Woodstock in 1969

50 moments that changed the history of rock & roll

We thought we were all individual, scattered hippies," says David Crosby. "When we got there, we said, 'Wait a minute, this is a lot bigger than we thought.' We flew in there by helicopter and saw the New York State Thruway at a dead stop for twenty miles and a gigantic crowd of at least half a million people. You couldn't really wrap your mind around how many people were there. It had never happened before, and it was sort of like having aliens land."

On the weekend of August 15th, 1969, an estimated 400,000 people from all over America descended on the 600-acre dairy farm of Max Yasgur, in Bethel, New York, for a three-day concert, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. On Monday, August 18th, they all melted back into America after witnessing legendary performances by, among others, the Who, Santana, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix and, in only their second live show together, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

"It was a hectic scene, and we were all kind of winging it," says Crosby. "Behind us were Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone - all these bands - and we really wanted to be good in front of them. For me, the high point was us going out and singing 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' and getting all the way through it and not screwing up. It was stoned and funny and fine."

Despite delays, the danger of electrical shocks and general backstage anarchy, Woodstock pulled off the ultimate magic act of the 1960s: turning utter rain-soaked chaos into the greatest rock festival ever and the decade's most famous and successful experiment in peace and community.

"It was incredible," said Carlos Santana. "I'll never forget the way the music sounded bouncing up against a field of bodies." Cocker took British R&B to church with his version of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends," and Hendrix sent the remaining stragglers home on Monday morning with his immortal recasting of "The Star-Spangled Banner." As Wavy Gravy, one of the show's MCs, says, "The whole world was watching us, and we had a chance to show the world how it could be if we ran things."

Posted Jun 24, 2004 12:00 AM