Woodstock’s 50th anniversary

It was promoted as “3 Days of Peace, Love, and Music.”

Performers at the music festival included Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, The Who, Sly and The Family Stone, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Santana, and Jimi Hendrix.

It was held on a farm in New York, owned by a 49-year-old dairy farmer named Max Yasgur.

And it just celebrated its 50th Anniversary.

Of course, I am referring to the iconic Woodstock Music Festival.  It was held on Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York, from August 15-17, 1969.  Upwards of a half million people showed up, and did not pay.

Most of the readers of this column are familiar with the Woodstock festival. Before I discuss memorabilia from the event, allow me to go beyond the basics and relate some facts of which most people are not aware. Four men, Artie Kornfeld, Michael Lang, John Roberts, and Joel Rosenman came up with the idea. Kornfeld was a vice president at Capitol Records, and Lang had organized the Miami Music Festival in 1968. They knew they needed a big name to agree to play if the festival was going to be a hit. They got one in Creedence Clearwater Revival.

The original plan was the festival would be held at the Howard Mills Industrial Park, in Wallkill, New York. However, the Wallkill town officials nixed any permission. Finally, Max Yasgur offered to rent the promoters part of his two thousand acres that comprised ten farms. Yasgur was the largest dairy farmer in Sullivan County at the time.  He allowed the music festival to be on a 600-acre plot. Even though the festival was held in Bethel, New York, the name of Woodstock was used. Bob Dylan and other musicians were believed to have lived there at the time, and the name had a hippy aura.

The promoters believed that about 50,000 people would attend. In reality, very few tickets were sold, and it has been estimated that nearly 500,000 people showed up. Day one ended with Joan Baez performing in a torrential downpour at two o’clock in the morning of August 16. Day two ended around ten in the morning of August 17. Joe Cocker started Day 3 about four hours later. Rains delayed the final performer until early the next morning, technically Day 4.

And who was the legendary performer who was the last musician to play?

Jimi Hendrix, of course.

Which performers turned down invitations to play at the festival?  It reads like a pop culture Who’s Who list: The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, The Moody Blues, Simon and Garfunkel, and John Lennon.

Woodstock left the promoters nearly bankrupt. But they were wise enough to retain the film and recording rights. They would make their money when the documentary film Woodstock became a hit in 1970.

As for the memorabilia from Woodstock, here are some of the items that periodically are auctioned.

An original Woodstock advertising poster, has been sold for anywhere from several hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. However, there are many reproductions of the poster, so be careful.

Sets of unused tickets are also available. Tickets cost $8 for each day, or $18 for all three days. A single one-day ticket have been sold for about $40-$50, and a three-day ticket for about $200. In June 2019, a one-day ticket signed by the late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead sold for $700.

A Woodstock jacket worn by a security crew member sold for nearly $3,800. An original Woodstock schedule, which included a handwritten note for the farm owner Max Yasgur was sold at Christie’s in 2017. It went for $10,000.

Finally, a bottle of actual Woodstock, N.Y. dirt with a label that it came from Yasgur’s farm was offered at auction. It had an estimated value of $500-$900. There were no takers.

Despite the poor weather condition, and muddy conditions, as well as a lack of food and water, Woodstock was peaceful. The festival’s mantra of “making love, not war” certainly was true. Security was limited as off-duty police were banned.

And Max Yasgur may have summed it up best when he said “the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half-million kids…can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music and I God bless you for it.” And God bless you, Max Yasgur.

And finally, for those Woodstock trivia buffs, who is the iconic “hugging couple” that appeared on the cover of the “Woodstock” album. They are Bobbi and Nick Ercoline of Pine Bush, New York. They were married in 1971 and are still married today.

And Woodstock endures in the minds of many as well.  

Jeff Figler has authored more than 700 published articles about collecting. He is a certified professional appraiser and one of the world’s leading experts on collectibles. His latest book, “The Picker’s Pocket Guide to Baseball Memorabilia” has been #1 on Amazon. He can be reached at info@jefffigler.com.