Woodstock Research Paper

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Although the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival is a celebrated symbol of the “hippie” counterculture, it did not initiate the counterculture, nor did it mark its end. Nevertheless, Woodstock is a useful reference point for discussions of this significant social phenomenon. By 1969, the “hippie” movement had emerged as a group of primarily young people, who not only were opposed to the Vietnam War but also wore distinctive and colorful clothing, engaged in illegal drug use, and enjoyed rock and roll music.

In early 1969, business associates John Roberts and Joel Rosenman met record executive Artie Kornfield and festival promoter Michael Lang, and the four decided to produce the largest music festival to date. Although not fully immersed in the counterculture, they sought to produce a festival that would appeal to that group. To promote the festival they formed Woodstock Ventures, named after the town in Ulster County, New York, where Bob Dylan lived. Woodstock Ventures advertised the festival in the alternative and college media, hired a crew to assist with production, and booked the most significant bands of that era. Their most difficult concern was finding a site to hold a large, three-day music and art festival, which would also allow attendees to camp. Woodstock Ventures eventually found a site in Sullivan County, New York. They leased land from a local dairy farmer named Max Yasgur. Although Sullivan County residents expressed trepidation about the concert and especially the influx of “hippies,” Yasgur resisted this pressure and allowed the festival to occur.

Woodstock started on Friday, August 15, 1969, and on that day, approximately 400,000 (some estimated closer to one million) people, many without tickets, arrived at the festival gate. Fans waited hours in line, and when they entered, it was clear that they were not prepared for three days of camping. To make matters worse, it had rained considerably during the weekend, soaking the festival grounds. The promoters also did not adequately prepare for the throngs of attendees, and eventually they agreed to waive admissions fees.

Woodstock is the quintessential symbol for the “hippie” counterculture. Illegal drug use was extensive and open. While most of the fans maintained control, a small percentage of them overindulged, though there was also a “freak-out tent” to calm them down. Woodstock included a self-contained market, in which fans sold food, artwork, jewelry, and clothing to one another. The artists, promoters, and fans were more concerned about music and art than about politics, but the undercurrent of progressive activism was inescapable. The musicians and fans expressed support for social justice and intense opposition to the Vietnam War.

Woodstock attracted considerable media attention, which brought the “hippie” counterculture into the mainstream, and, as a result, the festival became part of the American cultural imagination. Although the festival was only one of many crucial events during a time of social and cultural upheaval, intellectuals, the press, popular entertainment, and the advertising industry have made Woodstock into the symbol of the cultural and political ideals of the late 1960s. Supporters of the social changes brought about by the 1960s cite the ability of the festival to overcome tremendous obstacles as an example of the success of the “hippie” subculture and progressive politics. Conversely, opponents of these changes deride Woodstock as an example of the chaos and lawlessness the 1960s wrought on American society.

Although in the early 1970s many experts predicted the end of the “hippie” movement, the spirit of Woodstock has not disappeared from the American cultural scene. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, the Grateful Dead, which had been at the forefront of the “hippie” movement and performed at Woodstock, played thousands of shows throughout the United States. A new generation of fans, known as Deadheads, many of whom were not born when Woodstock occurred, followed the band to different cities. Like Woodstock, Grateful Dead concerts featured illegal drug use, expression of progressive views, and vibrant economic activity. This subculture was so significant that University of North Carolina, Greensboro, sociologist Rebecca Adams set out to study Deadheads by attending shows and conducting field research on the fans (Adams 1998). During the 1990s a second generation of musicians and fans maintained the Woodstock spirit. So-called jam bands, such as Phish, have developed their own followings, especially after the 1995 death of Grateful Dead band-leader and “hippie” icon Jerry Garcia. Since 2002, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival has occurred every June in Manchester, Tennessee. Although this festival only attracts 90,000 to 100,000 people and is generally well organized, it is strikingly similar to Woodstock. An eclectic selection of bands entertains fans; there is widespread and open illegal drug use; progressive political views abound; and people sell food, art, and clothing.


  1. Adams, Rebecca G. 1998. Inciting Sociological Thought by Studying the Deadhead Community: Engaging Publics in Dialogue. Social Forces 77 (1): 1–25.
  2. Makower, Joel. 1989. Woodstock: The Oral History. New York: Doubleday.

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