WOODSTOCK: THE ORAL HISTORY: A goddamn book review full of peace and love (and some of the other stuff, too)

This is the best book I’ve read about the Woodstock festival. WOODSTOCK: THE ORAL HISTORY by Joel Makower. The first half of the book deals with the people who actually put the festival together (which is a fascinating story in itself). And the second half of the book deals with how they dealt with it, as they were completely overwhelmed by the situation. Which was intense beyond belief (they were expecting maybe 50 thousand people and then got over-loaded with a half million people) (and deal with THAT motherfucker).

Basically Woodstock was put together by four Jewish guys in their early 20s. The two guys that bankrolled it were two rich kids with trust funds who were looking for some way to spend their money and have some action. They had never even produced a concert before. So they started out with Woodstock as their first event. Ha ha.

The third guy was Micheal Lang — the young hippie boy with the Dylan/Donovan hair who rode around on his motorcycle and embodied the “hippie ethos” of 1969 (he was groovy). He had put on a couple of low-level hippie rock concerts. So he was the expert.

The fourth guy was Artie Kornfeld — this young hippie guy who worked for one of the record labels as the “house hippie” and scored a couple of hits and was their only connection to the Music Business (he spent the concert stoned out of his mind on LSD and was basically pretty useless).

It took the two kids who put up the money over a decade before they worked their way out of debt. Ha ha.


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I always opine that the main legacy of Woodstock was that it perpetuated what I call “the psychedelic hippie myth.” This notion that a half million people were able to live together for 3 days in peace and harmony and brotherhood — in spite of many obstacles — because of the sheer grooviness of the psychedelic hippies. They were so full of love and cosmic wisdom that they demonstrated to the entire world a new and far more advanced mode of existence, man. Back to the Garden, and all that. Expanding their consciousness. The Love Generation. It was the Dawning of the Age of Aquarious, I tell you.

And the media certainly laid it on thick. Larding the Woodstock Nation with flattery and praise.

But when you read this book, you find out that what saved the day wasn’t cosmic hippie grooviness. But that the two young guys who bankrolled the festival quickly realized the potential disaster they had on their hands. And started writing out checks left and right for hundreds of thousands of dollars to put out one potential fire after another. And if they HADN’T done that, the whole thing very well might have spun out into one of the biggest disasters of all time.

And just 6 months later the Rolling Stones would find out that hippie good vibes would not save the day at Altamont. And in fact, the Stones had walked right into that disaster precisely because they had naively BELIEVED in the Woodstock myth.

An ironic epilogue: The day after Altamont the San Francisco Chronicle ran a frontpage story extolling Altamont as “Woodstock West,” with an excited narrative about the alleged grooviness that had flourished at the festival. That’s how eager the media was to advance that particular narrative.

A narrative that largely lives on to this day, I might add.
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