Music was the focus of the Woodstock Festival, which marked a before and after for a whole generation. Photo: GETTYIMAGES

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  • Its organizers would never have bet on the success of the Woodstock Festival or attendees - 40,000 people had been expected to arrive, but a million people came to the call - or artists who agreed to participate in it - from Jimi Hendrix to The Who, passing by Grateful Dead, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez or Janis Joplin-. And they would not have thought that it would mark an era. But it was.

Three days of peace, love and music in the countryside. That was the plan. But in Woodstock things went a little twisted: an organization overflowing with a human marabunta, monstrous traffic jams, rain, mud and bad hygienic conditions, even for those rigorously zarrapastrous hippies. None of this prevented that those four days of August of 50 years ago were one of those quices for which the history is folded to light a light does not go. Why did what happened happen? Why does a music festival still give so much to talk about? There are answers for everything and also to explain the Woodstock phenomenon, but if it doesn't seem bad, it will be better to tell the story from the beginning.

In the beginning, that is, in July 1969 , there were four rookie promoters organizing a big festival in Woodstock, where Bob Dylan lived. However, there was no land in that town in the state of New York that could accommodate the expected 50,000 spectators, so they thought of Wallkill , 70 km southwest of Woodstock; but the fear of the hippy hordes advised the city government council to ban the thing. Total, that neither peace nor love and with music elsewhere.

And here comes Elliot Tiber , a thirties from Brooklyn who didn't even smoke pot, worked as an interior designer in Manhattan and frequented the city's gay bars, a routine that had put him in the Stonewall riots a couple of months earlier. On weekends he helped his parents to take the El Monaco motel in the city of Bethel, which, fortunately, was also president of the Chamber of Commerce , an absurd position, he said, "because there was no trade there." Tiber signed the authorization, for one dollar, to celebrate the festival in White Lake , a hamlet of Bethel. That golden key opened the door that led to one of the emblematic events of the Age of Aquarius . Tiber also offered the dubious charms of El Monaco as headquarters and accommodation of the stars. That is, the White House of the new Woodstock nation, which in a matter of days took cruising speed with the industrious Tiber as the main ticket agent and hotelier. This is how the man embarked on six weeks of glory that was haloed with a glowing cloud the rest of his days.

In April, Creedence Clearwater Revival had been the first band to sign a contract with the festival for $ 10,000 (about 70,000 euros today). They were the hitch pennant for Richie Havens, Neil Young, Janis Joplin, Santana, Joan Baez, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Joe Cocker, Ravi Shankar, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix to get into the car A total of 32 names. Some, possessed by the spirit of the moment, acted totally free; others, like Grateful Dead and The Who , that if you want me to sing the pasta ahead. They declined the invitation for the poster, and well they regretted it, Dylan, the Beatles , The Doors, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, King Crimson or Led Zeppelin, who believed that the festival was the whim of a farmer who wanted rock for his pigs . And they passed, of course.

In late June, promoter Michael Lang and his Woodstock Ventures partners got Max Yagur, a cattle buoyant from Bethel , to rent their land. The owner, who spoke with property (several hectares), asked for $ 50,000 and demanded to limit the number of spectators to 40,000. Lang accepted knowing that they had already sold 60,000 tickets, although without suspecting that this was nothing for which they were coming.

When the earliest festivals arrived on Wednesday, August 13, the meadow, without perimeter, was open to the four winds, the stage was not set and the pilgrims settled where they felt like it without anyone telling them anything. It's not that the organizers had horchata in their veins, they simply had nothing that even remotely could be called a plan. On Thursday, August 14, the thing began to twist when the two-lane road that led to White Lake became a enclosure.

On Friday, the doors that were to open at 10 in the morning, simply did not exist and about 100,000 people had crossed some fences of chichinabo and were already on the grass, smoking weed-quality cheap marijuana at 5 dollars the 10 grams- , or getting into tripis that produced hundreds of bad trips, also to the musicians, and forced the organization to alert the speakers about the quality of the acid in circulation. In the afternoon, the state police estimated the number of people collapsing the roads by one million. In order for musicians and their teams to reach Bethel, they had to turn to helicopters, some from the Army.

More than half of the migrants stayed on the road or turned around frustrated. Those who - defying the threat of storm and the recommendations of the authorities - abandoned the cars and continued walking, found a glorious noise that engulfed fences, lockers, porters and security services. When it started to rain, muddy in the mud, the rock tried to protect itself with plastics, but mostly it was soaked for the whole holy day.

The first information about Bethel spoke of "catastrophic zone". An editorial in The New York Times called counterculture uncultured and wondered: "What kind of culture is ours that can produce such a colossal disaster?" But the young Woodstock nation violated the second principle of thermodynamics, reduced entropy and, more or less, began to function when the hippies of The Hog Farm commune, specialized in feeding crowds, arrived. Veterans of the large demonstrations against the Vietnam War, who improvised a helicopter airlift that brought supplies and took victims of accidents or bad trips, dealt with the medical services.

At five minutes past five on Friday afternoon, Richie Havens opened the stage with this verse: "A minstrel came down from Gaul with dozens of stories to tell." It was the beginning of Minstrel From Gault , the first of the 250 tracks that sounded over four days. When Richie dispatched his 10 songs, the organization announced that under the circumstances the festival was free. Word spread and another marabunta started from everywhere. In the afternoon the spectators were 200,000; at night, 300,000 and up. Most did not pay admission, which cost $ 18 in advance and 24 at the doors (equivalent to about 120 and 160 euros today).

On Saturday, August 16, the 600 bathrooms were so clogged that the weed in the air was appreciated; there was nothing left in the food stalls, the storms had turned the field into a quagmire and some structures threatened to collapse; but it was comforting to hear Janis Joplin : "What makes you feel good cannot cause you any harm."

The terrified New Age puppies, readers of William Blake , invoked pagan deities to scare away the rain: if they could change history and life, they might also be able to dominate the forces of nature. It was a crowd stunned by the evidence of their generational power and they were so calm thanks to their pacifist and environmentalist ideals and the toxic neurotransmitters that tamed the fury. No one protested anything, or the delays or absences of groups announced or the confusion of the concerts. The authorities, however, were nervous, that had gotten out of hand and they thought of declaring Mr. Yagur's pig farm catastrophic.

On the night from Saturday to Sunday there were half a million people. And many others in a radius of 20 km2, some lost in neighboring fields; others, camping in tents. When, on Monday 17, Jimi Hendrix closed the festival after a tortured interpretation of the national anthem, there were only 30,000 spectators left in a garbage and desolation quagmire about to recover its spectral and anemic melancholy. It was a miracle that there were only three casualties: an overdose of heroin, a peritonitis and an outrage with an agricultural machine. The final part of incidents was completed with four abortions and two deliveries. What was born was also a mirage so bright that it is not strange that the polls reveal today that several million Americans claim to have lived Woodstock without being aware of lying.

Those who were really lived the experience, but their meaning escaped. Now we know what it meant: a broadening of the horizons of the possible, a glow that spread like wildfire thanks to the Woodstock Festival documentary: three days of peace, love and music, directed by Michael Wadleigh and edited, among others, by Scorsese The film, which won an Oscar, showed the world the hallucination of a rebel but beatific generation vindicating the intensity of the moment as the only meaning of life. He also showed the ecstasy of some artists who got carried away by improvisation and created unique versions, such as Joe Cocker's With a 'Little Help From My Friends', or Jimi Hendrix's and his 'American destroyer' anthem.

As baseball player Yogi Berra would say , half of the lies told about Woodstock are not true. It is not true that there were fights, no altercations, no pushing or stealing; not even that it was a protest festival no matter how much The New York Times said it. Woodstock'69 was designed to thwart anything that resembled a revolution, organizers did not allow political speeches and musicians limited themselves to occasional slogans against the war. In the middle of The Who's performance, Abbie Hoffman , a radical leader who did not want to miss the opportunity to release his stories of Hoffman, jumped into the arena, Pete Townshend gave him a guitar and closed his beak. A radical gesture that clashed with the kind of radicalism that Woodstock represented, that of solidarity and fraternity of some communicants who shared what they had. Rarely had so much consideration been seen by others. People volunteered to pick up trash, transport things, do whatever it took.

But the Times kept up the turra and wondered what kind of culture that colossal chabacanería produced. Not only was it not such a thing, but the rock, rather than like the barbarian mass described by Elias Canetti , behaved like the tiny Catholic youths blessed by the Pope of Rome in the openings of the world. The Times feared the contagion of that move that falsely endorsed the labels of perversion, as if the maneuvers of pure souls could not be more dangerous than the machinations of vice.

Well, why did what happened, why a music festival marked an era. Perhaps the miracle was possible because that half million hippies, who were no longer children, were reluctant to be adults, to believe that a society like God commands needs to pay mortgages, a traditional religiosity and more police in the streets. The obsession of the hallucinated children of the future was to embed a soul of the human being and strain of matute in the disoriented civilization, something that has always made human life an interesting adventure. Nietzsche said that we yearn so much for the golden days of childhood because they were carefree, free from death and anxiety. Woodstock was the apotheosis of the return to childhood of guys who wanted to be Peter Pan: never grow up. Most did not succeed and, like the character of Kafka , they became stunned servants of inaccessible castles in which ectoplasmic powers manipulated their destiny. What happened to everyone, go; but no one could take away the dance.

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