There can never be another Woodstock – not at the 50th anniversary celebration at the site of the 1969 festival, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, or on the same Aug. 16-18 weekend at original Woodstock promoter Michael Lang’s anniversary bash 150 miles away in Watkins Glen.
Woodstock was the culmination of the world’s turbulent mood and a generation’s musical response to it. The friction between violent events like the Vietnam War, the 1968 assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the sometimes angry, sometimes hopeful music responding to the upheaval created a moment unlike any other. That moment crystallized when more than 400,000 young folks shed the violence and converged for what turned out to be a free and peaceful concert in Sullivan County's Town of Bethel.
Why can’t that golden moment happen again?
First, the astounding music scene that produced the first one is history. Just check out a few 1969 albums: The Beatles’ “Abbey Road,’’ The Rolling Stones’ “Let it Bleed,’’ The Who’s “Tommy,” The Band’s “The Band,” Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline,” Santana’s “Santana’’ and Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.’’
Woodstock also embodied the mood of a generation galvanized in protest over the Vietnam War and the violence of the assassinations, yet one that also felt anything was possible, like a man walking on the moon, which also happened in 1969.
Today, that unity and sense of possibility are as much a part of history as that music scene.
Something else has also changed: the business of music.
In the '60s, I received $5 tickets in a hand-addressed envelope to a Jefferson Airplane show at the old Fillmore East in New York City. The tickets came with a handwritten note and a drawing of a peace sign suggesting other shows.
Today, the Bethel Woods Music and Culture Festival and the Watkins Glen Woodstock 50 festival must deal with a behemoth music industry dominated by production companies like Bethel Woods promotor Live Nation - an industry in which a Woodstock festival may be another lucrative stop on a summer tour. And even though Lang’s Woodstock 50 professes to try to capture the Woodstock spirit of social activism, it also reflects today’s cut-throat corporate culture with its vehement protection of the Woodstock name and trademark.
What can we expect at the 50th anniversary of Woodstock festivals?
According to Lang, Woodstock 50 will go for some of today’s biggest names, a few original Woodstockers and some young acts paying tribute to dead Woodstockers - in front of Woodstock-size crowds. Maybe acts ranging from Kendrick Lamar to Taylor Swift?
The Bethel Woods Music and Culture Festival, restricted by a crowd limit of 30,000 and a lack of camping, will also feature plenty of Woodstock-inspired music, TED-style talks, entertainment villages and a special museum exhibit devoted to the 50th anniversary. In other words, the festival will tell the story of, and pay tribute to, the original.
No matter who plays where – and I’d love to again see Santana at the place he calls “ground zero for peace and love,” Bethel Woods - there will never be another Woodstock.
The three days in August 1969 were magic because they were the spontaneous reaction to a moment in time that will never happen again.
The 50th anniversary of Woodstock is a time to celebrate, remember and maybe even be inspired by our potential to create a little of our own magic, not just in August but every day.