The 15th of August 1969 AD
More than 40 years on from the event and Woodstock is still the single most famous rock festival ever. The organisers expected no more than 50,000 to attend in the backwoods of New York State; they revised this to 200,000 when they rapidly sold 186,000 tickets ($18 a pop for the planned three days). In the end it is estimated that half a million turned up, the sheer numbers forcing the promoters to somewhat belatedly declare it a free festival.
It is not, of course, just the numbers that made Woodstock stand out – a year later the Isle of Wight Festival drew yet more, an estimated 600,000. The quality of the acts over the three – which slipped into four – days, was astounding. Everyone wanted to be there, though legend has it that nobody wanted to be first, the signing of Creedence Clearwater Revival opening the floodgates.
Though it has gone down as a quintessentially American event, British acts from all over these islands played more than a supporting role. The first British band on stage is not one that would immediately spring to mind: it was The Keef Hartley Band, led by drummer Keith Hartley from Preston, who replaced Ringo in his pre-Beatles band and played with John Mayall .
Rather more celebrated UK acts followed: Glasgow and Edinburgh combined in The Incredible String Band; London’s The Who, making the stage at 4am on the second day; The Grease Band and Joe Cocker both representing Sheffield’s music scene; and the wonderful blues rockers Ten Years After from Nottingham . Salford’s finest, Graham Nash (once of The Hollies) also appeared as part of supergroup Crosby Stills Nash and Young.
Woodstock represented the brief flowering of the peace and love age, passing off with negligible crime, though one person died of a drugs overdose and another sleeping in a nearby field was crushed by a tractor. Its heir may well be Glastonbury , which was held for the first time in 1970, and continues to this day.
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