You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find you make history.
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair was the brainchild of a quartet of promoters and investors—Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman and John P. Roberts. In 1969, the team sought to build a recording studio in Woodstock, NY, an area along the Hudson River known for recording artists like Bob Dylan. When that idea morphed into an outdoor concert, the group scheduled the event for August 15-17 in a small town called Wallkill, located a few miles to the south. The town’s residents, concerned about traffic and noise, stalled the permitting process. A serious hitch, since Lang had already booked major acts like Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and a new band calling itself Crosby, Stills and Nash.
The hammer fell on July 15, when Wallkill’s Zoning Board denied permission for the concert. With the event scheduled to start in exactly a month, organizers scrambled. On July 25, the team announcing the festival was moving to the town of Bethel, a remote location in the rolling southern edge of the Catskill Mountains. Lang had done the miraculous—he’d not only found a site but a sympathetic advocate in dairy farmer Max Yasgur.
Enter the fictional rock group Orwell and its stellar guitarist Hayden Quinn, one of the principal characters in my new standalone novel Born Under a Bad Sign.
Lang was booking a number of local acts like the newly formed super group Mountain with guitarist Leslie West and Dylan’s session guys, who in a fit of creativity had named themselves The Band. That’s where Orwell, the fictitious Pennsylvania-based group, gets the idea of crashing the party. They had the biggest record in the country. They were based two hours to the south. So why not play the greatest gig of their lives?
The idea wasn’t as absurd as it sounds. By late July, the roster of musicians at Woodstock had solidified. While there were still some open slots on Saturday, those places were reserved for West Coast acts. Folk on Friday, West Coast on Saturday, the big international rock acts on Sunday. That meant Arlo Guthrie and Ravi Shankar on Friday, Canned Heat and the Jefferson Airplane on Saturday.
When the Doors bowed out—Jim Morrison was afraid someone might kill him on stage—Orwell saw its chance. Lang had another ideas, one that must have seemed bizarre to the musicians.
From here I’ll let reality take over.
Hendrix’s people wanted the guitarist to close the show on Sunday but, as Lang writes in his memoir of the festival, The Road to Woodstock, he wanted to make a statement. So who did the organizer of this counterculture bash favor to conclude three days of peace and love, to send the masses on their happy trails?
Good thing we don’t always get what we want.
Finding Woodstock is a personal reflection on a decade that changed many of our lives—the Sixties. A companion to the novel Born Under a Bad Sign, the collection of short essays provides the backstory to a generation that is still trying, in the words of Joni Mitchell, to get back to the garden.
With original photography by the author.