They arrived by foot, hitching rides from far away and then hiking through the rolling countryside. They came by bus. They came by car. The New York State Thruway became a parking lot as concertgoers abandoned their vehicles and began the long trek. Half a million individuals converged for what would become the most famous rock concert ever: Woodstock.
What took place at Bethel, New York, in mid-August 1969 was ostensibly billed as “An Aquarian Exposition” of music and peace. It was that and more—much more. Instead of being just a concert, it became an event ensconced in American history. It was historic because of the performers who took the stage and because of the sheer volume of persons who gathered together to listen to music in an outdoor setting. The lineup included big names, including The Who, Janis Joplin, The Band, and the Grateful Dead. There were moments of musical transcendence, such as singer Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane greeting the morning crowd with the words: “Alright friends, you have seen the heavy groups, now you'll see morning maniac music, believe me, yeah . . . ”; Richie Haven's rapturous rendition of the old spiritual “Motherless Child”; and Joan Baez singing the labor paean “Joe Hill” to a hushed crowd after dedicating the song to her husband, who was incarcerated for refusing to serve in the draft. The festival was brought to a close early Monday by Jimi Hendrix, whose “Star-Spangled Banner” played as the field emptied out.