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How many Woodstocks were there? Years of festivals tried to revive 60s hippie culture

Alexandra Ciufudean August 4, 2022
How many Woodstocks were there? Years of festivals tried to revive 60s hippie culture
Photo by Ralph Ackerman/Getty Images

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How many Woodstock festivals are there in total? About once a decade, nostalgia for the 1969 festival that defined a generation resurges and music promoters try to recreate the original “Three Days of Peace and Music”.

Often, the results are disastrous, like the doomed Woodstock ’99 festival, whose descent into violent chaos is documented by a new Netflix docuseries.

But there were more attempts at reviving the Woodstock festival spirit, many of which were lost to history due to being simply unremarkable – neither catastrophic nor life-changing for most attendees.

Here is an informal history of the many attempts at reviving the festival so far – and whether there could ever be another Woodstock.

Photo by Owen Franken/Getty Images

How many Woodstocks were there? Depends on how you count

If you ask most rock music fans or anyone with hippie aspirations, they will tell you there was only one Woodstock – the 1969 festival that consecrated now-iconic acts like Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Santana (whose fame until then was restricted to the Bay Area) and redefined music for an entire generation.

However, counting the original event plus the anniversary festivals set up along the years, there were five Woodstocks between 1969 and 2022 and at least one memorable failed attempt.

Set to take place on farmer Max Yasgur’s 60-acre alfalfa farm in Bethel, New York, Woodstock Music and Art Fair 1969 was billed as “Three Days of Peace and Music”. Organizers expected and were prepared for about 50,000 attendees.

However, the lineup, which included names like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, and the Creedence Clearwater Revival, along with the prospect of an entirely novel experience, attracted more than 400,000 people to the festival. With nearly non-existent security, people were allowed free entry, and extra supplies had to be brought in by helicopter, putting the organizers in deep financial debt.

But what could have easily become a muddy, unsanitary pile-up of strung-out hippies turned into a defining moment for 20th-century counter-culture – and one of the most-recreated festivals ever.

Photo by Ralph Ackerman/Getty Images

10 years later, a concert called Woodstock Reunion 1979 took place in the hamlet of Yaphank, Long Island, NY. The anniversary event was one of many such concerts organised that year.

The lost Woodstocks: ’89 and ’94

20 years on from the main event, the times, like Bob Dyland sang, they were a’changing. Woodstock 1989 went down with more of a whimper than a bang.

As the sun set on the Soviet Block and folk rock gave way to heavy metal and then to new wave, the Woodstock generation was replaced by a “new kind of hippie”. Plans were floated for Woodstock ’89 but didn’t materialize. There were even brief talks of hosting an anniversary concert near the Berlin Wall.

But with no clear direction, no venue, and no momentum, it looked like the 20th anniversary was going to be a bust. Then, something groovy happened: people started showing up at Yasgur’s farm, the site of the original festival, despite the lack of any organized event or even a musical line-up.

Soon local acts like Ice Nine and the Psychedelic Kitchen and even musician Melanie, who performed at the 1969 Woodstock, joined the impromptu gathering, which, by the end of the weekend grew to 150,000 – 250,000 people. A lunar eclipse marked the weekend, taking place while Jack Hardy played The Hunter.

If this were a story with a moral, the prevailing moral of Woodstock ’89 would be “community over commercialism“.

Photo by PL Gould/Images/Getty Images

But to many, Woodstock 1994 came closest to capturing the spirit of that first magical festival – from line-up similarities (Joe Cocker and Santana played) to weather (torrential rains turned Winslow Farm into a mudslide) and debauchery (drugs, alcohol, and nudity were reportedly commonplace).

Along with iconic shows from hippie-era greats, a new generation of rockstars was consecrated at the 1994 event. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Violent Femmes, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Primus, Cypress Hill and Melissa Etheridge delighted the crowd, which by the end of the festival numbered about 350,000.

Organized by the original festival’s promoters, the fourth Woodstock (if you’re keeping count) went down without any massive hiccups. Ticket prices were steep compared to the 1969 fare ($135 vs $18), but few tickets were taken after the first day due to a spate of gatecrashers. Any loss in profits, however, was attenuated by making the event available on pay-per-view TV all over the world.

Woodstock 50: How many festivals is too many?

In 2019, a big Woodstock revival was planned for its 50th anniversary. Initially billed as a celebration of the 1969 festival, the event hit one roadblock after another right from the start.

Organizers, including Woodstock co-creator Michael Lang, were unable to find a venue that would agree to host them and just three weeks before the billed opening date the event had to move to a new Maryland location.

The festival’s grand vision featured a three-day line-up of the biggest names in music including Jay Z, Janelle Monáe, The Killers, Halsey, and Robert Plant as well as some acts from 1969 like Santana and David Crosby of Crosby, Stills & Nash. However, due to financial and venue trouble, the event was eventually cut to a one-day affair.

Finally, after the location change to Maryland on 25 July 2019, all the artists initially announced were released from their contracts.

That is where the story of the not-quite-sixth Woodstock festival ended. Will there be another Woodstock festival in the future? Only time will tell for sure.

While some critics suggest it’s time to put to rest the dream of recreating Woodstock, the festival’s appeal is undeniable – especially during times of social and political uncertainty like the ones we are navigating now.

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Alexandra is Head of Entertainment at The Focus, managing a growing team of outstanding graduate and experienced writers. She has worked previously as an editor, writer and content specialist across web, video and social platforms and has a bachelor's in English Linguistics and a master's in Comparative Literature.