By PHYLLIS HODGES
It was 50 years ago this week (August 15-17, 1969) that about one million people trekked to Bethel, New York, for a music festival billed as An Aquarian Experience: 3 Days of Peace and Music, later to be known as Woodstock.
“Many baby boomers look back on this concert as the most memorable three-day event of their lives,” said Dave McElroy, program director at Phoenix Community Radio, WPHX 101.9 FM, in announcing a special two-hour broadcast to commemorate the 50-year anniversary. Back to the Garden: Woodstock Remembered will be aired on Saturday, August 17, at noon and 9 p.m.
National Public Radio (NPR) producer Paul Ingles partnered with Joel Makower, author of Woodstock: The Oral History from SUNY Press to create the program that features music by Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker, The Who, Joan Baez and many more. “In addition to the memorable music, the program includes interviews with Woodstock organizers, musicians and audience members,” McElroy said.
WPHX is a project of the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin and broadcasts at 101.9 FM and online at wphx1019.org. The station regularly airs its Saturday Night ’60s Party, presenting music and features from the ’60s from 9 p.m. to midnight. The station staff considered that slot as the natural place to showcase the “rockumentary” Woodstock program, but to accommodate more listeners, they added the noon to 2 p.m. broadcast on August 17 as well.
Woodstock has become synonymous with the counterculture movement of the ’60s. The country was deep into the controversial Vietnam War, and it was also the era of the civil rights movement, a period of great unrest and protest. For many people, the festival was an opportunity for them
to escape into music and spread a message of unity and peace. Despite a lot of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and rain, the overall vibe of the festival was harmonious.
Originally, about 50,000 people were expected. But two days before the event was to start, at least that many were already camped out on location and over 100,000 tickets pre-sold. In the end, of the one million attempting to reach the venue, only about 500,000 reached it. The concert featured 32 local and world-known musicians over three days.
Max Yasgur, the humble farmer who lent his land for the occasion, addressed the audience on day three. He said, “…You’ve proven something to the world…the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half-a-million kids, and I call you kids because I have children who are older than you are, a half-a- million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and God bless you for it!”
In 2006, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts opened on the hill where Woodstock took place. Today, it hosts outdoor concerts in its beautiful pavilion. There is also a 1960s museum on site.