New York (AFP)

Initially, it was primarily to promote, with a series of concerts, musical creation in northern New York.

It was 50 years ago, from August 15 to 18, 1969, at a time when rock was still young, where wearing long hair was an act of rebellion, where anti-war demonstrations were almost daily.

Between 400,000 and 500,000 people were to join the sodden alfalfa fields to hear star performers like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix in an atmosphere of freedom and camaraderie, illustrated by images of naked young men walking hand in hand. the hand, sharing grass or acid, ignoring the torrential rains pouring over this Catskill region, about 200 km northwest of New York.

The organizers initially set the price of tickets for the three days of music for groups of mythical names like Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at $ 18.

But the organizers - John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld, all in their twenties - were quick to review their plans, facing the massive traffic jams that swept through the country roads leading to the Bethel site. about 100 kilometers southwest of the city of Woodstock.

Access to the festival would quickly be in the image of the event: free.

Very soon after the first agreements, torrents of water began to fall, turning the site into a mud field.

The food was missing. We could not see much but we could hear the helicopters turn, succeeding each other to bring in musicians as well as supplies.

- "Idyllic" Weekend -

Sri Swami Satchidananda, Yogi master from India, was to set the tone of the festival by opening it with a call to compassion.

"I'm delighted to see all the young people of America gathered here in the name of this art of music," said the slim, bearded man, sitting cross-legged, pulling the crowd into vibrations of "Om" sounds.

Other more muscular songs would follow: Joe McDonald of the psychedelic rock band Country Joe and the Fish was going to make the crowd sing a resounding "Fuck", before singing the anti-war song "I-Feel-Like-I Fixin'-to-Die-Rag.

While thousands of people were already returning to the "real world", hardly guessing that they had just written one of the great pages of 60's history, the festival ended with a very futuristic interpretation of the anthem American national, "The Star-Spangled Banner", by Jimi Hendrix.

Danny Goldberg, a music industry specialist who started at the time for Billboard magazine at the age of 19, remembers seeing this weekend "many people with a smile on their face".

"I was almost immediately seduced by this kindness," he told AFP from his office in Manhattan. Such an "idyllic" vision of hippie fraternity (was) rare, even at the time, "but it was" noticeable in Woodstock, from beginning to end ".

- "monumental bazaar"

Woodstock's stories are variable and sometimes contradictory.

Rumor has it that babies are born there. If no one has ever publicly claimed such a remarkable birth, it is certain that some have been designed.

At least one person would have died of overdose. A tractor also allegedly crushed someone who was sleeping in his sleeping bag, according to reports of the time.

As a film torpedoed by critics before becoming cult, the event was then treated with disdain by the mainstream media.

"The dreams of marijuana and rock that attracted some 300,000 fans and hippies in the Catskills were hardly any more sane than the lemmings that throw themselves into the sea to die," said the New York Times in an editorial August 18, 1969.

"They ended up in a nightmare of mud ... What kind of culture can produce such a monumental bazaar?"

Annie Birch, a 20-year-old festival-goer at the time, remembers a "very peaceful moment, considering the mass of people".

Despite the "crazy rain, we had an amazing fire that never went out," she told AFP. "All these groups have become mythical (...) It was legendary".

- "Music and peace" -

Just after the festival, the owner of the field, Max Yasgur, recognized on television that he was initially worried, seeing the crowd pouring in.

"But they made me feel guilty afterwards because there were no problems, they proved to me, and they proved to the world that they did not come to create problems."

"They came to do exactly what they said they wanted to do: three days of music and peace."

Half a century later, Annie Birch, now in her seventies, feels "happy" to have participated in such an important event.

"I remain forever in the hope that for the good of humanity, such an incredible event can happen again," she says. "I infinitely prefer love and peace to war and hatred".

© 2019 AFP