Woodstock, pinnacle of the hippie dream, turns 50

The 1969 festival of peace, love and music marks its anniversary this weekend

Jimmy Hendrix playing at Woodstock in 1969

A freewheeling weekend of indulgence. A New York farm transformed by idealistic youths into a mid-size city. A celebration of rock music and utopian ideals. Woodstock was many things but one thing is clear - it is heralded in the popular consciousness as the cultural touchstone of a generation.

The 1969 festival of peace, love and music marks its 50th anniversary this weekend, triggering a wave of nostalgia for an era when rock was for the young, tie-dye was cool, long hair was a statement, and kids said "groovy" without a trace of irony.

It's estimated that anywhere from 400,000 to half a million people descended on Max Yasgur's alfalfa fields in upstate New York that August 15-18 1969, embarking on a trip of a party that saw icons like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Santana jam as increasingly filthy festival-goers danced, stripped and dropped acid in torrential rain. At the outset, organizers were charging $18 a ticket for revelers to attend the event, which featured now legendary rock bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

John Roberts and Joel Rosenman bankrolled the festival, which they dreamed up with fellow 20-somethings Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld as a business opportunity to promote a would-be recording studio in upstate New York. But as news of the bucolic rock concert spread, a crush of eager attendees bottle-necked country roads winding to the festival site in White Lake, a hamlet of the small town of Bethel, some 100 kilometers southwest of the namesake town of Woodstock. The overwhelmed masterminds had little choice but to declare that Woodstock would be, like the love, free.

As the music began, rains swept in, food ran out and helicopters whirred overhead - sometimes delivering musicians, other times supplies. Despite the mud and warnings of bad acid, the myth of Woodstock lives on - the festival is venerated as a beacon of hope that emerged out of the tumultuous 1960s, rife with assassinations and riots as the Vietnam War raged.

In the festival's aftermath, Yasgur told a television crew he "became quite apprehensive" when faced with the "sea of people."

"But these young people made me feel guilty today because there were no problems - they proved to me, and they proved to the whole world, that they didn't come up for any problems," he said.

"They came up for exactly what they said they were coming up for - for three days of music and peace."

Danny Goldberg, a longtime music industry insider who covered the festival for Billboard as a starry-eyed 19-year-old, also fondly remembers the weekend as "a lot of people with smiles on their faces."

"I was taken almost immediately with this sweetness -- the idyllic notion of the hippie brother and sisterhood that rarely manifests itself, even then," he told AFP from his Manhattan office. "But it was quite palpable at Woodstock, from the minute I got there until the minute I left."

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