In August of 1969, over 450,000 people from all walks of life met at a small dairy farm in Bethel, New York for a music festival billed as “three days of peace and music.” No one who attended – not the audience, promoters or musicians – could have anticipated it becoming a defining moment in the history of a generation. The festival was besotted with problems, from traffic jams to tumultuous rainstorms and shoddy equipment; but that never dampened the spirit of peace, love and harmony radiated by the audience. In a time of political and social strife, Woodstock was an example of unity and hope.
In 1969, the Vietnam War was in full swing and the fight for Civil Rights was ongoing. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated only a year earlier. The country was in conflict with protests and counter-protests taking place in Washington, D.C. and across the country. It was turmoil. The Woodstock Music & Arts Festival and the peace and love of those attending ended up defining the decade as not one of hate and conflict but of peace, understanding and the promise of what the world could be if people simply embraced one another. In addition, in the very same summer, the Harlem Cultural Festival would define the very same sentiment for African-Americans in equal magnitude.
The original Woodstock performance lineup featured new and established musicians including The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, Santana, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Joe Cocker, The Band, Jimi Hendrix and others. Every musician gave it their all with Richie Havens opening the festival with a three-hour set due to other artists being held up in traffic. He played every song he knew, even inventing some on the spot. Hendrix closed the festival at 8am on Monday, August 18 playing more than three hours to the crowd of 30,000 still in attendance. It was a free festival born of understanding, acceptance and love that may never be rivaled.
In times of uncertainty and strife, it’s easy to get caught up in all the negativity – the fear, the hate, the anguish. It’s much harder to let it all go and embrace the opposite. Never forget the reason we are here: to enjoy ourselves and those around us in the short span of time we are given on Earth. Cherish our planet and protect it, embrace and protect each other, find and experience love and of course, enjoy the music.