I had some spare time on my way back from the Berkshires this afternoon, just enough to take a (not so) brief detour to Bethel, NY, site of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, which took place 40 years ago next weekend. For all the blather about the festival's cosmic, countercultural significance, far less ink has been spilt on its one irrefutable legacy: as the archetype for the modern outdoor rock festival. Without Woodstock, there would be no Bonnaroo, no All Points West, no Lolla ('sup Chicago!) Woodstock may not have been the first outdoor festival, but it was the one everyone wishes they could have been at. (Alas, I'm too young for that to have been a possibility.)
Seeing the field for the first time (in the rain, appropriately enough), my immediate reaction was: I thought it would be bigger. A gentle sloping lawn down to a flat patch that once held the stage, I find it incredible that there were 400,000 people there in 1969. What's even harder to believe is that almost noone got hurt, especially after the rain turned the place into a mudpit far more dangerous than the one in Jersey City last weekend. (The Times has some decent coverage - including slide shows and videos - here.)
For those who haven't been back to The Farm in awhile, a new, state-of-the-art amphitheater called Bethel Woods has been erected adjacent to the original festival site. Among this season's concerts is a reunion next weekend of original Woodstock performers Levon Helm, Jefferson Starship, Ten Years After, Canned Heat, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Mountain, and Country Joe McDonald. No doubt they're all more than a little past their prime, but should be fun nonetheless; tickets available at the box office.
But, just to keep things in perspective: Tanglewood had been going on for 40-plus summers by the time of the first Woodstock. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, man. (More pics below.)