the helpful calls outnumbered the threatening ones.[4] Opposition to the festival began soon after the festival's relocation to Bethel was announced. Signs were erected around town, saying, "Stop Max's Hippie Music Festival. No 150,000 hippies here. Buy no milk."[6]

Yasgur was 49 at the time of the festival and had a heart condition. He said at the time that he never expected the festival to be so large, but that "if the generation gap is to be closed, we older people have to do more than we have done."[4]

Yasgur quickly established a rapport with the concert-goers, providing food at cost or for free. When he heard that some local residents were reportedly selling water to people coming to the concert, he put up a big sign at his barn on New York State Route 17B reading "Free Water." The New York Times reported that Yasgur "slammed a work-hardened fist on the table and demanded of some friends, 'How can anyone ask money for water?'"[4] His son Sam recalled his father telling his children to "take every empty milk bottle from the plant, fill them with water and give them to the kids, and give away all the milk and milk products we had at the dairy."[7]

At the time of the concert, friends described Yasgur as an individualist who was motivated as much by his principles as by the money.[4] According to Sam Yasgur, his father agreed to rent the field to the festival organizers because it was a very wet year, which curtailed hay production. The income from the rental would offset the cost of purchasing thousands of bales of hay.

Yasgur also believed strongly in freedom of expression, and was angered by the hostility of some townspeople toward "anti-war hippies". Hosting the festival became, for him, a "cause".[7]

On the third day of the festival, just before Joe Cocker's early afternoon set, Yasgur addressed the crowd.[8]

After Woodstock[edit]

Many of his neighbors turned against him after the festival, and he was no longer welcome at the town general store, but he never regretted his decision to allow the concert on his farm.[7] On January 7, 1970, he was sued by his neighbors for property damage caused by the concert attendees. However, the damage to his own property was far more extensive and, over a year later, he received a $50,000 settlement to pay for the near-destruction of his dairy farm.[citation needed] He refused to rent out his farm for a 1970 revival of the festival, saying, "As far as I know, I'm going back to running a dairy farm."[5]

In 1971, Yasgur sold the 600-acre (2.4 km2) farm, and moved to Marathon, Florida, where, a year and a half later, he died of a heart attack at the age of 53.[5] He was given a full-page obituary in Rolling Stone magazine, one of the few non-musicians to have received such an honor.[9]

In 1997, the site of the concert and 1,400 acres (5.7 km2) surrounding it was purchased by Alan Gerry for the purpose of creating the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. In August 2007, the 103-acre (0.42 km2) parcel that contains Yasgur's former homestead, about 3 miles from the festival site, was placed on the market for $8 million by its owner, Roy Howard (1935-2013). Remembered for his free spirit and giving heart, Roy paid tribute to Max by hosting annual reunions. Yasgur Road and the Woodstock Audience Field will always be "Ground Zero for Peace"-Carlos Santana.[1

This Day in Jewish History

1973: The Farmer Who Defied His Neighbors and Hosted Woodstock Dies

Max Yasgur was still thinking over the proposal when his neighbors called for a boycott of his business. That did it, and thus the dairy farmer became a counterculture hero.

story credit David B. Green SendSend me email alertsFeb 09, 2016 9:38 AM  0comments   Zen Subscribe now 77share on facebook Tweet send via email reddit stumbleupon

On February 9, 1973, Max Yasgur, the New York State dairy farmer who defied his neighbors when he agreed to host the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival on his land, died, at the age of 53. Almost in spite of himself, Yasgur became a counterculture hero when he agreed to lease 600 acres of his farm to an ad hoc company called Woodstock Ventures, which anticipated some 50,000 participants at the three-day festival it was planning.

Instead, an estimated 400,000 people showed up in what was up to then the largest known gathering in the Western world.

Want to read more articles?

Email*Sign up I'd like to receive emails on offers, appeals and commercial info

Maxwell B. Yasgur was born in New York on December 15, 1919, and grew up on his parents’ dairy farm, in Sullivan County, New York. His father was Samuel Yasgur, a Jewish immigrant born in Minsk, in what is today Belarus, and his mother was the former Bella Feder. They also ran a small hotel on their property.

Yasgur attended New York University, where he is said to have studied real estate and business, before returning to Maplewood, in the Catskills region. There, he eventually sold his family’s property, and bought two farms in nearby Bethel, to which he continued adding over the years. In 1940, he married Miriam Miller, who had been a guest at his parents’ hotel. They had two children, Samuel, in 1942, and Lois, in 1944.

Suddenly, a venue problem

By 1969, Yasgur’s dairy farm had more than 550 cows – purebred Holsteins – and its own pasteurization facility, where he processed milk he distributed and sold around the region. 

The Woodstock festival was so named because of the original plan to mount some sort of event in Woodstock, New York, which is some 60 miles (96 kms) to the northeast. The organizers had already begun selling tickets to the festival when they were denied permission to hold it where they had planned. Another possibility was a motel owned by one Elliot Tiber in White Lake, but it was too small for the organizers, so, in mid-July 1969, he put them in touch with his friend, Max Yasgur.

Woodstock Ventures originally offered to pay Yasgur $50 a day to rent part of his farm, for what they said they estimated would be an audience of 5,000 people. That didn’t sound right to the farmer.

Michael Lang, the first of the four organizers to meet with Yasgur, recalled in 1994 to the Times-Herald Record, a local paper, “When we started to talk business, he was figuring on how much he was going to lose in this crop and how much it was going to cost him to reseed the field. He was a sharp guy, ol' Max, and he was figuring everything up with a pencil and paper.”

Eventually, Woodstock Ventures agreed to pay Yasgur $75,000 for the use of his land, and when they presented the idea to the local authorities, they now estimated an audience of 40,000. That too was off by a factor of 10.

Have fun and God bless you

Bethel residents were split on the idea, but opponents began posting signs urging neighbors, “Don’t buy Yasgur’s milk. He loves the hippies.”

“The sign did it,” Miriam Yasgur told a journalist, some years later. “When Max saw that, I knew darned well he was going to let them have their festival.”

Yasgur himself addressed the audience on day three, shortly before Joe Cocker took the stage.

skip - With A Little Help Of My Friends, Joe Cocker, at Woodstock - featuring first of all, the short address by Max Yasgur!

“The important thing that you've proven to the world,” he declared, “is that a half a million kids -- and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and God Bless You for it!”


More commonly referred to as simply “Woodstock,” the event quickly took on a life of its own. With an estimated attendance of 400,000 music lovers, the affair turned into New York state’s 4th largest city on those four magical days – August 15-18, 1969.

Photo showing large crowd and part of the stage at Woodstock. This photo is directed toward the tent camping area behind the stage. foto credit @Tribudea history tribute encyclopedia

The 1969 Woodstock Festival was held at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm near White Lake, New York, which is around 43 miles southwest of the actual town of Woodstock, New York. The 1969 music festival is regularly considered a pivotal moment in popular music history.

This photo shows a group of people writing, typing and talking on pay phones. (Probably reporters.)


Michael Lang is Jewish and from Brooklyn.[3][4][5][6] In 1967, Lang left NYU and moved to Coconut Grove, Florida to open a head shop. In 1968, after promoting a series of concert events in the Miami area, Lang (together with Marshall Brevetz) produced the "1968 Miami Pop Festival". It drew around 25,000 people on day one (May 18) with acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, John Lee Hooker, Arthur Brown, and Blue Cheer. On the afternoon of the second day (May 19) it started to rain and the event ended early.

Woodstock Festivals 1969, 1994, 1999, 2019[edit]

After he moved to Woodstock, NY and met Artie Kornfeld in New York, the two developed the concept for a major festival event to celebrate the '60s social movements, and planned to open a recording studio in the town of Woodstock. With Kornfeld and partners John P. Roberts and Joel Rosenman, Lang set into motion the Woodstock festival, which was held on Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, New York, from August 15 to August 18, 1969.

Michael Lang was featured in many scenes of the 1970 Academy Award winning documentary film Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music.

Lang also produced Woodstock '94 with partners Roberts, Rosenman and co-producer John Scher, and Woodstock '99 with John Scher and Ossie Kilkenny.

In May 2014, Lang revealed plans for a possible 50th anniversary concert in 2019 and that he is exploring various locations.[7]

On January 9, 2019, Lang announced the official Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival would take place August 16–18 at the Watkins Glen International Raceway , NY.[8]

Michael wants the festival to be centered around activism, and sustainability in a NGO platform.

Michael Lang interview about the upcoming Woodstock Festival.

#Woodstock #JimKerrMorningShow

Woodstock Co-Creator Announces 50th Anniversary Festival


Joe Cocker - A Little Help From My Friends - Woodstock 1969


Richie Havens opened the Woodstock festival, even though he wasn’t scheduled to go on until later in the evening. Heavy traffic had prevented the opening acts from arriving at the festival, and festival organizers convinced him to take the stage around 5:15 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The other acts were still stuck in the traffic, so Havens performed several encores, playing “every song he knew.” Searching for another song to sing, he began strumming, getting into a groove, when the word “Freedom” came to mind. He sang his now-famous song “Freedom” for the first time, on stage at Woodstock, making the words up as he played. He later told the story of having to see the movie “Woodstock,” so that he could hear how the song went so he could perform it again.


5,254 viewsJan 12, 2019, 11:53am

After 50 Years, Woodstock Still Rocks With Peace, Love And Travel

Michael Alpiner ContributorTravelI write with a journalist's mind and a poet's heart

A half century ago, a caravan of socially conscious youth trekked across country to participate in a music spectacle proving millions of people can gather in one place in peace, joy and love.

Poster from the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969.FLICKR

War was raging in Vietnam, Nixon doubled his presidential salary, Arafat was named head of the PLO, and Jimi Hendrix was blasting his dogged distortion of the National Anthem to a kaleidoscope of flower children cheering in the rain.

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock 1969.PIXABAY

Flash ahead fifty years, and the world hasn’t changed all that much. At a time when we need it most, a new caravan will be trudging its way into the Catskills to the town of Bethel, 85 miles northwest of New York City. There, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, built on Max Yasgur’s Sullivan County farm, the original site for the Three Days of Peace & Music, will host the 50th Anniversary rock concert in August 2019.

The blue skies and lush fields in Bethel, NY, courtesy of Hudson Valley Exposed.COURTESY OF HUDSON VALLEY EXPOSED

Coverage of the historic event in 1969 was as much about protest and music as it was about travel. Ride share was not a popular term, but that did not deter the uber-hippies from stopping along the road at the first wave of a thumb and a poncho.

Fashion from an important era in American History.WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

This summer, hitchhiking will be replaced by a cellphone and the Lyftapp. Chants of “No rain, no rain, no rain,” will be replaced by TED-style talks and interactive displays in the Museum of Bethel Woods. However, one thing that remains consistent is the beauty of the Catskills.

The heat of August lacks the psychedelic colors seen in the fall, but still the ride along route 17 is painted with verdant brush strokes from a palette of forest green and asphalt gray. Quaint towns appear and disappear.

Views of Catskill Mountains from valleyGETTY

Farmhouses and family run stores, many unchanged in fifty years, welcome travelers with open doors. Phoenicia, northeast of Bethel, is one of those towns, so unpolished it seems as if the dust on the porch of Mystery Spot Antiques might have come from the leather-tasseled moccasins of a hippie looking for a black light poster of John Lennon.

Typical small town in Catskill, NY. Phoenicia offers a glimpse of simplicity and nature.WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Even the town of Woodstock, though a decent hike to the site of the actual concert, exists more as an homage to the era of free love than a time capsule of unchanged decadence, with thrift stores selling 60s memorabilia, baby boomer pedestrians pointing to the artifacts of their fading memories, and the sweet attempts at a peace sign from stores such as Peace, Love & Cupcakes, with a menu offering the Janis Joplin (which is made with Southern Comfort) the Jefferson Airplane (made with psychedelic frosting) and the Blood, Sweat and Tears cupcake (you’ll have to visit the store to find this out).

Woodstock, NY. An antique store in Woodstock, New York embraces the culture and design of the 1960s.GETTY

To truly “get back to the land,” a deviation from the B-line to Bethel should lead the bucolic traveler to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, NY. Thomas Cole invented the Hudson River School of painting, a purely American art style that celebrated the pristine landscapes of the Catskills. Later in his career, Cole expressed strong opposition to how industrial development was infringing and destroying the beauty of nature in the Catskills, a quintessentially environmentalist/hippie attitude.

Thomas Cole House, view from the porchMICHAEL ALPINER

Undoubtedly, the caravans of counterculture youth, bearing cellphones and Bluetooth devices rather than wildflowers and guitars will lead the pack driving up to the concert. They will be followed by the next generation, born after Woodstock but still owner of Carol King’s Tapestry and CSNY’s 4-Way Street. Finally, a cohort will be seen ambling along, who were there in 1969, braving the mud and the rain, the dearth of toilets and food, who might have bathed in the pond near Yasgur’s Farm, or tripped their way through three days of peace, love and rock and roll.

Carlos Santana performs at Woodstock 1969IPERNITY

Some of the musicians will be back. Some new ones will fill in the cracks. But no matter how far we are from 1969, there is a heartbeat desperate to emerge, the new voter, the metoo fist raiser, the Occupier of everywhere, and the kaleidoscope lives matter protester. This is a travel story, one that teaches us and will continue to teach us that the opposite of travel is stagnancy. The music echoing through the Catskills, emanating from Bethel, is once again a call to action.

Look back at this column as the date of the concert approaches for updates and commentary.

Michael Alpiner is co-editor of He is a college writing professor, and a published poet and article writer. He lives in Queens, NY.

Michael AlpinerContributor


Dean2 years ago

the clip, including the soundtrack, is actually taken directly from the 1970 movie/documentary 'woodstock.' martin scorsese edited and was assistant director. it's one of his earliest projects. this isn't a fan-made youtube project.

rhythman69uk2 years ago (edited)

Jeez, the music was just so f***ing honest then and probably the only time in humanity's history when we were trying to genuinely spread peace, love, harmony and goodwill. Didn't last long though, but that wasn't their fault. A child of the 70's, I'm glad I saw it. : ) Watching it again now, you could say that briefly a cultural assimilation took place, and from the unlikeliest source - India. And now, 4 decades on, India wants to be like us in terms of volume of cars, technology, mobile phones. I still hardly remember to wear a watch lol


Wavy Gravy Talks Woodstock 50th Anniversary and Healing the Blind with the Seva Foundation

Wavy GravyJay Blakesberg

Last Saturday, Wavy Gravy presided over a star-studded benefit concert marking the 40th anniversary of the Seva Foundation — which aims to eliminate avoidable blindness

JORDAN RUNTAGH January 18, 2019 01:05 PM

In conversation, Wavy Gravy introduces himself with a self-deprecating giggle as “hippie icon, flower geezer, temple of accumulated error.” It’s a formidable way to sum up the legacy the man born Hugh Romney, whose offbeat peaceful political activism, groundbreaking work with the Hog Farm commune, and unforgettable showing at the Woodstock festival made him a counterculture legend. But, true to his charming humility, this self-proclaimed honorific neglects to mention his monumental charitable work, which has transformed him into something approaching Mother Theresa with a clown nose. A 2009 documentary dubbed him “Saint Misbehavin’,” and that’s as good a title as any.

Last Saturday, the 82-year-old presided over a star-studded benefit concert at Oakland, California’s historic Fox Theater marking the 40th anniversary of the Seva Foundation, an organization he helped create. Friends like Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Osborne, and longtime Grateful Dead matesMickey Hart and Bob Weir were among the many who lent their services and saluted the organization dedicated to expanding access to eye care in developing nations and eliminating avoidable blindness within our lifetime. To date, they have restored sight to more than five million people and has provided eye-care services to at least 40 million people.

Mickey Hart, Jackson Browne, Joan Osborne, Bob Weir, Wavy Gravy and Bonnie Raitt backstage at the Sing Out for Seva 40th anniversary benefit concert on Jan. 12Jay Blakesberg

“Seva is a Sanskrit word that means service to humankind,” he explains. “We first gathered 40 years ago in a circle in Hartland, Michigan.” In addition to himself and wife Jahanara Romney, this initial group included renowned epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant, spiritual teacher Ram Dass, Indian ophthalmologist Govindappa “Dr. V” Venkataswamy and Nicole Grasset, the senior adviser for the World Health Organization smallpox eradication campaign. Even a young Steve Jobs got involved as an early financier. “It was a mixed bag, but I was the only clown,” says Wavy. (“Clown,” defined by Mr. Gravy, as “A clown is a poet who is also an orangutan.”)


Tips for Your Game Day Viewing Party

Throwing a big game party? Here are some handy tips and tricks for a great Game Day viewing experience. #ad

From Eylea

Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt perform at the Sing Out for Seva concert on Jan. 12.Jay Blakesberg

Despite their different backgrounds, they were drawn together by a common mission. “We were looking for something to do to help alleviate some of human suffering. We all wanted to do that,” he tells PEOPLE. “Eighty percent of the people in the world that are blind do not need to be blind and can get their sight back with a simple cataract surgery that takes 15 minutes. We also sew little intraocular lenses into the eye. So, let’s say you’re a Tibetan farmer and you break your glasses — it would take you like three days to get the new glasses on a mountain trail, whereas with intraocular lenses, they live inside your eye.”

Bob Weir and Joan Osborne perform at the Sing Out for Seva concert on Jan. 12.Jay Blakesberg

In the early days of the organization, Wavy was tasked with securing musical acts for their first benefit shows. “It’s my particular gift because of my experience at Woodstock (and what have you) that I do have access to musicians that other organizations don’t.” While the cause was obviously worthwhile, it wasn’t exactly an easy sell. “I was assigned to try and get the Grateful Dead — good luck with that! — to do our first concert. Everybody always dreams that if they have a great cause, they can just call up the Rolling Stones. But it’s very, very difficult to get artists to play for free. I went to the airport in Detroit and who was on the airplane but the Grateful Dead — and they did not have parachutes. So I started in on the drummers. And by the time the plane landed in San Francisco I had the Grateful Dead agreed to do our first show.”

In addition to four decades of Seva, Wavy is preparing for another milestone: the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Last week, the festival’s co-creator Michael Lang announced that he would be holding another three days of peace, love and music this August in Watkins Glen, New York. Though the lineup has yet to be announced, many hope that Wavy will make yet another appearance. “I would not be surprised if I did,” he says. “I’m there for Michael and he knows that. Whatever he wants to do I’m there for him.”

Half a century on, Wavy still recalls the original gathering as “absolutely, jaw-droppingly amazing” — and not just because of the lineup that included Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, the Who, Santana, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joan Baez, Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and so many more. “It wasn’t just the music. It was all these different people from all over the country who thought they were the odd kid in town, who suddenly came together. Then there were half a million of us to work on the environment, or stop the war. Music brought us together.”

RELATED: Jack Quaid Stars in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Video for ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain’

And Wavy, along with his cohorts in the Hog Farm, famously kept everyone fed. “When I made the announcement I said, ‘Good morning, what we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000,’ which Entertainment Weekly picked as one of the top entertainment lines of the 20th century. And it just popped out of the top of my head without thinking, which is the best way to do things. It’s the intuitive clown way.”

Befitting his status as a modern street philosopher, Wavy brims with words of wisdom that he’s quick to share.

“There’s a line that guides me that I got from Ken Kesey: ‘Always put your good where it’ll do the most.’ Seva has become my guiding thing. But other people, you just open up yourself like a sail to the wind and some breeze will lead you somewhere. Like you might get involved with the Heifer Project, or the various anti-war things in Berkeley. There’s a lot to do.”

He adds another bon mot from William Butler Yeats: “In dreams begin responsibility. So if you dream it, you can be it.”

And finally, one from himself: “If you don’t have a sense of humor it just isn’t funny anymore. I maintain laughter is the valve on the pressure cooker of life. If you don’t laugh at stuff you end up with your brains on the ceiling.”


The most memorable moment of the concert for many fans was the closing performance by Jimi Hendrix, who gave a epic, rocking solo guitar performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Jimi Marshal Hendrix- National Anthem

bottom of page