Woodstock in 1969

Picture taken on 17 August 1969 at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Photo: Woodstock Whisperer. CC BY-SA 4.0

Michael Lang has passed away. Lang was the world famous main organizer of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, held in Bethel, New York. He had lived in Woodstock since the 1960s.

Lang was also much involved with the 25th Anniversary Woodstock Festival held at Winston Farm in Saugerties in 1994. The 1994 Festival drew about 350,000 people. The Woodstock Film Festival honored Lang with its “Spirit of Woodstock award” in 2011.

In all the years running into Lang at public events in Woodstock, at the Post Office, or the supermarket, I never saw him frown. He always had an upbeat and positive expression on him. All Hail to Michael Lang.

I have written a poetic work titled “Woodstock in 1969,” which traces some of the history of the Town leading up to the Festival which took place on August 15-18 of 1969.

Woodstock in 1969

Woodstock has been a town visited by tourists
since about the time the art colony was established
in the early 1900s.

Always a Tourist Trap, even in 1928:

The historian Alf Evers in his research notes quotes the Woodstock Bulletin of 1928, about the town’s attractiveness:

“There is a dash and splash about Woodstock—
that somehow attracts visitors from all parts of the World”

Woodstock had been a “colony of the arts” for most of this century. Painters, writers, musicians and craft-creators began arriving in 1903. The town had always had a troubled economy– farmland was poor quality, and the native forests were cut down over a hundred years ago.

Some residents of Woodstock objected to the so-called outlandish life-styles of newcomers to Woodstock, going all the way back to the founding of the Byrdcliffe Art Colony and the Maverick Art Colony in the early 20th Century.

Criticism of Benches on the Green

There had always been a Woodstock Green, and in the 1940s the Town installed benches on the Green which was protested by some local residents.

“Criticism also was heard when town officials provided a few benches on the Village Green. These, often used by what was called by cautious speakers ‘the undesirable element,’ were removed, it was explained, ‘for repairs’ but were not returned. Vigorous protest caused them to be reluctantly replaced.” (Alf’s endnote for this: Village Green benches, Marion Bullard in Ulster County News, November 18, 1948.)

All the way back to when those associated with the Art Students League had shocked some Woodstockers with their, uh, unconventionality, the Town had seen cultural events in which art-colony residents had joined energetically and creatively. Most conspicuous and controversial had been the Maverick Festivals.

More and more musicians had moved to Woodstock. Bob Dylan had lived there through most of the 1960s. It was where he had his famous motorcycle accident, where he lived when the “went electric” at the ’65 Newport Folk Festival, and where other rockers lived, such as Tim Hardin, Paul Butterfield, and The Band.

Phil Ochs had written his anthem “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” while watching the 1965 Memorial Day parade in Woodstock while sitting in the outdoor porch of the Espresso Café on Tinker Street.

’69 was the year of the Moon Landing, of the Manson group’s murders in LA, of the first year of President Nixon, of People’s Park in Berkeley, of the Altamont festival, and of the continuing Vietnam War, which went on and on and on and on.

Through the 1950s and ’60s, folk and rock gatherings had been successful.

The words “Woodstock Festival” had originated in the 1950s to “describe the promotional effort which included local events which might draw tourists.” Enlisting the help of local artists and writers the [Woodstock Festival promoters (beginning in the 1950s)] published an annual guide to the attractions of Woodstock.

The Woodstock Festival Booklets were published annually for 14 years, 1956-1969, by the Woodstock Festival Committee. The activities of the committee are summarized in the booklet for 1960.

In 1967 the promoters of changed their name to the Woodstock Council for the Arts. Since the word ‘festival’ had suggested to some the kind of hippie orientation which had frightened so many local citizens, they played down the festival aspect by putting the word in small type.” —Alf Evers, History of Woodstock, p. 665.

In 1967, 1968 and ’69, there was a series of popular concerts held on Glasco Turnpike just outside of Woodstock, at first on a farm owned by Pan Copeland where now the Woodstock Day School is located. Copland also operated a delicatessen in downtown Woodstock. These concerts were called Sound-Outs and later Sound Festivals. The first Sound-Out in 1967 had over twenty performers, including Richie Havens, Tim Hardin and Phil Ochs, and this first Sound-Out attracted over 2,000 to the three- day event.

The name was switched to Sound Festival, which were held in July and August of 1968, featuring Tim Hardin, the Blues Magoos, Happy and Artie Traum, Lothar and the Hand People, Don McLean, Peter Walker, Procol Harum, and others, including the Pablo Light Show.

It was in 1967, during the year of the Summer of Love, that Happy Traum, his wife Jane, and their children moved to Woodstock, where  he joined a folk music community that included John Herald, Eric  Anderson, and others, including Dylan who was then also living in  Woodstock.

In addition to performing, Happy Traum helped promote the Sound Festivals. Once he told me about an incident when he was accosted by an opponent of the Sound Festival while he was tacking up a Sound Festival poster.

In the late 1960s, I was living with my wife Miriam and our daughter Deirdre, in the Lower East Side of New York City, where I operated the Peace Eye Bookstore on Avenue A across from Tompkins  Square Park, and had formed a folk-rock satire band, The Fugs. By 1967 and the emergence of the “Back to the Land” movement, I had  heard about the attractiveness of Woodstock for musicians, artists and  writers.

Meanwhile, the success of the Sound-Outs and Sound Festivals  helped inspire the idea and the concept behind creating a large musical  event called The Woodstock Festival.

The ’69 Festival promoters initially hoped it could be held in Woodstock, but the town government quickly forbade it. Nevertheless, during the spring and summer of ’69, as word about the Festival spread through the counterculture, hippies and transients began flocking to Woodstock.

A hippie in curve-toed Merlin shoes hitching into town carrying a bedroll with a damozel wearing nothing beneath her tie-dyed gown was viewed with disgust, fear, hatred and disdain by crusty locals.

When store selling hippie leathers opened in town, it was viewed, by some, as evidence of pre-New Age satanic permissiveness and evil.

There were a few public meetings and antihippie grouse-klatches in private homes where rightists could vent their dislike. At one public meeting an anonymous letter was read railing that the hippies were “overrunning the town like maggots.”

One rightist confronted the Woodstock town judge and accused him of practicing “lace panty justice” by refusing to deal harshly with hippies arrested camping out on private property.

A handful of local grouches proposed forcibly shaving the heads of longhairs and calling on the New York State governor to declare Woodstock a disaster area so that soldiers could be called in to deal with the hair heads. Others wanted to meet the buses arriving in Woodstock and force hippies to stay on board and depart. It was the same type of mind that previously had not allowed boxing champion Joe Louis to play golf at the Woodstock golf course.

That year the town government closed all its properties to swimming and camping. Before the “Fear of the Festival,” Woodstock always invited visitors to camp on town-owned forested property.

Ulster County Townsman April 17, 1969

Closed by the Town Board on 4-15-69 were Big Deep, Mallory Grove, and the right for visitors to camp free at Town Owned California Quarry.

“Resident Voice Views on Big Deep Problems” ran the front page headline for the June 5, 1969 issue of the Ulster County Townsman newspaper, which described how there

was an overflowing crowd at Town Hall on June 3, 1969.
As the Town Board heard citizens’ opinions
on the closing of the Big Deep
swimming area on the Sawkill.
Only residents or taxpayers were allowed to speak.

“The first opinion given, was that Big Deep
is not principally used by hippies, that there
are lots of families and local residents seen there.

“Another stated it is the abuse of the area that is criticized and not the         hippies.”

A local physician, Dr. Elias, spoke for a group of six Woodstock residents who are attempting to reopen Big Deep. Numerous volunteers were on hand to volunteer cleaning up Big Deep.

One person however is quoted in the article that “were he to take his children to Big Deep and have them witness nude swimmers, he would not wait for action of the town board.”

Another person commented that “the re-opening of Big Deep advisable, because it would get the hippies off the Village Green during the day. Someone then mumbled, ‘but where do they go at night?’”

A man identified as Mr. Milton, then Woodstock supervisor, said that the closing of Big Deep was temporary, and not permanent.

Though he said this, Big Deep remained closed to the public for the next 19 years. I was very active in 1987 in the campaign that saw Brian Hollander elected as the first Democrat Supervisor.

A couple of days after Hollander won, I went to Big Deep and removed the No Trespassing signs that had been at its entrance since the summer of 1969.

Meanwhile, back to the issue of the Invasion of the Hippies in Woodstock in 1969.

That is, 1969 saw the issue of long-haired youth and “Hippies” become a hot issue in Woodstock. In June, just weeks before the Woodstock Festival in Bethel, there were two well-attended public meetings, one of them covered in a local paper under the headline:

At these meetings, although a few called for arresting and banning undesirable visitors, prominent Woodstockers made the case for staying calm over the so-called invasion of long-haired people looking to explore Woodstock and its ways. After all, Woodstock had been an Art Colony over 60 years by then, and was thriving.

Michael Lang had located financial sources for putting on a large festival in Woodstock. The Woodstock Town Board turned down this proposal. So Lang began looking to other towns and areas for his festival.

However, there was so much interest in the upcoming Woodstock Festival that the Chamber of Commerce mailed out the following postcard to answer inquiries:

Postcard sent out by the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce in the Summer of 1969.

The Town posted signs telling visitors the gig was in Bethel, 50 miles away. All summer long, the constables arrested campers and hippies.


Meanwhile Woodstockers, some quite conservative, long used to artists and performers coming to town, now were faced with the phenomenon of the Back to the Earth movement, and the arrival of the long-haired Hippie.

As one article in the New York Times in 1969 stated it, in a caption beneath a photo of the Trailways bus letting off visitors to Woodstock at the Village Green: “Every bus brings more hippies to town.”

Woodstock movers and shakers became aware that the Festival, which had moved away from Woodstock, nevertheless took its name with it, first to Walkill, and then after Walkill had second thoughts, it moved to White Lake in Bethel. In Bethel Woodstock Ventures Inc. proposed the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, “Three Days of Peace and Music.” Better known as the Woodstock Festival.

Meanwhile, the very active Michael Lang was getting bands and singers to sign on for the Festival.

They signed the hot Creedence Clearwater Revival for
$10,000 to perform for 60 minutes

On April 18, 1969 Tim Hardin signed to do Woodstock
for $2,000 ‘

Meanwhile the Beatles were ultra-busy
in London recording the songs for Abbey Road

                April 18-April 20
work on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”
& basic track work on “Something”
plus recording & stereo mixing of “Oh! Darling”

April 18, was the day Tim Hardin signed to do Woodstock for $2,000

April 21, Canned Heat signed for

April 28, Johnny Winter for $7,500

Then Janis Joplin herself signed the same day as Winter
for $15,000

Then the Jefferson Airplane
was brought aboard also for $15,000

—pp. 81-82, Barefoot in Babylon

May 21, The Band agreed to a Sunday afternoon
performance for $15,000

Michael Lang apparently felt
that having Bob Dylan’s former back-up band
at Woodstock
might bring Dylan himself aboard,
but Albert Grossman, still Dylan’s manager,
gave no hint
upon Lang’s bringing it up.

Lang sent a letter to John Lennon
offering any amount
for a performance by the Beatles

Lennon responded he could guarantee only
the Plastic Ono Band
and Lang seems to have dropped that idea,
& gave up on the Beatles at the Festival.

pg. 105

Jimi Hendrix was demanding $50,000
to sing at the Festival
(at that time it was still scheduled for Walkill)

Jeff Beck Group
& Ten Years After
signed for a combined $18,000

Joe Cocker signed to open Sunday’s Festival show
for $2,750.

The Who signed on for $12,500

—pp. 181-185

Jimi Hendrix lowered his fee from $50,000
to $18,000

At the same time, early July there was an article in the Ulster County Townsman called “MUSIC FAIR STILL UP.” on the Woodstock Festival, but stated that the Festival was scheduled for Wallkill, NY.

“The Music and Art Fair, sponsored by the New York firm of WoodstockVentures, Inc., but having nothing to do with Woodstock, except as a corporate name, is still in the air. The village of Wallkill, in the town of Middletown, County of Orange, (not to be confused with the village of Wallkill, in the town of Shawangunk, Ulster County) is working on an ordinance which will probably be filed in Albany, and effective, by the time this paper hits the stands. In speaking to the Town Clerk of Wallkill, on route 211, in the city of Middletown, we learned that the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, the ‘Aquarian Exposition,’ will be held in a town of ten thousand population, and is expected to attract from 50 to 100 thousand on a 500- acre site with only one road leading to it, and that road is under construction, as is a bridge fairgoers must cross. The town clerk said their public hearing, on the proposed ordinance, concerns allowing public gatherings of 5,000 and up. I thought that the words ‘and up’ would put the fair in a permissible light, but he stated not to the tune of 50 thousand.

Othere little matters are appearing that confuse the beat, the Aquarian Exposition allows camping and therefore is not in compliance with the Zoning Ordinance, the Aquarian Exposition promises to provide sanitation facilities, which the Orange county health commissioner must have the plans for, and approve same. Then the Aquarian Exposition gets washed out with the water situation. Wallkill does not have enough to provide for over 50 thousand people, for three days and so the fair might just dry up and blow away. “In contacting Woodstock Ventures in New York, I spoke to a Mr. (Chip) Monck, who stated he was the Production Manager and came on strong about it being definite that the Aquarian Exposition will be in Middletown’s Wallkill, August 15, 16 and 17.”

Festival Tossed out of Walkill

Suddenly Michael Lang and his company Woodstock
Ventures were tossed out of having the Festival in Wallkill, NY

Next Lang & an associate
toured the countryside
in a rented helicopter
looking for another festival site

Then July 17 someone hipped Lang to
the town of White Lake in Sullivan County

The Festival planners located dairy farmer
Max Yasgur
and, lo, struck a deal with him

to hold the Three Day Set of Concerts there.

The Sea of Tranquility
July 20

Neil Armstrong
piloted the 4-legged lunar landing module
down upon the Sea of Tranquility
dodging some boulders
for a safe landing at 4:17 pm Eastern time

“Houston, Tranquility Base here.
The Eagle has landed.”

Six hours later, at 10:57, Mr. Armstrong descended
to the dusty surface

“That’s one small step for a man,” he said
“one giant leap for mankind”

Something like 600 million were watching.

Then, in a genius move Woodstock Ventures hired
California’s Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm
to serve as Security and Food Providers for the Festival.

I wrote about the Hog Farm in my book, “The Family.”

The commune known as the Hog Farm, famous throughout the 1960s counterculture, was located on a mountaintop in the San Fernando Valley. Charles Manson had met Shirley Lake and her husband, the parents of future Manson devotée Diane Lake, in the desert, and after that M and five women visited the Hog Farm in the black Holywood Productions bus. Manson handed Wavy the pink slip to the bus and proceeded to try to fuck Wavy’s wife, Bonnie Jean, in a shed. Wavy prevented it, but Manson remained at the Hog Farm, retiring to the bus with his followers.

It was the era when people gathered into circles to chant the seed syllable Om to establish peace and healing vibes. The bard Allen Ginsberg, for instance, would sing Om for hours upon hours trying to calm the violence at the police riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August of 1968.

And so, Wavy and his friends formed a circle and they were Om- ing together. Manson suddenly emerged from the black bus and was choking, or pretending to choke. His women yelled for the om-ing to stop, that it was killing their guru. At that, Wavy Gravy rose up in rectitude and ordered Manson away from the Hog Farm.

Manson missed the chance to emulate the kinder aspects of the commune movement when he was banished from the Hog Farm. He may have emulated one practice of the Hog Farm communards— that of the Garbage Run, where they visited the throw-away bins of supermarkets to pick up high quality, slightly blemished throwaway

vegetables etc. from the American war-era largesse. Among the markets where the M group later plied their Garbage Runs were the Gateway Markets, owned by future victim Leno LaBianca.

Hog Farm Fly to NY on a Chartered Plane
August 7

The Hog Farm, a commune headed by Wavy Gravy had been hired to run security for the Festival, & then to provide food for the Festival

An American Airlines charter plane with the Hog Farm aboard arrived at JFK from New Mexico in the afternoon of August 7 led by Wavy Gravy in a white nightgown & a Donald Duck aviator’s cap.

The Hog Farm was asked at the airport that since they were hired to provide security for the Festival what would be their weapons?

Wavy replied, “Why, seltzer bottles, and cream pies!”

The Festival in Bethel was a big success, and thrilled an entire generation with its celebration of music, love, nudity, free food and communality. There were heavy rains, and somehow thousands upon thousands were able to crash the entrance gates.

Out of that weekend came the concept of a “Woodstock Nation,” a term coined by writer Abbie Hoffman. It was a nation of free

food, free medical care, free music, great personal freedom, clean air and protection of the beautiful American outdoors. It was a place filled with oodles of art, love, music and wild times. It danced to its own new mode and ignored the millenia-long warrior threnody of

Western Civilization.

One of the most famous incidents was Wavy Gravy’s early morning announcement to the hundreds of thousands of sleeping attendees of the Festival: “Good morning! What we have in mind if breakfast in bed for 400,000!”

The charging of money for food had ceased, and Free Food and Free Medical Care were the orders of the day,
and the orders of Future Centuries.

The Festival opened Aug 15 with Richie Havens, then others
including Tim Hardin, Melanie, Arlo, Joan Baez
Baez closed out the first night
with “We Shall Overcome”

Then Saturday the 16h, with Country Joe,
a very high John Sebastian, Santana, Canned Heat, Grateful
Dead, Creedence Clearwater
and others

Then Sunday into Monday, the 17th & 18th
Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, the Who,
Jeff Airplane, Joe Cocker, Country Joe & the Fish,

The Band, Johnny & Edgar Winter, Crosby, Stills, Nash
& Young

Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na,
& others

ending early in the morning
with the great great Jimi

Jimi performed at 8:30 Monday morning
with 30,000 still on hand

He did a legendary and very creative
version of “The Star Spangled Banner”

flowing into “Taps”

and then a super-energetic “Purple Haze”

then a final instrumental that
has been deemed “prayer like”
Then it entered history.

We’ll close with the Fugs performing a song called Woodstock Nation,
from our concert in August of
1989 celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the
Woodstock Festival.

—Ed Sanders

We believed that old nursery rhyme
that life is a dream         life is a dream
The moon lay up on the mountain
like the creamy head of a drum
We were ready to make our frisky peace
like horses in a stream

You be the wild palomino
I’ll be the Indian paint
together we’ll run in the Woodstock moon like horses in the stream

Woodstock Nation          Woodstock Nation

Some came       to build a better world
Some came       to smoke some grass and party
Some came       to run away from the war
Some came       to escape their parents
Some came       to celebrate rock and roll
And some just wanted to take their clothes off
and lie around and Make Love Not War

Woodstock Nation          Woodstock Nation

You be the wild palomino
I’ll be the Indian paint
together we’ll run in the Woodstock Moon like horses in the stream

Some had a vision of a
better way to do things
Where there were     no rich      no poor
& everybody owed the pie
–Woodstock Nation–

I want to be there where the wild mink roam
down by the blue stone wall

Woodstock Nation       Woodstock Nation

We believed that old nursery rhyme
that life is a dream      life is a dream
The moon lay above the meadow
like the creamy head of a drum
We were ready to make our frisky peace
like horses in a stream

You be the wild palomino
I’ll be the Indian paint
together we’ll run in the drum-head moon
like horses in a stream
Woodstock Nation Woodstock Nation Woodstock Nation
Woodstock Nation

—Ed Sanders, Woodstock, NY


Ed Sanders is a poet, musician and writer. He founded Fuck You: a Magazine of the Arts, as well as the Fugs. He edits the Woodstock Journal. His books include: The Family, Sharon Tate: a Life and the novel Tales of Beatnik Glory.