Lehigh University, Class of 2003
May 2000

[1]    The 1960s was a decade in which so many significant events happened; the nation was saddened by the assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, controversy begins over Vietnam, etc.  A group of people, the hippies, wanted to establish a counterculture, that is, they wanted to "build a new society on the ruins of the old, corrupt one" (Timothy Miller).  They had a different view of the world in mind-- liberal, nonconforming to standards, using peace as a way to resolve conflict.  The event that epitomizes the 1960s is the Woodstock Music and Art Fair of 1969.

 [2]    Different aspects of Woodstock are represented in the film Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music: sex, drugs, music, and a sense of community.  The film did not emphasize sex and drugs since it wanted to be open to a wider audience.  What it did concentrate on was the latter two topics: music and community.  Music was THE reason Woodstock happened.  It was the main focus of the event -- people didn't go primarily because of sex and drugs; they wanted their "counterculture" to become known, they wanted to form a community with their common beliefs.  In Woodstock, you can't really have music without community.  One of the scenes that most represents this is the one with Sly and the Family Stone [0:44:40] because it invokes one of the most important aspects of music and community: audience participation.

 [3]    Critics of the Woodstock film, such as Joan Holden, say that it did not provide an experience similar to actually being at Woodstock.  She says that many of the bands were left out of the film. However, the ones that represented the most sense of community were left in.  Sly, Joe Cocker, and Wavy Gravy are some examples of bands combining music and community.  Holder also says that there were no camera views from the audience and this detracts from being realistic.  This really was not a big drawback; what was important is that the performances which had the audience participating too were included in the film.

[4]    A New York Times article criticizes the festival, calling it a “colossal mess,” not worth the trouble of having impassable highways, two deaths, and hospitalization of those who were over-drugged.  The parents, teachers, and sponsors of this event should be held responsible too, says the article.  It also says that the best part of the festival was the food that was brought in and the medical help.  While I agree that the parents and the planners of the event could be held somewhat responsible (how could they have known that the show would go free causing a half million people to show up?), I do not agree that it was the best part of the festival, which was, for most people, the music.  Positive reviews, like Stanley Kauffmann’s, say that Woodstock is one of those incredible events that should be remembered.  “The nozzle of Now plays such a fierce stream on us that everything tends to get washed away, unless it was embedded before the flow became so fierce,” says Kauffmann, calling the event a “three-day utopia.”  Another reviewer, Richard Corliss, calls the music the most valuable thing in Woodstock: “the performer is often no more than a blue flame that holds the visual attention while the mind and spirit soar with the music.”  Woodstock was a significant, unique event where the good (music, community) far outweighs the bad (drugs, sex, and deaths).

 [5]    Music is definitely a positive aspect of Woodstock ’69.  Unlike the most recent Woodstock ’99, the music has promoted peace.  In the lyrics of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Higher,” [0:44:40] “Sing higher and throw the peace sign up, it can’t do you no harm” causes the audience to participate and throw their peace signs up.  This stage view is actually better than the view from the audience that Joan Holden suggested.  As Greil Marcus of Rolling Stone says, "the festival phenomenon is getting too big for the individual producers to handle.”  Agreed, it was certainly amazing at the time to the creators of Woodstock ’69 when a half million show up.  They were expecting only …, but a lot more came, probably since the show became free.  This promoted another message that Woodstock should carry—freedom.  Marcus was correct; the Woodstocks that followed became highly commercialized and in ’99, a total disaster, nowhere near carrying Woodstock ‘69’s message of peace, freedom, and community. Commercialization of music was in fact the enemy of the counterculture.  The reason for this is that capitalists make more money from music than the counterculturists.  However, the counterculture does not consider money as the main objective; they want to have fun and share their beliefs rather than emphasize how much money an event such as Woodstock makes.

 [6]    Rock music has run counter to the mainstream culture; it “engages the entire sensorium, appealing to the intelligence with no interference from the intellect” (Chester Anderson).  Timothy Miller describes rock music as a cultural language, “the music of right now… letting energy flow so you can be free again.”  He goes as far as saying that it shapes oneself and is a requirement of life, a source of energy, a liberating force.  Chester Anderson tried to prove this by analyzing where this energy comes from.  He says that rock rhythms affected the heart, muscles, and nerves, and melodies affected the larynx.  With its use of modern equipment, rock was in danger of becoming “excluded” from the counterculture (that is, mainstream).  However, Miller says that it has “inherent power” to transcend this problem.  Rock could be said to be revolutionary.  The rock music was supposed to be their revolution, and they were trying to prove something.  “The important thing you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million young people can get together for three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music,” says Max Yagsur, who leased his fields for just $50,000.