Photos And Stories From Woodstock That Show Its Miserable Side
August 1969’s Woodstock Festival was nothing short of legendary. With an epic lineup that included everyone from Jimi Hendrix to the Grateful Dead, the festival has gone down in history as one of the most iconic events of 1960’s youth counterculture and set a precedent for epic music festivals that we have today.
But “Three Days of Peace and Music” wasn’t quite as awesome as you might think. In fact, it was an overcrowded, trash-filled, muddy disaster that left a lot of people miserable for the entire weekend. Read on to see just exactly what Woodstock was actually like and why you’d be glad you weren’t there.
More Than Double The Expected Amount Of People Came
There had been plenty of festivals leading up to Woodstock where attendees only numbered up to 50,000. Everyone thought that Woodstock would draw the same type of crowd and organizers were surprised to see that nearly 200,000 tickets were sold leading up to the event, so that’s what they prepared for in terms of attendees.
Unexpectedly, double the amount of people showed up and many were buying tickets at the gate. Eventually, Woodstock was declared a free event when people decided to just walk in through gaps in the fences.
Sleeping Among The Trash Was A Dangerous Situation
People certainly brought sleeping bags with them to enjoy all three days of the festival but found themselves setting up camp among the trash-strewn pasture of the venue — and it was a dangerous affair.
One 17-year-old fell asleep with his sleeping bag over his head to stay dry from the rain. He was later run over by a sewage truck when the driver failed to distinguish between abandoned sleeping bags and one with a person in it amid all the soaked trash.
People Hitchhiked The Rest Of The Way There
Some people’s cars broke down on the way to Woodstock, leaving them stranded on the side of the road. For many who found themselves in this situation, they took to hitchhiking to get themselves the rest of the way to Bethel.
This was likely a precedent to the traffic jam that occurred on the way to the festival which led many other people to give up driving altogether. It was only the beginning of disaster.
Traffic Stood Still For Three Days
Woodstock was considerably well-publicized for a time that didn’t have internet, as people from as far as the West Coast flocked to New York to partake. Roads leading to Bethel became so packed that people started abandoning their cars there to walk the rest of the way. In fact, traffic was jammed on the New York Thruway for all three days of the festival.
Roadways in the surrounding areas pretty much became Woodstock parking lots.
You Couldn’t Leave If You Liked Your Spot
Woodstock 1969 was no place for the claustrophobic. People were packed onto the festival grounds like sardines and people had to work hard to reserve their spots, which is still the case for most modern-day festivals.
“As time went on, people were encroaching and pushing closer together. Eventually, the crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder as far as we could see… If you moved your leg, an arm would take its place and that spot was gone,” festival-goer Carl Porter told History.com.
They Weren’t Prepared For The Weather
Woodstock 1969 happened in the middle of August, so no one thought twice about the fact that the weather would be anything but warm and sunny. A storm came down that very weekend and almost nobody came prepared.
“Everything has to be looked at through the context of the time. There was no 24-hour weather channel. It was hot and sunny on Friday, so we didn’t bring any rain gear or ponchos,” recalled festival-goer Nancy Eisenstein to History.com.
Sustenance Was Scarce
These guys came somewhat prepared on their way to Woodstock, with a hodgepodge of what looks like deli meat, beef jerky, and a can of orange juice. But hardly anyone thought to bring water or food, thinking that there would be some available for purchase when they arrived at the festival.
Most people ended up starving and thirsty since food vendors backed out over the projected size of the crowd. Thankfully, a group that called themselves The Hog Farm Collective served cups of granola and other small meals to guests.
One Toilet For Every 833 People
Organizers were definitely not prepared for the number of people that showed up. With half a million kids camping out in one spot, where are they all supposed to relieve themselves? According to Consumer Reports, there was only one toilet for every 833 attendees and it wasn’t even a stationary toilet — it was a porta-potty.
Even worse, the toilets began overflowing in no time and at one point, raw sewage was collecting in the mud puddles.
Drowning In Mud And Manure
By Sunday, a thunderstorm was pouring over the festival. People scrambled to get out of the rain but due to the size of the crowd, many were left stranded. By the time it all cleared up, everything was a muddy mess.
“It sucked your shoes off. It was not only mud, but cow manure and it was so dark it looked like chocolate syrup. So we tried not to walk a lot,” Festival-goer Nancy Eisenstein told History.
Crowds Covered Up In Vain
Aside from the enormous crowd, another part of Woodstock that was entirely unexpected was the rainstorm. People huddled under whatever cover they could find but it was mostly in vain. With rain pouring for a better part of the weekend, pretty much everyone and all their belongings got soaked and muddied.
At some points, the music had to stop for fear of musicians getting electrocuted. Between the people, the mud, and the trash, Woodstock didn’t seem like the most enjoyable place to be.
The Earth Was The Festival’s Trash Can
When people think of Woodstock 1969, they likely think of a bunch of hippies gathering to enjoy music, peace, and love. There was plenty of that, of course, but what was very un-hippie-like about the entire ordeal was the complete disregard for Mother Earth.
Dairy Farmer Max Yasgur lent his 600 acres to the festival organizers but was probably appalled at the sheer amount of disregard everyone had for his land. At the very least, there were a handful of volunteers who picked up as much trash as they could.
Music Among Mountains Of Rubbish
With crowds in the hundreds of thousands, trash piled up so quickly that organizers simply couldn’t keep up. As you can see, trash bins overflowed so high that festival-goers were sitting on top of all the collected garbage.
In fact, the trash became so abundant that according to a 1969 article in The Village Voice, “piles of garbage up and down the hillside” were present for a month after the festival.
Some People Didn’t Even Make It
Many people found the festival so overwhelming that they trekked back to their cars and passed out. Those who didn’t even make it to the festival would camp out on the side of the road since there was no way out of the traffic.
Some people even wound up camping out in the front and backyards of residents, who were probably less than pleased to have a bunch of random young strangers on their property.
Some People Got High On Accident
Woodstock was known for the copious amount of drugs that people took there but there were some pure souls who actually went just to enjoy the music. Even if they wanted to go the whole weekend sober some of them really didn’t have a choice.
According to a report in the Times Herald-Record, dealers were sneaking drugs into things that were handed out for free. Some kids who took free drinks simply because they were thirsty inadvertently ended up tripping.
At Least Two Babies Were Born At Woodstock
Considering that Woodstock was highly unsanitary and certainly filled with plenty of recreational drugs, it’s a wonder that people were bringing their children with them. Even crazier are rumors that there were babies born at the festival, including one who was born on the main stage in front of everyone.
The rumors have remained just that but there were at least two confirmed festival-goers who went into labor over that weekend. One was helicoptered to a hospital and the other gave birth in traffic.
Medical Staff Were Overwhelmed
Undoubtedly, there were also an overwhelming amount of injuries that took place. The medical team hired to oversee Woodstock was only prepared to handle 50,000 people, not 500,000.
Staff reported 23 epileptic seizures, 57 cases of heat exhaustion, 176 asthma attacks, and almost 800 bad drug trips. There were also numerous foot injuries as many people decided to forgo footwear. With bad conditions and overcrowding, it’s honestly a wonder there were not more reported health issues.
Better Than Most Accommodations
This guy was lucky enough to find both shelter from the rain and a place to rest after the festival. The trunk of his vintage Volkswagen Beetle seemed like a good enough spot and considering the conditions back then, we’d say this was better than what other people decided to do.
A crowd of people are stuck trekking back to where they came from but this guy was smart to nap it out.
Traffic Jams Left People Trapped In Their Homes
This was the scene at the end of the whirlwind three days that Woodstock turned out to be. People had to walk back to their cars and many had to wait it out until traffic cleared up. Not only was it a nuisance for people trying to go back home but the people who were most inconvenienced were the residents.
Many were trapped in their homes because traffic was just that bad.
But Most Of Them Didn’t Care
Even though Woodstock turned out to be a rainy nightmare, people still found it within themselves to enjoy the moment. This couple clearly is an example of that as they clap along to a performance despite the rain coming down on them.
Woodstock 1969 was an icon of 1960s youth counterculture where people cared less about structure and more about love and peace. That’s probably why many people stuck out the conditions to enjoy themselves.
People Don’t Remember It As A Disaster
Regardless of how disastrous Woodstock 1969 actually was, many people still look back on the festival as a happy memory. Nick and Bobbi Ercoline, for instance, like to think of it that way. They are the couple pictured in this famous photo on the cover of Atlantic Records’ original 1970 Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More.
According to TIME, they see this photo of themselves as a symbol that Woodstock was “hopeful,” “peaceful,” and “filled with love and sharing.”