HOPKINTON – As non-conformity became a growing trend during the late 1960s, young people across the country began a cultural movement. To traditional America, these tie-dyed teenagers flanked by daisies and doves, became known as ‘hippies’. Clad in flowing Bohemian costumes, their heads ringed with flowers, they gathered in communal settlements and adhered to meat-free diets. Their messages to the older generation centered on personal and world peace, which they attempted to bring about through the use of psychedelic drugs, the protest of military conflicts and confrontations, and music.
In early 1969, four entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry decided to put together a concert, showcasing the type of music that these new-age teens found refuge in. They lined up dozens of performers including Janis Joplin, Joan Baez and Jimi Hendrix in preparation for a show which they expected would bring in from 150,000 to 200,000 spectators.
Fifty-year-old Jewish dairy farmer Max Yasgur of Bethel, New York was approached about leasing part of his 600-acre farm for the event. With an operation of almost 700 cows, Yasgur was the most successful dairyman in the county. But it had been a rough year due to the weather, and the money would come in handy.
The concert would run for three days, from August 15 through the 18 and tickets could be purchased ahead of time or at the gate. A one-day ticket sold for $7, a two-day ticket for $13 and a three-day ticket for $18. The music would begin Friday at 4:00 and resume on Saturday and Sunday at 1:00
Billed as “Three days of peace and music”, the signs advertising the event began going up around town. Backlash against Yasgur was immediate. Many did not want a concert of this type being held in their community and threatened to refrain from buying Yasgur’s milk if he didn’t change his mind about hosting what they called in their complaints a “hippie festival”.
But Yasgur didn’t change his mind. Not only was he in need of the money the lease would bring, he felt these kids had a right to express themselves musically and any other way they wanted to.
By Friday afternoon, the traffic jams through Bethel made the news. More than 400,000 people plowed toward the temporary concert grounds. For the next three days, downpours turned the venue into a massive mud puddle where the hundreds of thousands of peace-seekers endured a lack of food as well as bathroom facilities and dry clothing. Yet the event went down in music history.
Author John Kane, a Design & Media professor at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, is releasing his new book “Pilgrims of Woodstock” in honor of the festival’s 50th anniversary. Containing 250 pages, the book includes interviews with those who attended the event as well as never-before-seen photographs taken during that rain-soaked, overcrowded, extravaganza in August of 1969.
Kane will give a presentation on the book at Ashaway Free Library, located at 15 Knight Street in Ashaway, on Tuesday, July 16 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.