Woodstock's 40th Anniversary

This Saturday, August 15th, marks the 40th anniversary of the start of Woodstock. In my just-published oral history, Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock (Touchstone), I share personal stories from Joan Baez, Roger Daltrey, David Crosby and many others. Here's part of my own story

Just after midnight on July 27, 1969, twenty minutes into my debut program at WNEW-FM in New York, I did my first live commercial. As instructed during orientation, I looked at the program log, opened up the alphabetized copybook in front of me, and rifled through it until I came to the Ws. When the vinyl record on the turntable to my right ended, I turned on the mic switch and did a quick back-sell of the music I had just played ("Sing This Altogether" by the Rolling Stones, "All Together Now" by the Beatles, and "You Can All Join In" by Traffic). I then proceeded to read these exact words from that copybook:

"The Woodstock Music and Art Fair is a three-day Aquarian exposition at White Lake in the town of Bethel, Sullivan County, New York. Friday, August 15, you'll hear and see Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Tim Hardin, Richie Havens, the Incredible String Band, Ravi Shankar, and Sweetwater.

"Then on Saturday, August 16, it's Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater, the Grateful Dead, Keef Hartley, Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, Mountain, Santana, and the Who--the hottest group on the scene right now.

"Sunday, August 17, the Band; Jeff Beck; Blood, Sweat and Tears; Iron Butterfly; Joe Cocker; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Jimi Hendrix; the Moody Blues; Johnny Winter; and that's not all. Tickets are available by mail or at your local ticket agency for any one day at $7.00, two days at $14.00, and for all three days, just $18.00. A special two-day ticket is available by mail for only $13.00.

"For tickets and information, you can write the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, Box 996, Radio City Station, New York, one-zero-zero-one-nine, or phone Murray Hill 7-0700. M-U-seven-zero-seven-zero-zero. Remember, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair is being held at White Lake in the town of Bethel, Sullivan County, New York.

"They've had their hassles, but it looks like everything's gonna be okay."

That last line was an ad-lib -- a fairly pithy one at that -- but no one had any idea at the time just how important that three-day festival would turn out to be, not only to music fans but also to commentators, journalists, politicians, pundits, sociologists, writers, and members of the youth movement. These were my first few minutes on the air at the most important of the new breed of FM-rock radio stations in the country, and I was talking about an event that would soon redefine the culture, the country, and the core values of an entire generation.

Woodstock was, without question, the high-water mark of the '60s youth revolution--musically, politically, and socially. A gathering of close to half a million people in one place at one time is bound to get attention, no matter what the reason. But half a million young people gathered in one place at one time to flex their cultural muscle and celebrate their life-altering music sent shock waves from upstate New York to the rest of the country. Even in the technologically primitive stages of our global village, this legendary tribal gathering put Woodstock front and center in the consciousness of citizens around the world.

Without initially intending to, Woodstock made a statement. It became a symbol for all the changes that bubbled up during the first half of the American '60s and boiled over during the second half. Just eight years earlier, John F. Kennedy had galvanized the nation during his inaugural address with his declaration that "the torch has been passed to a new generation." He was talking about the torch handed off by the pre-World War II generation to the men and women who actually fought it. Woodstock was about the passing of the torch to the next generation--from the World War II veterans to their children, the already labeled "baby boomers," who grew up very differently than their forebears, with affluence, education, television, and, of course, with rock 'n' roll.