Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the first day of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, also known as the Aquarian Exposition in White Lake, New York. Because attendees began arriving a day early, as you learn in Woodstock: Peace, Music & Memories by Brad Littleproud and Joanne Hague, you could argue that today's the day. No matter what day you choose, the event is worth remembering for its music, mud, mishaps, and myths.
No one really knows how many people attended Woodstock. According to the authors of Woodstock: Peace, Music & Memories, no one ever took the tickets. Because the festival was moved at a late date out of Wallkill, New York, where a half-finished stage sat for years, construction at Yasgur's Farm was never completed. No one ever built the ticket booths. It would not have mattered, as the fences were not finished either and there were far too many people to send through narrow gates. It is estimated that only one third of the attendees had tickets, which they kept and now sell on eBay.
Several new books about Woodstock have been published. What I like about Woodstock: Peace, Music & Memories is that it features the young fans who came much more than the musicians who played. The book is filled with their snapshots and memories, giving readers a good sense of what it was like to be out in the field at the festival. Despite the rain, mud, lack of food, and distribution of bad drugs, most had a wonderful time. The bands played super long sets through the day and even the night, since no one could actually leave and come back as originally planned. People did start to leave on Sunday. By the time Jimi Hendrix played his famous final set on Monday morning (long past the planned closing time), only 40,000 people remained.
Readers wanting more about the performers should try Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock by Pete Fornatale. Most of the chapters in this history focus on the rock stars, telling how they got to Woodstock, how and when they performed, and what being at Woodstock meant to their careers. Many played poorly, which is not surprising with the rain, technical problems, long delays, hunger, and drugs. Others rose to the occasion and are still remembered for peak performances. Fornatale's book can be read to see who won and lost at Woodstock.
Littleproud, Brad, and Hague, Joanne. Woodstock: Peace, Music & Memories. Krause, 2009. ISBN 9780896898332
Fornatale, Pete. Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock. Touchstone, 2009. ISBN 9781416591191