It could have been a disaster: Hundreds of thousands of people descending upon a farm in upstate New York for a weekend of music at a place where there wasn't enough food, shelter or toilets.
Nonetheless, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, held 50 years ago this week (Aug. 15-18, 1969), defined a generation and is considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, music festivals in history.
The media has been marking the anniversary all month. A documentary has been produced for PBS, and a tribute concert billed as "50th Anniversary of Peace & Music" is being held at Moorhead's Bluestem Center for the Arts on Friday, Aug. 16, and Saturday, Aug. 17.
There is a lot to know — many myths, some half-truths. So here are a few fast facts that will make even the most non-hippies among us Woodstock literate.
Why was it such a big deal?
Consider the times. In 1969, the United States was deeply divided over the Vietnam War and civil rights. Woodstock was seen as an opportunity to spread a message of unity and piece in a period of deep unrest. Woodstock, billed as “An Aquarian Experience: 3 Days of Peace and Music," is synonymous with the counterculture movement of the 1960s.
It wasn't in Woodstock
Organizers had planned to hold the festival just south of Woodstock, N.Y., near the Catskill Mountains. But that fell through, and an alternate location was found at a dairy farm near Bethel, N.Y.
While Woodstock featured well-known performers like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Baez, The Who and Blood, Sweat and Tears, there were some notable no-shows.
The Beatles were unable to attend reportedly because President Richard Nixon continued to deny John Lennon a visa into the country. Joni Mitchell was invited, but her manager told her it was more advantageous for her to rest up for her appearance on "The Dick Cavett Show." Bob Dylan declined his invitation, despite having a home near Woodstock. He told promoters it was because one of his children was sick, but others claimed he was tiring of "annoying hippies" who were gathering outside his home.
The Rolling Stones couldn't make it because Mick Jagger was filming a movie in Australia. And The Doors declined their invitation because, as band member Robby Krieger would say years later, "we were stupid." Roy Rogers was invited to close the show by performing "Happy Trails to You." Not surprisingly, Rogers declined.
A launching pad
Because of the famous no-shows, there was room for lesser-known acts. Santana became famous after an electrifying performance at the festival. It is also considered the launching pad for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young since Woodstock marked just their second time performing together.
They ran out of food
Promoters had planned for approximately 186,000 people, but by the end of the first day, it's estimated 400,000 to 500,000 people were there. The festival's food vendor, "Food for Love," was unprepared. They ran out of food within hours. After that food disappeared, a local Jewish temple came to the rescue by providing bread and meat. Others lived off granola being passed around in paper cups.
It really was a peaceful crowd
Despite the lack of food, pouring rain and traffic backing up for 10 miles, the crowd remained peaceful. It's considered remarkable that in a crowd of nearly half a million people, there were no reports of violence. There were only 80 arrests all weekend, all of them for drug charges. Two people died — one from a drug overdose, the other from getting run over by a tractor while he slept.
Blanket couple is still together
One of the most iconic images from Woodstock is a young couple huddled together under a dirty blanket. That couple had only been dating for three months when someone snapped the photo, which would eventually be used for the cover of the Woodstock album and poster for the 1970 documentary. The couple, Nick and Bobbi Ercoline, now 70, got married and are still together and living just a few miles from the site of their famous photo.
Most did not see that iconic performance
Jimi Hendrix, the highest-paid performer at Woodstock ($18,000), elected to close out the show. Because of delays, Hendrix did not take to the stage until 9 a.m. Monday morning. By that time, many in the crowd had gone home. It is estimated that only about 40,000 of the 500,000 who had been at Woodstock watched him play his version of the national anthem, which is considered one of the most iconic moments of the festival and of the 1960s as a whole.