Saturday, March 30, 2024



A lengthy read for the Easter weekend . . .

I was watching clips and acts of Woodstock, or the Woodstock Music and Art Fair to give it its proper name, held in 1969. One of the highlights for me has always been the address given to the crowd by Max Yasgur, the owner of farm where the event was held.

Following is more information about Max Yasgur and the circumstances.

Max Yasgur at Woodstock in 1969

Max Yasgur:

Yasgur was born in Manhattan, New York City to Jewish immigrants and was raised with his brother on the family's farm, where his parents also ran a small hotel. By the late 1960s, he was the largest milk producer in Sullivan County, New York his farm having 650 cows.


The Venue:

Woodstock’s organisers were four men in their who had originally had the idea to hold a music festival at Howard Mills Industrial Park in Wallkill, N.Y., about 30 miles from the town of Woodstock. About a month before the festival was to occur, the town succeeded in banning the event. Having been rejected by other potential venues, they were running out of options.

Event organisers were contacted by a resident of nearby Bethel, who thought the town could offer an option. A meeting was organised by a local real estate agent to see a dairy farm and to meet the farm’s owner, Max Yasgur. Yasgur then aged 49 with a heart condition, agreed to lease some of his land to festival organisers.

Although reports of the sum paid vary, including that he was paid between $50,000 and $75,000, his reasons for doing so were both financial and idealistic.

According to his son Sam Yasgur, his father agreed to rent the field to the festival organisers because it was a very wet year, which curtailed hay production. The income from the rental would offset the cost of purchasing thousands of bales of hay.

Yasgur was a conservative Republican who supported the Vietnam War but nonetheless strongly believed in the right of free expression, even if the expression came from people whose lifestyles and beliefs were very different to his own. He once remarked to the New York Times that, “If the generation gap is to be closed, we older people have to do more than we have done.”

Local Reaction:

Though not everyone in Yasgur’s town was anti-Woodstock, there were many who had no interest in closing any “generation gap.”

Soon after news of his letting part of his farm became known, he began to receive both threatening and supporting phone calls (which could not be placed without the assistance of an operator because the community of White Lake, New York, where the telephone exchange was located, still utilised manual switching). Some of the calls threatened to burn him out. Signs were erected around town, saying, "Local People Speak Out Stop Max's Hippie Music Festival", "No 150,000 hippies here", and "Don’t buy Yasgur’s milk".

The threat of boycott actually hardened Yasgur’s resolve. His wife, Miriam Yasgur, recalled how, after her husband saw this sign, she “knew darned well he was going to let them have their festival.”

Yasgur and Woodstock:

Yasgur has stated that he did not expect the festival to be as big as it was. It is estimated that between 460,000 and 500,000 people attended.

He provided food at cost or for free. When he heard that some local residents were selling water to people coming to the concert, he put a large sign on the side of his barn that faced the road to inform everyone that he had “Free Water.” The New York Times reported that Yasgur "slammed a work-hardened fist on the table and demanded of some friends, 'How can anyone ask money for water?'" His son Sam recalled his father telling his children to "take every empty milk bottle from the plant, fill them with water and give them to the kids, and give away all the milk and milk products we had at the dairy."

Yasgur’s address:

On the third day of the festival, just before Joe Cocker's early afternoon set, Yasgur addressed the crowd:
"I'm a farmer. I don't know how to speak to 20 people at one time, let alone a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world — not only to the Town of Bethel, or Sullivan County, or New York State; you've proven something to the world. This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place. We have had no idea that there would be this size group, and because of that you've had quite a few inconveniences as far as water, food, and so forth. Your producers have done a mammoth job to see that you're taken care of... they'd enjoy a vote of thanks. But above that, 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 that are older than you are — a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and I – God bless you for it!"
Watch and hear his address by clicking on:


After Woodstock:

Many of Yasgur's neighbours turned against him after the festival, and he was no longer welcome at the town general store, but he never regretted his decision to allow the concert on his farm. The local postmaster reportedly turned against the Yasgurs, so they opted to change their address from Bethel to Cochecton, another nearby town.

In 1970 he was sued by his neighbours for property damage caused by the concert attendees. They charged that large numbers of concertgoers used their property as a site of shelter and defecation and left their property strewn with refuse.

The damage to Yasgur’s own property was far more extensive and, over a year later, he received a $50,000 settlement to pay for the near-destruction of his dairy farm.

Until the end of his life, Yasgur avoided discussion about the treatment he had received from anti-Woodstock neighbours.

He refused to rent out his farm for a 1970 revival of the festival, saying, "As far as I know, I'm going back to running a dairy farm".

Yasgur, who had already suffered a series of heart attacks before Woodstock, sold his farm in 1971 and relocated to Florida, where he died of a heart attack in 1973. Rolling Stone then paid tribute to him with a full-page obituary — a rare gesture for a non-musician.

Joni Mitchell; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young:

Joni Mitchell's song "Woodstock", made famous by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, has a line about "going down to Yasgur's Farm". Joni Mitchell Wrote it in response to Graham Nash’s description of the events at Woodstock. Mitchell’s version is melodic and thoughtful, while the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young version focuses on harmonies and is more up-tempo.

Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, "tell me, where are you going?"
This he told me

Said, "I'm going down to Yasgur's Farm
Gonna join in a rock and roll band
Got to get back to the land
And set my soul free"

Crosby, Stills, Nash version:

Jonii Mitchell version:
“I wrote a little song for my friends to sing.”



By the way #1:

There is a very watchable movie telling the story of Woodstock as a backdrop: Taking Woodstock.


By the way #2:

On August 21, 1969, Max Yasgur wrote an impassioned letter to the Editor of the Sullivan County Democrat regarding the Woodstock Festival:
“Three weeks ago the citizens of Wallkill, NY banished from their community a group of young people seeking three days of music and peace. In desperation looking for a site on which to hold their festival Woodstock Ventures came to Bethel. For two weeks it rained daily while the young people toiled around the clock in an almost impossible effort to turn hay fields into a Festival site. A playground was constructed for children, complete with animals, miles of chain link fence was erected, a magnificent stage was built, five wells were drilled, electric service was brought in from five miles away, thousands of portable toilets were positioned and generally every effort possible was made to handle a maximum expected turnout of 50,000 people per day.

The young people who built Aquarian began allaying the fears of the local people with whom they had contact. They were industrious, polite and policed up after themselves. On the eve of the Festival, however, adults and nature combined to form a severe test of pressure and problems or the Aquarian Festival. NYC Police Commissioner Howard Leary prevented an estimated 350 off duty police from serving as security officers as they had originally been hired to do.

One hundred buses which had been scheduled to shuttle in festival patrons free of charge from outlying parking lots were suddenly unavailable. Then finally the rains came. So did the young people. Eight or ten times as many people came as had ever been anticipated.

Under the severe strain of almost one half million people the facilities broke down. Parking in the rain soaked fields became impossible. Traffic, with an under-staged security force, became an impossible snarl. The wells, over taxed, were hardly able to keep up with the demand and the sanitation facilities became inaccessible to maintenance. By the early morning hours of Saturday I feared that major catastrophe was in the making. I tried to imagine what a population larger than Albany and perhaps as large as Buffalo might do in a situation in which they were wet, thirsty, tired and immobile and facing nothing but more of the same. The prospects were horrifying. Some had come over 3,000 miles and had paid $18.00 for tickets only to find they had to walk the last five miles in the rain to reach an over full Festival site where no tickets were being collected because the management feared someone might be hurt in the crush at the gate. What would you envisage that a group of a half a million professional football or other sport fans might do under similar circumstances.

But, thank heaven, none of our fears were realized. What happened at Bethel this past weekend was that these young people together with our local residents turned the Aquarian Festival into a dramatic victory for the spirit of peace, good will and human kindness. Hungry youths shared everything they had. Local residents poured out to volunteer food and aid. Well meaning youths looking for a place to rest and something to eat strayed onto private property, built fires out of fences and slept in fields. My neighbors were magnificent. They had nothing to gain from the festival. They were not receiving rent or selling anything. They were merely trying to run their dairy farms and homes. They woke to find thousands of young people camping on their lawns and fields. Yet, through it all there was not one incident as my neighbors, for whom my heart goes out more than they can know, rose to the occasion. The State Police, Sheriff Ratner and his overworked force, local police and volunteers from surrounding communities justly received the highest possible praise from Festival goers, staff and local residents. Together they organized emergency traffic and medical procedures that finally succeeded in bringing order out of the traffic and relief to the inundated first aid facilities. With the aid of Armed Forces helicopters and local volunteers a potential medical crisis was averted. They deserve the highest possible commendation, each and every one, for the tireless and magnificent way in which they handled the situation.

I am of course exceedingly sorry for my many neighbors and friends who suffered damage. The fault, if there be one, lies simply in the fact that ten times as many youths came to the festival as had been anticipated and of course the rain then made a bad situation terrible. But damage is repairable by money and effort.

In the final analysis, however, the material aspects of Aquarian, such as a local loss of revenue at the track and the monumental inconvenience to local residents are far less important than the lesson that was to be learned.

It seems evident to me that if one-half million young people came to Sullivan County there must be fifteen to twenty million of them in America. It has been stated that 80% were on some form of narcotics. Although this is merely a guess and not a proven fact if it is so the problem is more urgent than any of us realized.

The militant groups and the communist organizers were here and nothing would have proved their point more than a riot. But they couldn’t get a riot started no matter how they tried because, as the young people said, this was a cool scene with no reason for violence. I for one have learned a lesson that I will not forget.

I realize that as an American we are talking about most of our generation of young people, many of whom are the young intelligentsia of our society. Many of them are attending college, many have graduate degrees and the one thing that they have in common is that they are all thinkers. Possibly some are impractical dreamers but all are thinkers and deeply concerned about their future. I as an American am also concerned about the future of America and the form of government I love.

These young people, whom my age group refer to as the beat generation are the voters and the lawmakers of tomorrow. If they are a beat generation then we, the so-called establishment, their parents, made them so. Our generation will have to decide and decide quickly whether we are going to give these young people a fair shake or are going to discount them because they don? cut their hair or wear their clothes the way we do. If we don’t listen to their gripes the radical and extremist will and then we can and will have continued anarchy and violence in America.

It has been stated and undoubtedly greatly overstated that 80% of the festival visitors were on some form of narcotics. If these figures are even partly true it is clear that the basic problem is the climate in our country which makes such facts possible. Whether or not those who are now using drugs can be helped is primarily a medical problem. But the problem of preventing further drug use is the problem that my generation must face. If we want our young people to be free of the horrible effects of drug addiction then we must provide for them a climate in which they can grow without being forced to drugs to avoid our society.

It was proven in Bethel that these young people don’t want to follow all the radical groups that are pressuring them. In Bethel, in spite of terrible adversity one half million people remained peaceful and I believe that they and the millions of others like them would like to become part of a peaceful society with us. But, if we don’t welcome them, if we don’t give them a fair shake, if we don’t listen to their complaints and try to reason out the solutions with them what choice will they have? The radical groups will listen to their complaints and will make efforts for them. If we close the doors into our society they will only be left with choosing the radicals. As the late Robert F. Kennedy realized, “it is with these young people that we share this nation and with them that our form of government must be run.” But if we exclude them it will be our blame for having forced them to the anarchy of the radicals.

If a half million young people at the Aquarian Festival could turn such adverse conditions, filled with the possibility of disaster, riot, looting and catastrophe into three days of music and peace then perhaps there is hope that if we join with them we can turn those adversities that are the problems of America today into a hope for a brighter and more peaceful future.


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