The (At Least) Three Woodstocks
While the 1969 festival at Bethel Woods is the most famous several large musical gatherings have taken the town’s name several others have been organized. The question, “how many Woodstocks were there“, is fair. Interestingly, none of the festivals were in the town of Woodstock. Still, the fact that all chose names associated with the town speaks to the legacy the artsy haven of creativity and spirituality in New York’s Ulster County that is Woodstock, NY. The closest one of the music festivals came to the town was in 1994 in nearby Saugerties, NY.
Woodstock One: “The” 1969 Woodstock
The first Woodstock concert in 1969, officially known as the “Woodstock Music and Art Fair“, was in Bethel, NY, about 50 miles southwest of Woodstock. The third was in 1999 in Rome, NY, about 130 miles north. The second, however, was right next door in Saugerties, a historic, picturesque town tucked between the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River. Saugerties was no stranger to music history; The Band’s classic album, “Music from Big Pink,” refers to a pink house in town that served as the band’s one-time headquarters.
Woodstock Two: 1994, The 25th Anniversary
The second Woodstock, billed as “Three More Days of Peace and Music,” was a 25th anniversary show from Aug. 12-14, 1994. Yes, it had elements in common with the 1969 festival: torrential rain, mud, lots of naked people, drugs, alcohol and many historic performances, including some by artists who were at Woodstock ’69, such as Joe Cocker and Santana.
But many newer acts cemented their reputation in Saugerties. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Violent Femmes, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Primus, Cypress Hill and Melissa Etheridge thrilled the 350,000 who trekked up the New York State Thruway to the Winslow Farm, an 840-acre pasture at the intersection of routes 212 and 32. And others showed how technology was continuing to make music evolve. Todd Rundgren, who at the time still owned property in Woodstock, brought his “Todd Pod”, a one-man interactive music computer setup allowing him to create music with synthesizers, percussion and improvisation.
Michael Lang and John Roberts, two of the Woodstock ’69 promoters, returned with more corporate savvy and detailed planning — attributes the first show, some say, had rebelled against. Yes, they again overcame substantial neighborhood opposition from residents remembering huge stacks of garbage and free-wheeling teenagers in Bethel. But the economics were quite different this time. Pay-per-view was a bonanza, and the show was beamed all around the world. In 1969, tickets were $18. In 1994, they were $135. Still, in this case, the song remained the same. Gatecrashers in 1994 meant very few tickets were taken after the first day. Meanwhile, as the music played in Saugerties, the spirit of Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel would not be denied. About 15,000 die-hards in tie-dye and less gathered on the original concert’s site for an impromptu show.
Woodstock Three: Woodstock 1999
A second large scale event seeking to capture the spirit of the original 1969 festival took place in August of 1999. This time nearly 400,000 people gathered at the former Griffiss Air Force Base outside of Rome, NY, a location about 150 miles from Bethel Woods and Woodstock, NY. While the genre blending lineup received positive reviews, the concert itself would become infamous for difficult weather, high prices, a lack of facilities, and acts of violence.
The Lesser Known Woodstock Festivals
Not as famous as the 1994 incarnation (nor as infamous as its 1999 counterpart), there have been at least two other concerts and a North American tour to bear the name. Woodstock ’79 was billed as “Celebration: Ten Years Later”, took place at what is now the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. “The Forgotten Woodstock”, or Woodstock ’89 took place on the site of the original 1969 concert. Notably, a lunar eclipse took place while Jack Hardy played “The Hunter”. A 50 anniversary tour, aptly named “Woodstock 50”. One of the prompters of the 1969 event, Michael Lang, returned to help organize. Due to logistical issues the tour never materialized.
Woodstock, NY: The Town That Named Them All
Music and the name Woodstock go hand in hand. While the legacy of the 1969 Music and Arts Festival remains strong, it’s important to remember that all trace their roots back to one famous little town nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley. Woodstock, NY’s legacy on culture, music, and the world-famous festivals remains strong as well. So when you ask “how many Woodstocks WERE there” you can answer “several”. However, ask the more important question, “how many Woodstocks ARE there”. The answer is one! Unlike the festivals, Woodstock NY is a scant 100 miles north of New York City, and its magic can still be experienced by everyone today.
The Festival Grounds Today
Since 1969, the site had been sold off and subdivided, and when approached about hosting the 25th anniversary show, Sullivan County officials had refused to sanction another worldwide spectacle. Still, the show went on. Arlo Guthrie, Melanie and Sha Na Na, as well as several local bands, played for free.
The counterculture had been revived — on the same hallowed ground that moved a generation all those years before. Today, the site is occupied by the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The grounds house a museum dedicated to the 1969 Festival and regularly holds live events including concerts.