“Three Days of Peace and Music.”
That was the promise on posters made by Woodstock concert promoter Michael Lang and others when recruiting what would eventually be an estimated 400,000 young people to the Yasgur family dairy farm in Bethel, New York.
From Aug. 15-18, 1969, Woodstock would forever change live music experience.
Jimi Hendrix blared a psychedelic version of The Star-Spangled Banner on his guitar. Singer Joan Baez performed while six months pregnant. Michael Shrieve drummed at just 20 years old. All became iconic moments of modern popular history.
As much as the festival was praised, there was also criticism and disdain. Due to the sheer number of people flocking to the rural, upstate area, Sullivan County declared a state of emergency. Concertgoers were met with Air Force troops, who helped ensure order and airlift some performers in an out of the concert venue.
The farm the festival took place at was also far from equipped to host the masses. Many festival-goers had to make due with no lodging, sanitation or food.
Let it be known, though, that the Woodstock name would never go down in history in vain.
Now, almost 50 years later, Michael Lang has officially announced an anniversary celebration, providing three more days of peace and music.
What could possibly go wrong?
While the commercial appeal of Woodstock 50 is enticing to many, past anniversary celebrations did occur, and, in many regards, were a complete mess.
The 25th anniversary of Woodstock in 1994 brought a new festival and, (for better or for worse), an entirely transformed music industry. Rock music had taken a more experimental and angsty turn. Groups like Nine Inch Nails and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were the masthead names of the festival.
Commercialism had changed, too. Single tickets for Woodstock ‘94 started at $135, or about $230 in 2018 dollars. Advance tickets for Woodstock ’69 were $18, or about $125 in 2018 dollars. While organizers banned any alcohol use in Woodstock’s later iteration, necessities such as food and water were outrageously priced in Woodstock’s later iteration.
Of course, that wouldn’t fly with ‘90s angst.
Fans who refused to pay stormed the chain link fences, unable to be stopped by security. The trespassers swelled festival attendance numbers from 164,000 to over 500,000, per a 1997 Associated Press historical review. Add in inclement weather and a mud-drenched festival grounds, and all chaos ensued.
But this wasn’t entirely a bad thing. Infamous moments, such as Green Day’s mud fight with their audience, were stapled to Woodstock’s consistent free-willing and fun legacy. The concern, though, came in the unwelcome rise of commercialism in music. Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor vocally opposed performing at first, fearing that it would be a “corporate nightmare.”
Reznor’s fears manifested during Woodstock’s 30th anniversary concert in 1999.
Four more days of peace and music, but you had to settle for MTV’s pay-per-view coverage unless you paid $150 plus service charges (in 2018 dollars, about $290 with services charges) for a ticket. With temperatures well above 100 degrees, fans had to be physically and financially prepared, as bottles of water were $4 each, and food ranged anywhere from $5 to $12 in 1999 dollars.
Even more unfortunate was that the music was far from the most notable takeaway of the festival. At the end of the weekend, some fans were injured, attacked and even allegedly raped, per a 1999 CNN report. Bands like Limp Bizkit encouraged the crowd to destroy the plywood surrounding the sound and tech booth, and on the last night, multiple out-of-control fires started within the masses.
Jane Ganahl of the San Francisco Examiner deemed the event, “The day that music died.”
Should The Peace Train Continue?
So here we are, 50 years later, and another epic three days planned. Good idea? I’d suggest not.
Decades after Woodstock’s conception, gargantuan festivals such as Coachella, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo emulate the mass appeal of the initial 1969 event. Each boasts their own style and demographic while also booking some of the hottest acts of the 21st century.
But of course, this all comes at a price. General admission to Coachella starts at around $429, while four-day passes to Lollapalooza tend to go for $335. Let’s not forget the additional costs for food and travel. It’s easy for music-goers to be wary of the now-inflated price tag, especially in light of the failed and fraudulent Fyre Festival.
Ticket prices for Woodstock 50 are yet to be revealed, but it would be hard to believe that they’d be far off from those of aforementioned music festivals, especially given how commodified Woodstock had become in its two previous anniversary festivals.
And how about the music? The targeted demographic of ticket buyers most likely wouldn’t be jumping up and down for Woodstock originals like David Crosby or Carlos Santana. Instead, it has been rumored that the likes of Daft Punk, Ariana Grande, Eminem, The Weeknd and The Chainsmokers could fill top lineup slots.
The entire festival industry is yearning for the day that Daft Punk comes anywhere close to a festival circuit like they did in 2007, but based on previous indications, it would take some serious offers. Ariana Grande is already set to headline both Coachella and Lollapalooza, so appointing her wouldn’t exactly be unprecedented. The other musicians are simply cyclical acts that could easily be seen at the nearest arena/semi-major festival.
What Lang is promoting seems to be nothing more than a carbon copy of most modern music festivals, with perhaps a classic act or two to butter up the Woodstock nostalgics. Even when a higher presence of security and control is promised in light of the last Woodstocks, it’s not far off from sentiments of the same tune by festival organizers post-Las Vegas.
All this being said, I am entirely confident that Woodstock 50 will be a sold-out newsworthy event. Music festivals tend to be a game of supply-and-demand, and if Michael Lang promises a spectacle, he’s got the notoriety to back it up.
Yet, there’s a bittersweet taste to it all. If Woodstock was so heavily revered for its classic upbringings, then the constant addendum and anniversaries almost seem senseless.
At the same time, though, there’s only so much arguing that can be done. Music, whether we like it or not, is a commodity, and not even peace and love can overshadow today’s inflated price tags.
Updated, 2/28/2019, 10:16 p.m.: This article now includes the cost of Woodstock ’69, ’94 and ’99 tickets if adjusted for inflation. This was done to offer a better comparison between ticket prices through the years. This article also fixes a previous factual error. Before, the article stated that 10,000 National Guard troops came to Woodstock ’69 to help ensure order. These were actually Air Force troops, and their numbers were significantly less.