A History of the Woodstock Festival - Part 2

A History of the Woodstock Festival - Part 2
Authored By John Nicholson

This new quartet of businessmen - Lang, Kornfeld, Roseman and Roberts - were worried. They were worried that they might not get enough people to their festival. Crazy, huh? They genuinely hoped to get a mere 50,000 there and were concerned that might not be be possible because there had been very few big festivals in 1968.

No-one was sure in early 69 that the demand was still there for such a thing. So in early 69, they started to advertise it, even though they didn't even have a venue tied down or any bands booked. Ads were placed on radio stations and in magazines and rock press from sea to shining sea. They wanted to make sure they had a crowd...and boy did they ever get a crowd. This was never a small local gig, this was always a national event. As 69 progressed, of course, festivals topped out at an average of 100,000-150,000 - 69 was the year the festival concept became huge.

Anyway, Woodstock Ventures was ready to get to work. The bank that housed the Roberts trust fund was happy to pony up as much cash as was needed as long as it was secured against his interitance. This gave them, to all intents and purposes, an infinite line of credit. These dudes would've struggled to spend all the money. So they went in search of somewhere to put this thing on.

15 miles from Woodstock was a place called, inauspiciously, Wallkill. That's a downer of a name, man. You don't want to be tripping in Wallkill. It was home to the Mills Industrial Park and the owner said they could rent the space for $10k if they could get the Wallkill Zoning Board's approval. I have no idea what a Zoning Board is. It sounds like a piece of wood you might stare at in meditation, but I imagine in reality it involved men in cheap suits.

So to calm everyone's nerves, Woodstock Ventures lawyers arrived in town and...well...they lied. OK, not quite, but a little. Kinda. Just wee lies, not even lies really...just imagined truths. They said this festival was going to be an arts event with some music, mostly folk or maybe some jazz. It would be cultured and sophisticated and defintely not a hippie fest with public nudity and people getting it on. The decent folk of this Zoning Board thing thought it was a great idea and gave them permission to get this gig together.

Within a month, work had begun, roads were paved, fences erected and the site designed. But wait. What's that? It's not going to be a gentle arts fair, you say? It's really going to be a gathering of druggy weirdoes wearing tight trousers and with a prediliction for taking off their clothes. Woah neddy. Let's stop this hippie horse right here.

Wallkill's decent folk - who had formed a Concerned Citizens Commitee, so you knew they were serious, man - had got wind that this was one of those hippie rock fests and they wanted answers and they wanted the festival called off until they'd got those answers and lets face it, the answers they got were not likely to make them very happy.

The Woodstock Ventures people tried to defend themselves but it wasn't playing well. The Wallkill Zoning Board got a court injunction to ban the festival.

OK so it can't happen in Wallkill, we're still cool, right? Err...dude, No. It's due to happen in 4 weeks and we don't have a site. Worse still we've...well...we've sold 50,000 tickets, man. $750k had been taken. We can't cancel now. But we have no site.

Word got out that the festival had no home and offers came in. One guy said he had a lake that he'd drain to make an ampthitheater! Yeah man, that's some strong medicine you're smoking.

Michael Lang took off on his bike into upstate New York. There had to be somewhere they could hold this thing, right?

The richest and most-loved man in Bethel was Max Yasgur. He had a huge 600 acre dairy farm. This cat had been there since 1948 and had supplied the surrounding area with its dairy needs for a generation. Lang, riding up to Max's house, knew this was ideal and also that this was probably his last chance.

Max was, as it turned out, a cool dude with an eye for the Main Chance. The previous year, he'd had the boy Scouts National Jamboroee on his land. He knew kids needed a place to do their thing, and he understood why, he'd also heard that the festival needed a site. He saw a barrel and he thought hmm, maybe you hippie dudes would like to lie over that there barrel for me and hand me cash whilst you do so.

He said they could have his land for the weekend of 15th August for $50,000 with another $75,000 in escrow for paying for damages etc. Max was well-intentioned and cool but he was no fool. He'd asked for a land rental fee 5 times higher than at Wallkill. But as it turned out, the beauty of the festival would leave Max a bigger glow of pleasure than the money. Sadly, he'd be dead within 4 years at just 53.

The promoters knew they had to go with Max. They had no choice and once agreed, Max went out to bat for the festival, reassuring the locals that they'd all benefit financially from the festival. He told them how it'd inject life into an ailing local economy. And they believed him. And he was right. Bethel backed him. Max had won. The festival was on. Cool.

...and that's where the next set of problems began.


Part 3 will be published on Monday

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