The Woodstock Effect
Pictorial Parade/Staff/Getty Images

18 Ways Woodstock Changed the World

View Slideshow
The Woodstock Effect
Pictorial Parade/Staff/Getty Images

The Woodstock Legacy

Woodstock was, like many storied musical occasions, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. However, the impacts of the 1969 festival have continued to ripple outward for decades, permanently altering the business of live music and inspiring millions, many of whom weren't even born at the time. To honor the 50th anniversary of more than 400,000 gathering on a muddy dairy farm in upstate New York for what was billed as "three days of peace & music," here are the most objective and important ways Woodstock's influence changed the world, in ways that can still be felt today.

Related: 36 Bucket-List Destinations for Music Lovers

Capturing the Event on Film
Courtesy of amazon.com

Capturing the Event on Film

With the exception of the lives of those who were there, Woodstock wouldn't have changed much if it hadn't been caught on film and preserved in the 1970 documentary of the same name. Edited in part by a young Martin Scorsese, "Woodstock" was key not only to the festival's promoters recouping their losses, but to establishing the import and meaning of Woodstock — as well as the '60s youth counterculture in general — in our broader cultural imagination. Morris Dickstein, professor at the City University of New York and author of "Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties," summed up the documentary's importance in a PBS roundtable on Woodstock, saying: "It's the movie that ... turned Woodstock into the enduring myth that it later became. So many people think they were at Woodstock, but they really only saw the movie."

Launching Music Careers
Tucker Ranson/Stringer/Getty Images

Launching Music Careers

Few were affected by Woodstock as much as some of the artists who played there, including musicians like Santana, Sha Na Na, and Sly and the Family Stone, who credit the festival for their subsequent success. "Getting into Woodstock and getting featured in the middle of that movie, which was the only (live music) video available back then, everything just took off," attested ex-Santana keyboardist and singer Gregg Rolie. "If you had a gig at Woodstock, you had a career."

Embittering the Local Community
littleny/istockphoto

Embittering the Local Community

The unexpected flood of young hippies to rural Sullivan County in upstate New York wasn't always well-received by the area's residents. This much is evident from the town of Bethel's fall 1969 election, which replaced the town supervisor who had approved Woodstock's permit application with one who ran solely on his opposition to the festival. The town also adopted an ordinance banning mass gatherings of more than 10,000 people — a law that was copied by other municipalities — ensuring an event on the scale of Woodstock would never again occur in their borders.

Enriching the Local Community
andykazie/istockphoto

Enriching the Local Community

There's another, positive side, however, to Woodstock's effects on surrounding communities. Animosity toward the festival and the youth counterculture it amassed dissipated over the decades, so now Sullivan County embraces the legacy and tourism revenue earned by attractions like the Museum at Bethel Woods and commemorative monuments at the original site, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. Steve Gold, a native of nearby South Fallsburg who was 15 in 1969, says Woodstock taught the world, and him personally, "important lessons about community and caring." When his parents and other hotel/bungalow owners in Sullivan County heard the "hippies" didn't have enough sustenance, they started preparing food, which had to be gathered and delivered via helicopter due to the backed-up roads. "I saw the way people treated each other there," recounts Gold. "Even though there were a lot of social issues being debated and protested at the time, at Woodstock everyone was equal ... I think those actions and feelings led to the startup in the 1970s of more nonprofit organizations trying to make people's lives better." In Gold's case, he was inspired to found Peace of Stage, which sells pieces of the original stage and other commemorative Woodstock merchandise while donating a cut of the proceeds to charity.

Countering the Violence and Political Upheaval of the Era
Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer/Getty Images

Countering the Violence and Political Upheaval of the Era

The 1960s were a time of cultural upheaval and political violence, yet we remember it also as an era of peace and love thanks to events like Woodstock. It provided a counternarrative to grisly happenings like the Manson murders, which occurred a week before the festival, and fostered a new sense of community just as social cohesiveness seemed to be unraveling in other spheres. While subsequent attempts to recapture the magic — like the Altamont Free Concert later that year — may have ended in tragedy, Woodstock gave participants and observers reason to believe huge numbers of people could come together and harmoniously coexist in the same space.

Demonstrating Pop Music's Power
Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer/Getty Images

Demonstrating Pop Music's Power

"No longer can the magical multicolored phenomenon of pop culture be overlooked or underrated," rock journalist Ellen Sander wrote in 1969 of Woodstock's significance. "It's happening everywhere, but now it has happened in one place at one time so hugely that it was indeed historic ... the audience was a much bigger story than the groups." When the entire nation witnessed how many people were willing to gather and endure less-than-stellar conditions for the sake of music and community, something clicked about the influence pop music and other mass-media forms of cultural expression could have on the world, and artistic and business communities alike have been reorienting themselves to capitalize on this established sense of power and economic opportunity ever since.

A0645 JIMI HENDRIX Live at Woodstock 3LP
A0645 JIMI HENDRIX Live at Woodstock 3LP by vinylmeister (CC BY)

Giving Us a New National Anthem

If Woodstock was a demonstration of pop music's power as a cultural force, there was no better showcase than Jimi Hendrix's guitar-led rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" in the festival's final hours, which remains one of the best-remembered moments of Woodstock, even by those who weren't there to experience it. In musical terms, the performance, like the festival itself, asserted that rock and other youth-oriented forms of popular music weren't just a trend or sideshow, but were capable of adding to and recontextualizing American culture and history as a whole.

The Peak (and Demise?) of '60s Counterculture
Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer/Getty Images

The Peak (and Demise?) of '60s Counterculture

Much as it's come to epitomize the ideals of 1960s counterculture, there's another view of events — espoused by the likes of Pete Townshend and Neil Young — that sees Woodstock with less enthusiasm. "It was a turning point for rock; rock became bigtime," said Woodstock veteran Country Joe McDonald in an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune. "It was a beginning and an end." Namely, when the commercial world saw just how numerous the youth counterculture was at Woodstock, it started marketing to them with great financial success, which arguably undermined the movement's anti-materialist origins and radical political aspirations.

Tapping into the Youth "Lifestyle" Market
Ralph M./yelp.com

Tapping into the Youth "Lifestyle" Market

While some like Gold were inspired to become more civically engaged, Woodstock was a for-profit venture far more than a political event, and many in the mainstream seemed to take away the lesson that they could participate and make money off the counterculture without wading into politics. That meant more mass-produced commodities that appealed to the counterculture's psychedelic aesthetic and bohemian fashion sense while neglecting the controversial ideas behind them. It became more about what clothes you wore than what causes you supported, as summed up by Dickstein: "Woodstock represented a failed utopianism that very easily got commercialized and ... turned into style ... [T]he people who were ... protesting the war and other things at Woodstock were acting out a criticism not by going to the ballot box, but by the way they dressed, the clothes they wore, various kinds of mores that got the label 'lifestyle' later on."

Giving Rise to Modern Music Festivals
coachella/facebook.com

Giving Rise to Modern Music Festivals

Woodstock was not the first rock fest of note, coming two years after the Monterey Pop Festival, but it crystallized what such events could be in a way that concert attendees and promoters are still striving for 50 years on. It featured the largest live audience ever assembled and the largest lineup of talent, blending oft-segregated genres like folk, rock, soul, and country in much the same way festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo try to today. 

For promoters, music historian and author Stacy Harris alleges Woodstock "proved that if enough big names were present, a concert of its reach could withstand the big names that never appeared." Adds musician Trent Hankinson, front-man for the band Aqua Seca, "Woodstock set the bar for what a music festival should be. When you attend any of these festivals today, there is always a sense of community, [and] Woodstock was the festival to make that happen." 

Michael Boltzman, executive talent buyer for G7 Entertainment Marketing, concurs, saying, "It was an experience of epic proportions that included cultural immersion, exploration, and even individual growth for people from all walks of life. This is what audiences want today; it's come full circle. The new generation of festival-goers want collaborative, engaging, and inspiring experiences where they are captivated by the on-stage performances and all things offstage as well."

Inventing the "Freak Out" Tent
zendoproject/facebook.com

Inventing the "Freak Out" Tent

Another modern music festival staple to originate at Woodstock was the concept of a tent to help drug-addled attendees calm down, today run by companies like The Zendo Project on the basis of psychedelic harm reduction. At Woodstock, the concept was developed organically onsite by members of the Hog Farm commune from New Mexico, who'd been flown in to help set up campgrounds but quickly became embroiled in security measures amidst all the chaos. In addition to staffing a "freak out" tent to coach users through bad trips, they opened a free kitchen to feed crowds.

Unused Three-Day Woodstock Ticket
Courtesy of auction.steinersports.com

Raising Concert Prices

For many, the biggest takeaway from Woodstock was just how much money there was to be made off this whole rock music thing. Even Woodstock's $20 admission price for three days' attendance was considered pricey at the time, but festival organizers and ticket sellers have found many new and more expensive ways to monetize the festival experience in years since Woodstock's unprecedented success. As musicians understood the demand and began commanding higher prices for their services, it became less feasible to book as many major bands on a single bill without a corresponding hike in prices, leading to the renewed segmentation of the market for live music. A three-day festival ticket is unlikely to go for less than $300 today — Vivid Seats put the average 2018 music festival price at $659 — and in lieu of strangers sharing whatever food they have, attendees to subsequent iterations of Woodstock in '94 and '99 were treated to $4 bottled water and $12 personal pizzas.

Raising the Bar for Live Sound Systems
Courtesy of woodstockpreservation.org

Raising the Bar for Live Sound Systems

You can bet Woodstock wouldn't have had much communal atmosphere or gained such a legendary reputation if people weren't able to hear the musicians they'd come to see, and Woodstock's sound system set a template for how future engineers could accommodate such ambitious outdoor events. "It's been said that the Woodstock sound system was the largest, most advanced sound system ever constructed proving that, if implemented well, sound could be projected a great distance while maintaining quality, clarity, and intelligibility," says Julia Lescarbeau, a contract account executive for sound equipment manufacturer McIntosh Labs. Adds David Hawkins, a music producer and CEO of Your Songmaker: "The genius audio engineer was Bill Hanley, [who] knew what he was doing from a decade of working with everyone from The Beatles to Dylan, Hendrix, and everyone in between. He combined powered amplifiers, microphones, and instruments together like no one had previously done. Some say he is the unsung hero of Woodstock. I tend to agree."

Raising the Bar for Event Organization
Archive Photos/Stringer/Getty Images

Raising the Bar for Event Organization

Woodstock's organizers told local residents they expected an attendance up to 50,000, too guilty to confess they'd actually sold 180,000 tickets in advance. Somewhat ironically, by being such a spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants affair, the original Woodstock made sure that later festivals were better organized. Where Woodstock was like a high stakes experiment wherein thousands came together to solve logistical problems as they arose, later festivals sought to address these concerns in advance, and when they didn't, crowds were usually less willing to endure or take responsibility for less-than-ideal conditions.

Leading to Stadium Concerts
Fin Costello/Staff/Getty Images

Leading to Stadium Concerts

After Woodstock, concert promoters and investors sought to maximize their profit margins from live music events by installing facilities to offset increased prices and placing more stringent controls over ticket collection at the gate. Eventually, this quest for profit and convenience saw festivals move from pastoral outdoor settings like Woodstock to sports arenas and convention centers, limiting the experience to a single-day or evening with assigned seating. Thus, the '70s stadium era supplanted the more egalitarian communal events of the '60s that had helped inspire it.

The Rise of Arena Rock
Fin Costello/Staff/Getty Images

The Rise of Arena Rock

According to a 2002 statement on Woodstock's cultural significance by the Bethel Performing Arts Center, the development of "arena rock" after the festival also marked the end of rock's "vaudeville circuit," resulting in the shutdown of many smaller concert halls in 1970-71 that had incubated diverse and innovative acts throughout the '60s. The increasingly homogenized and expensive stadium settings for live music reportedly gave an advantage to heavily amplified, power chord playing hard rock bands that could better sonically fill these enormous new venues.

Inspiring a Resistance to Stadium Concerts
lollapalooza/facebook.com

Inspiring a Resistance to Stadium Concerts

Like any event that produces such a lasting cultural footprint, Woodstock's legacy is, in many ways, contradictory. Just as it inspired some to make live music events bigger and better organized than ever before, it's also inspired others to counter this trend by organizing their own outdoor, genre-bending music festivals as true spiritual successors to Woodstock, including the likes of Lollapalooza and the H.O.R.D.E. Festival, with mixed success never equaling the original.

As a Cultural Touchstone
Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer/Getty Images

As a Cultural Touchstone

Woodstock has become a legend we pass on in American culture, a subjective symbol for the events and ideals of an entire era that continues to impact how many of us think about the past and act in the present. Unfortunately, those are the kinds of invisible and individualized impacts we can't really measure, but only sense. In this way, Woodstock's significance continues to unfold the further we get from it and the larger the legend becomes, whereas many at the time had little to no idea they were making history. Nonetheless, one of the clearest distillations of Woodstock's importance was published just days after the event by Time magazine, and it's this insight we'll end on: "The baffling history of mankind is full of obvious turning points and significant events: battles won, treaties signed, rulers elected or disposed, and now seemingly, planets conquered. Equally important are the great groundswells of popular movements that affect the minds and values of a generation or more, not all of which can be neatly tied to a time or place. Looking back upon the America of the '60s, future historians may well search for the meaning of one such movement. It drew the public's notice on the days and nights of Aug. 15 through 17, 1969, on the 600-acre farm of Max Yasgur in Bethel, N.Y."