(Above: Woodstock Festival organizer Michael Lang’s hand-drawn layout of the festival grounds. The drawing is part of a new exhibit celebrating the 40th anniversary of Woodstock at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. All photos courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.)
By Joel Francis
The enduring image of Woodstock is iconic: a fringed performer – Jimi Hendrix, Roger Daltrey, David Crosby or Sly Stone – onstage, in front of a staggering mass of people. But how did the performers get to the stage, and where do all the fans answer nature’s call?
“Woodstock: The 40th Anniversary,” a new exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, sheds light on the logistical side of America’s first and greatest rock festival.
“One of the things that interested me the most in putting this exhibit together was just seeing what went into planning of the festival,” said Jim Henke, chief curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “There was a massive amount of planning involved, and a lot of it had to be done at the last minute because the city fathers of Wakill, N.Y. didn’t want that many people to descend on them and made the organizers move the site.”
Festival organizer Michael Lang didn’t get much rest in the weeks leading up to the Woodstock and as evidenced in the “Woodstock” film, Lang had his hands full throughout the event as well. Lang made quite the statement on film making several last-minute arrangements, deals and accommodations in a hand-designed leather vest, also fringed, of course. The vest is just one of several items Lang loaned to the hall for the exhibit.
“Lang’s vest is still in decent shape today,” Henke said. “I’m sure he didn’t get any sleep during that period, but it seems like for whatever reason he was able to keep it together.”
Other clothing in the exhibit includes the tie-dyed cape and jacket John Sebastian wore during his five-song set, and the spectacles Robbie Robertson wore during The Band’s performance.
Surrounding the garments is the contract Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s performance contract, drawings and layouts of the festival grounds, Lang’s handwritten management and operations plan, and an early press release stating the original location of Wallkill and that “Woodstock does not figure on gate crashers.”
“One of the more interesting items we have is a letter from Apple offering the services of James Taylor and Billy Preston for Woodstock,” Henke said. “It turned out Lang and the others didn’t get it in time, so no one appeared.
The letter offered the services of the Plastic Ono Band, which it described as “a series of plastic cylinders incorporated around a stereo sound system.”
“The letter didn’t say John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band,” Henke said, “so I’m not sure if he would have been there or not. I do know Lennon played the Live Peace festival in Toronto a month later, so it could have been a possibility.”
“Woodstock: The 40th Anniversary” appears in the museum’s Ahmet M. Ertegun Main Exhibit Hall through November. The museum will be showing an edited version of the restored Woodstock film in the theater adjacent to the exhibit.
“In addition to having an amazing musical lineup, Woodstock was also the culmination of the anti-Vietnam war movement and the peace and love movement. It was a natural merger that pushed them of being underground movements,” Henke said. “For some of our visitors, this exhibit will bring back memories. The younger audience may not know as much going in, but hopefully they will learn how one of the seminal moments in rock and roll history came about.”
For museum hours and ticket and general information, visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Website.
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