The Making Woodstock
Joel Rosenman woke up on Friday, August 15, 1969, at 6:00 A.M. This was the first day of what is now known as the most famous rock festival in history, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Joel, along with John Roberts, Artie Kornfeld, and Michael Lang, created Woodstock. Joel woke to one of the biggest traffic jams in history located outside The Pines, the hotel where Woodstock s staff was staying. Route 17B lead right to the site of the festival, Max Yasgur s Farm. It took Joel twenty minutes weaving in and out of traffic on his motorcycle to go four miles on Route 17B. The traffic was backed up for ten miles(Rosenman, 155). When the people saw the traffic jam, they knew this thing was going to bigger than they had originally thought. Joel and the rest of the staff have been through hell to get this festival going and now the first day of Woodstock was about to begin.
Joel Rosenman was a graduate of Yale Law School and the son of a Long Island orthodontist. Joel met John Roberts on a golf course in the fall of 1966. Within a year they were roommates. Joel thought, It was instantly a good relationship because he was able to give me so much help in my golf game. (Makower, 21). Joel made his money by playing guitar for lounge bands all over the country. Roberts was heir to a drugstore and toothpaste fortune. He got his money from his multimillion-dollar trust fund. He was a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and had a lieutenant s commission in the Army (http://www.goecities.com/ music-festival/how-w.htm).
The two friends had an idea for a TV sitcom, similar to I Love Lucy.” It was an office comedy about two pals with more money than brains and a thirst for adventure. Every week they would get into a different business venture in some nutty scheme. And every week they would be rescued in the nick of time from their fate” (http://www.goecities.com/ music-festival/how-w.htm).
In order to get plot ideas for their show they ran an ad in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times which read, “Young men with unlimited capital looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities and business propositions.” (New York Times, March 22, 1967, p.54) They got replies about everything from biodegradable golf balls to something called Ski-bobs (http://www.goecities.com/ music-festival/how-w.htm).
Two men came to Joel and Roberts with an idea for either building a recording studio or a rock festival. Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang grew up in the same neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Queens. Kornfeld was a vice president at Capitol Records was smoked hash in his office. Lang was a long hair hippie, who was described by friends as a cosmic pixie, with a head full of curly black hair that bounced on his shoulders. (http://www.goecities.com/ music-festival/how-w.htm) Lang had already produced the two-day Miami Pop Festival and managed a rock group called Train. Lang moved in with Kornfeld and his wife not long after they met(Makower, 25).
The four men met in February 1969, to discuss their plans(Curry, 3). After the first two meetings, the men agreed on building a recording studio. They would throw a party for rock critics and record executives to build up hype for the studio. The studio was to be built in Woodstock, New York. They would take the profit from the party to pay for the recording studio. By the end of the third meeting, the little party had become a concert for 50,000 people. The four men formed a corporation, Woodstock Ventures Inc., in which they each held twenty-five percent (http://www.goecities.com/ music-festival/how-w.htm).
The first task of the Ventures was to find a location for the concert. Joel, the other three men, and real estate agents were searching for a site. They first settled on the 300-acre Mills Industrial Park in the town of Wallkill. The men did not like Mills, but they needed a site as soon as possible. Joel told the Wallkill officials that the concert would have jazz and folk bands and only 50,000 people would attain(http://www.goecities.com/ music-festival/how-w.htm). This would all change when the ads for the concert were printed and bands were signed.
The men decided on the slogan Three Days of Peace and Music. The slogan was meant to sustain peace at the concert. They also enlisted Arnold Skolnickto to design the concert logo, the now famous dove sitting in a guitar(http://home.columbus.rr.com/woodstock1969/). Trouble booking the bands soon arose. The Ventures, in order to sign bands, offered paychecks higher than normal for a concert. The first real band they signed was The Jefferson Airplane for $12,000. After they signed Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Who, other bands began to be signed. The Ventures spent a total of $180,000 on bands(http://www.goecities.com/ music-festival/how-w.htm).
Wallkill began to realize the trouble that was coming. Woodstock was predicted to be the biggest rock show ever. The people were fearful of the hippie community entering the town. The did not want that type of people in their town. Mills and his family were harassed constantly for bringing these people to the town. Mills was even sent death threats. The Wallkill Zoning Board banned The Woodstock Festival in July. This only gave Joel and the other Ventures a month to find a new site.
Elliot Tiber, a man from Bethel, NY, contacted the Ventures. He told them he had a plot of land where he thought the concert could be held, but his site was only 15 acres (http://www.goecities.com/ music-festival/how-w.htm). Tiber introduced the Ventures to Max Yasgur, a farmer who had land that might be large enough to hold the concert. The land was perfect and the deal was made that day to have the festival there. Joel stated the Max only had two concerns, He thought a grave injustice had been done in Wallkill. And he wanted to make sure that he got the $75,000 before some other dairy farmer did. They were in no particular order. I’m not sure which was more important to him. Having said that, I’ll say this about Max: He never hit us up for another dime after we paid him. I remember that every time we went over there, Max would hand you one of those little cartons of chocolate milk. Every time. We ended up with all these cartons of milk around the office.” (http://www.goecities.com/ music-festival/how-w.htm)
The Ventures again had to lie to officials, telling them that the festival would bring no more than 50,000. By that time they all knew it would bring much more. It did not take long for the same problems to begin in Bethel that happened in Wallkill. Once the news got out about the change of the site to Bethel, the same worries of drugs, traffic, sewage, and water surfaced. To get around these problems, Joel had to eventually bribe some officials with a $10,000 check. In late July, The Ventures gained permits to hold their concert in Bethel(http://www.goecities.com/ music-festival/how-w.htm)
In order to calm the nerves of Bethel residents, the Ventures staged a pre-festival festival. The Quill opened the show followed by Earthlight, an 18-member theater group. Earthlight performed a musical comedy called, Sex. Y all Come. The group came on stage, stripped, and yelled obscenities. This shocked the Bethel residents and put them over the edge. They went from being suspicious to being convinced. Joel said. (http://www.goecities.com/ music-festival/how-w.htm) After the show, the residents planned to stop the festival by barricading Route 17B the day before the concert, but the people started coming a long time before that.
The day had finally come, after all that Joel and The Ventures have been through they still did not know what they had created. They were not even sure if it was going to work or if they would make any profit off this festival. Joel was dealing with problems since February, when he first met Lang and Kornfeld, and he was still not prepared for the problems he would have to face for the next three days of peace and music.
The Ventures forgot one important detail in their planning, a fence. They failed to put up a fence around the concert area. WNEW-FM and other radio stations began to announce that Woodstock was a free concert. Once this news got out thousands of kids regained their hope in being able to attained Woodstock. Joel eventually had to go on the radio and say that people have to stop coming because they would not get in, but they still came (http://www.publiccom.com/14850/9407/coverstory.html).
One thing Joel had to deal with were the phone calls. Not phone calls from lawyers or insurance agents, but phone calls from parents. Worried parents were calling non-stop asking if their children would be all right. Joel had to reassure them that they would take good care of everyone.
At 5:07 P.M., Richie Havens played the first notes to High Flyin’ Bird, (http://home.columbus.rr.com/woodstock1969/) and started The Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Of course at Joel s office this event went unnoticed. Around the same time Woodstock experienced its first medical emergency. A young girl, after receiving a phone call from her mom who said that if she did not return home right now her dad would not pay for her trip to Europe, placed herself in between a fence and a truck, that was backing up. As soon as the bumper hit her thigh, she screamed and the trucker pulled out and saw the young girl lying on the ground barely moving. She was then air lifted out of the festival. When the helicopter landed she was unstraped, said thank you, and walked to the bus depot to go home. (Rosenman, 162-163) These are the types of problems, not to mention electrical, mechanical, law enforcement, and political problems, that Joel and the other Ventures had to deal with for these three days.
Towards the end of the first day, Joel left the office and went to see the concert he had helped create. He had to once again weave in and out of traffic to get to Max s farm. He was amazed by the amount of people there, there was an estimated 500, 000 people at Woodstock. Even though they were all packed into a space designed for 100,000, there were no fights or violent words spoken amongst anybody. Although it was becoming a horrible business venture, it was already gaining legendary status.
At 12:40 A.M. the sheriff called Joel and told him that he got the traffic jam turned around, but now he needed authority from the fair to tell the people they can not get in. Joel went to go down to where a deputy was and told the disappointed people they could not attained Woodstock. The deputy was waving the people into an exit on the road to try to get the cars off Route 17B, but all of the cars were just going to the next exit and returning on the eastbound lanes. Joel was put in charge by the sheriff of Bethel to turn all of the cars around and head them back towards the city(Rosenman,166-168). Many people never made it to Woodstock due to the traffic. This is something that people have regretted ever since that day. They have to live with the fact that they could not go to Woodstock because they were stuck in traffic(http://www.well.com/woodstock/wstockconf?) While Joel was busy with the cars, Joan Baez s We Shall Overcome (http://home.columbus.rr.com/woodstock1969/)closed the first day of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
Joel woke up on the second day of the festival at the crack of dawn only to discover he had hives all over his body. Joel also discovered that the only thing going right, the weather, was taking a turn for the worst. It had started to rain during the night, but now it was pouring (Makower, 225). On his way to the office, the rain poured into Joel s motorcycle and it died. He stopped at the Diamond Horseshoe Hotel, where the crew from the festival was staying. By the time he entered the hotel, the medicine he had taken for his hives took affect and put him right to sleep. He could not sleep for long though, he had to get to the office to face more problems(Rosenman, 168-170).
On his way to the office, he saw hitch hikers up and down Route 17B still trying to get to the festival. As soon as Joel walked into the office, he was faced with his first problem of the day. Some of the kids had attacked a water main. This cut off some of the festival s water supply. Around noon Quill opened the second day of the festival with Waitin’ For You (http://home.columbus.rr.com/woodstock1969/).
Joel got a call from the medical staff asking if he could round up some volunteers because they were short-handed. Joel took the opportunity to get out of the office. Joel went the site of the festival and was still amazed by the small city that had moved onto Max s farm. He had to check up on the medical staff and found that it was in good condition. Joel also discovered the biggest fears of the residents of Bethel, the drug use and the free love. Outside of the medical tent was a man yelling Mescaline! One dollar! Mescaline! One dollar! (Wadleigh, Woodstock) Along with the man yelling, he saw the kids on LSD and smelled marijuana in the air. A nearby lake was filled with young kids bathing naked. Joel returned to the office, where there were little problems to handle. Joel thought maybe the worst was over. Just then Joel received word that the New York State Police were on their way.
Joel was excited about the police coming, he thought his worries were over. The State Police will end the Festival, disperse the crowd, ward off any catastrophes, riots, stampedes, and explosions. (Rosenman, 174) When the State Police arrived, however, they do not end the festival, but told Joel and John Roberts that they have been ordered to be at the disposal of the Ventures, and Santana plays Soul Sacrifice. (http://home.columbus.rr.com/woodstock1969/)
Joel now faced another problem that no one thought about. What would the kids do with their free time when the stage was black? The only thing he could do was to make sure the stage was never black, never stop the bands from playing. Joel talked to the Grateful Dead s manager and asked if the band could play another set. The manager took this as a hint that the Ventures were in some sort of money trouble. He said that the Dead would not go on at all unless they got money up front. He then slammed down the phone and called The Who s manager and told him that the Ventures had money problems. The Who s manager also demanded money up front. Joel told him that he would pay the Dead and The Who up front, but they both had to keep their mouths shut because they could not pay the other bands until the festival was over. The Who and The Grateful Dead would now be going on stage, the two big headlining bands. Joel had to find $15,000 at 1:00 A.M. on Sunday morning(Rosenman, 175-180), and Janis Joplin was signing Summer-time. (http://home.columbus.rr.com/woodstock1969/)
Joel s only hope of getting the money was Charlie Prince, a banker who had helped the Ventures with most of the financing. He called and Charlie told him that he would help, if he could, but his bank s safe was locked every Friday on a time lock and would not open until Monday. There was one hope though, that Charlie did not put the cashier s checks in the safe on Friday. It was a long shot. Joel sent a helicopter to pick Charlie up and carry him over the traffic jam. Charlie got to the bank and discovered that the cashier s checks were not in the safe(Rosenman, 180-183). The Ventures were saved again, The Grateful Dead went on, and The Who finished the second day and started the third day with Naked Eye. (http://home.columbus.rr.com/woodstock1969/)
The press was being especially bad towards the Ventures and the Woodstock Festival. They called Woodstock a paean to the depravity of youth and the lowest state to which youth had fallen. (Makower, 228) Joel used this bad press to keep the kids from anything horrible happening at Woodstock. This is perfect. Let s tell them what the world thinks is going to happen. Because there s nothing kids like better than to disappoint what the world thinks they re going to do, (Makower, 247)Joel used this thinking to keep the kids in line.
The bands playing around the clock seemed to have calmed the crown and stopped a possible riot. Joel then got the worst phone call of the festival. It was the stage electrician. He said that the rain had washed away the dirt that was covering the main feeder cables and that it was starting to rain again. The crowd walking over the cables had started to wear down the cables insulation. With the insulation gone and the kids drenched and packed in the way they were, there could have been a mass electrocution. Joel remembers that, It had been two years since I d given up cigarettes, but at that moment I lit up a Camel. (Rosenman,189)
Joel and John had to make their way down to the stage. Joel instructed an electrician not to stop the music or turn off the lights. Joel still feared a riot. There was only one hope to save the kids. The electricians had to switch the power over to cables that were still protected and deaden the exposed cables. An hour passed and Joel had been motionless, except for smoking Camels. He finally got a call from the electrician saying everything was okay and that the exposed cables were dead and the music was still going. After the call I lit another Camel. It seemed that I had started smoking again in earnest. (Rosenman, 192)
At 8:30 A.M. on Sunday August 17, 1969, Jimi Hendrix closed the Woodstock Music and Art Fair to a small crowd of 40,000 people(http://home.columbus.rr.com/woodstock1969/). The rest had already left. As Joel was watching the crowd leave, he also watched the police help a naked man down from the elevated walkway he was hanging from. The man had taken some bad acid and was convinced the police were fire breathing dragons. Later Joel heard of the stories that went on at Max s farm those three days. Someone spiked a cop s coke with LSD. Someone also saw Artie Kornfeld smearing dirt one his face(Rosenman,197). It was finally over. Joel left Bethel on a passable Route 17B, not wanting to look back.
The official Woodstock Music and Art Fair program reads, What we re doing here is celebrating, and at the same time we re checking each other out, and what we see is a bunch of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread. And hooray for us; we ve been fearful angels too long. (Curry, 3) Financially it was a disaster, in the end the festival cost 2.4 million dollars. Culturally is was a success, a historical event that will live on forever. The crowd was 450,000 more than originally expected. Even though they were packed in there like dogs, there was no riots, fights, or rapes. That is why Woodstock Music and Art Fair is history. It defined the times. For four days, the site became a countercultural mini-nation in which minds were open, drugs were all but legal and love was free . (http://www.goecities.com/ music-festival/how-w.htm)